Washington Appeals Court Affirms Juvenile’s Adjudication Despite Self-Defense Claim

A Washington criminal defendant can raise a self-defense claim by offering some evidence that their actions occurred in circumstances of self-defense.  Once the defendant meets this low burden, the burden shifts to the state to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the absence of self-defense.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the juvenile’s mother came into the 15-year-old juvenile’s room and saw her hide a cell phone under the covers. The juvenile refused to give it to her mother, and they scuffled over it.  The juvenile ultimately kicked her mother twice.

The state charged the juvenile with fourth degree assault with notice of a domestic violence allegation.  The juvenile testified , saying, “. . . the only reason I kicked her was to . . . get her off of me,” and “. . . I kicked her because she was on my leg, and it hurt.  And—because I knew at that point I knew I wasn’t going to get the phone back . . . .”

The juvenile claimed self-defense.

The trial court orally ruled the state had proved the charged offense, but that the juvenile had not established she was acting in self-defense.  The trial court adjudicated the juvenile guilty of fourth degree assault and failed to discuss self-defense in its findings of fact and conclusions of law.  The juvenile appealed.

The juvenile argued the state had failed to present sufficient evidence to support an adjudication of guilt because it failed to present any evidence disproving her claim of self-defense.  She argued she had sufficiently raised the issue of self-defense through her trial testimony and nothing in the record disproved it.  She further argued the trial court was required to dismiss the charges with prejudice.

The juvenile testified her mother’s knee on her leg hurt and she only kicked her mother to get her off of her.  The appeals court concluded this testimony was sufficient to raise self-defense.  The state then had the burden to prove the absence of self-defense.

The appeals court pointed out the juvenile testified to two seemingly conflicting reasons for kicking her mother.  The juvenile also stated that she “knew [she] wasn’t going to get the phone back. . . .”  In considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, it concluded a rational trier of fact could determine the reasons provided by the juvenile conflicted and find an absence of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

The appeals court did note, however, that the trial court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law were insufficient and stated it would grant remand for entry of sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law if the juvenile sought it in a motion for reconsideration.

Self-defense is highly fact-specific.  Although the juvenile in this case did not succeed in her claim of self-defense, slightly different facts may have led to a different result.  If your child is facing charges, a skilled Washington juvenile defense attorney can help.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation.


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