Washington Court of Appeals Clarifies Use of Self-Defense in Domestic Violence Case

In a recent opinion, the Court of Appeals of Washington decided the issue of whether a defendant is entitled to a self-defense instruction when only the state produces evidence of self-defense. In State v. Thysell (Wash. Ct. App. June 9, 2016), the defendant was charged with fourth-degree assault, domestic violence, after a physical altercation between the defendant and her daughter. At trial, the defendant requested a jury instruction on self-defense. The prosecution objected, arguing that the defendant presented no evidence of self-defense, and any testimony that could arguably support such an instruction came through the state’s witness, the defendant’s daughter. The trial court ruled in favor of the state and denied any instruction to the jury on self-defense. The jury subsequently found the defendant guilty of fourth-degree assault, domestic violence.

On appeal, the defendant contended that the trial court erred by denying a self-defense instruction on the basis that she failed to produce the evidence on which her instruction was based. She argued that it was irrelevant who produced the evidence, as long as the evidence is sufficient to warrant a jury instruction on self-defense.  The prosecution, in response, argued that a defendant is not entitled to a self-defense instruction unless she produces the evidence based on which the instruction would be warranted.

In support of its argument, the state cited three cases that contain the following proposition:  “to be entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense, the defendant must produce some evidence demonstrating self-defense; however, once the defendant produces some evidence, the burden shifts to the prosecution to prove the absence of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.” The appeals court, however, explained that the statements taken in the context of the decisions cited by the prosecution were provided to explain burden shifting and keeping the burden of proof on the state. The court further stated that these cases were not intentionally announcing a new rule that a defendant was no longer entitled to the benefit of the evidence produced by the state.  Instead, each party is entitled to the benefit of all of the evidence, whether or not that party introduced it.

Accordingly, the court held that a defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense when, considering all of the evidence, the jury could have a reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant acted in self-defense.  In State v. Thysell, the court found that the evidence was sufficient for a jury to find that the defendant’s actions were in self-defense.  Specifically, these were the defendant’s allegations that her daughter pushed her down the stairs and that she grabbed onto her to keep from falling.  As a result, the court ruled that the trial court erred by refusing to give the requested self-defense instruction, and it reversed the verdict.

Domestic violence charges may arise out of complicated situations and relationships. At the Washington firm of Blair & Kim, PLLC, our dedicated domestic violence attorneys understand that every person deserves an aggressive and well-prepared legal defense, regardless of the charges. If you have been arrested or charged with a criminal offense, seek advice from the experienced attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC by calling (206) 622-6562 or contacting us online.

More Blog Posts:

Washington Court Reverses Conviction and Orders New Trial for Defendant Charged with Domestic Violence, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published April 6, 2016

Washington Court Considers Admissibility of Prior Acts of Domestic Violence in Criminal Jury Trial, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published November 24, 2015

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