• Jay P. Mykytiuk
    Jay P. Mykytiuk Criminal Defense Attorney
    Washington, DC & Northern VA
    Call Today (202) 630-1522

Breaking Bad: Self-Defense in Washington, D.C. Assault Cases

While there is no such thing as a typical D.C. assault, “victims” are rarely bystanders who are randomly assaulted by strangers. No, most clients looking for a Washington, D.C. assault lawyer were 1) involved in a domestic situation, or 2) in a bar or club fight. While a domestic assault, by definition, involves people who already know each other, a bar or club fight usually involves strangers. And often lots of alcohol.

Especially in Washington, D.C., assault lawyers represent clients who went looking for some fun, but found legal trouble instead. Whether in the bars of Adams Morgan or the clubs on K Street, a disagreement or misunderstanding with a fellow reveler often leads to punches thrown and blows landed. Washington Metropolitan Police are summoned, witnesses are questioned, and arrests are made. By the very nature of these incidents, witnesses and participants are generally unreliable historians, and what police are told is rarely the whole story. But because that can be difficult to figure out, the wrong person is often arrested.

Your Washington, D.C. criminal assault lawyer will likely be very familiar with the theory of self-defense. It is the most common defense to assault charges, and probably the most successful. That’s because almost all bar and club fights may start with one person throwing a punch, but end with two or more people getting involved in the fracas. When everyone who saw the fight is intoxicated to some extent or another, determining who struck first is virtually impossible. Police understand this, so sometimes they simply arrest the person who isn’t bleeding. Sometimes that’s right, but not always.

To prove self-defense in a Washington, D.C. assault case, evidence must be presented at trial that the defendant actually believed they were in imminent danger of bodily harm and that belief was reasonable. In addition, the amount of force used by the defendant must also be reasonable. In order to successfully put on self-defense, all of the elements must be met. For instance, if a drunk moron gets in your face and gives you a shove while in line for the bathroom, you probably have the right to push him back, and maybe have the right to punch him. But you don’t have the right to break your bud-light bottle on the table, and stick it in his throat. That’s not reasonable. You may have had a reasonable belief that you were in danger of bodily harm, but you got a little carried away on the response.

The beauty of self-defense is that, if your Washington, D.C. criminal defense lawyer manages to elicit any testimony that supports the theory, it becomes the government’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you weren’t acting in self-defense.  If the prosecutor fails to do so, the judge must find you not guilty.

Another common defense to Washington, D.C. assault cases, and related to self-defense, is “defense of others.” What this means is that if you have a reasonable belief that someone else is in danger of imminent bodily harm, you have the right to defend them. So if that drunk moron gets in your girlfriend’s face, and you think he’s going to get rough, then you have the right to jump in. The elements of proof are the same for defense of others as they are for self-defense. And again, the burden shifts to the government if any evidence is introduced that suggests your actions were in defense of others.

 

Bar and club assault cases are the some of the hardest cases for the government to prove. The drunker the witnesses were, the less reliable their testimony is. Your D.C. assault lawyer will exploit this fact, and hopefully create enough reasonable doubt to win your case.

Read more ...

Abracadabra: Lost Video Appears in D.C. Simple Assault Case

Sometimes cops are lazy. Sometimes they are sloppy. Washington, D.C criminal defense lawyers have to be prepared to deal with both. Case in point: my client was charged with two counts of assault and two counts of possession of a prohibited weapon. The total maximum penalty if convicted of all four charges would be up to two years in jail. (she had no criminal record, so probably wouldn’t have done anything close to that amount of time, but that’s not really the point). The charges stemmed from an encounter that my client had with four teenagers that began in a Chinese food carryout restaurant. My client claimed self-defense, but it was her word against four complaining witnesses. Or was it?

As I do in every D.C. criminal case, I requested that the government disclose any video that police recovered from the crime scene. I also sent my investigator out to see if the cops missed anything. The prosecutor told me that there wasn’t any video. Well, that surprised me, because the manager of the carryout told my investigator that there had been video (before they recorded over it, as businesses always seem to do), and that the police had been given a copy. This is a pretty serious discrepancy.

So I combed through the paperwork some more, and saw that the detective on the case had recovered video, but that he could not get it to play. He determined that the file was corrupt, and therefore, no video actually existed. I’d be a pretty bad D.C. criminal defense lawyer if I accepted that, especially in an assault case. It seemed to me that maybe the officer should at least let me take a shot at getting the the video work. And that is the argument I made on the morning of trial. The judge agreed, continued the case, and ordered the government to turn over the video file, even if they deemed it unplayable. 

Ten minutes after I popped the video in my computer, I was watching my client being harassed by four teenagers as she tried to place a food order at the Chinese carryout. Well, that was pretty important evidence, since the complaining witnesses claimed that my client started the fight. Fast forward to trial, and the judge, as he handed down a NOT GUILTY verdict on all charges, specifically pointed to the video as the key piece of evidence exonerating my client.

The point here isn’t that I’m a great lawyer who put on a great trial (although if you want to take that away from this, be my guest). The real point is that you can’t always trust the cops and the government to provide everything they’re supposed to provide to a D.C. criminal defense lawyer. I don’t know if the cops were lazy, sloppy, or just plain didn’t care, but their failure to do their job almost led to the loss of valuable evidence. And without that evidence, my client may have been wrongfully convicted. Your D.C. assault lawyer will need to be aggressive about making sure that the police and the government do their job, so that your lawyer can do his.

Read more ...