The Seattle Police Department was accused of withholding information on their policies for over a year. Though they had been requested to hand over documentation of policies dealing with domestic violence victims, they refused. And after these policies came to light it was learned the police had been instructing people to leave some information out of their reports, information that could have helped defendants accused of domestic violence.
This week the SPD settled a lawsuit, agreeing to pay $32,000 without admitting any liability.
The case began when the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers heard that the SPD was instructing citizen volunteers working with domestic violence victims to bury evidence that might be of benefit to defendants, called “exculpatory evidence”. The problem with this is the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that law enforcement and prosecutors must turn over such evidence to the defense in order to ensure a fair trial.
In this case, the volunteers were those speaking with victims about their cases, holding back information including whether the victim was reluctant to share their information, whether they were intoxicated at the time of the alleged crime, refused services, or was on medication.
When the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers asked to see the policies regarding these volunteers, the department repeatedly denied their requests. When they finally did give in, sections were blacked out, including the section in question.
It was only after the SPD accidentally handed over the complete documents and a judge ruled the Association was under no obligation to give them back that the policy instructing volunteers to hide exculpatory evidence was seen.
The Department was fined for withholding the information, $50 for each of the 441 days they refused to hand it over. This in addition to fees and costs combined to make the $32,000 settlement. Perhaps even more importantly, however, the department is rewriting its policies to adhere to case law regarding exculpatory evidence.
When you are accused of a crime, you want to know that you will be treated fairly and that your defense lawyer will have access to all of the information surrounding your case. When you are accused of something as serious as domestic violence, however, it can seem near impossible to be treated fairly.
If you are charged with a domestic violence offense or any serious crime in the state of Washington, contact our attorneys today to discuss your case and how we might be able to help.