Monthly Archives: February 2015

What Caused the Decline In Crime?

Interesting reading.

A new report examines the dramatic drop in crime nationwide over the past two decades — and analyzes various theories for why it occurred.

In What Caused the Crime Decline? a team of economic and criminal justice researchers examined over 40 years of data, gathered from 50 states and the 50 largest cities. Their work examines one of the nation’s least understood recent phenomena – the dramatic decline in crime nationwide over the past two decades – and analyzes various theories for why it occurred. It concludes that over-harsh criminal justice policies, particularly increased incarceration, which rose even more dramatically over the same period, were not the main drivers of the crime decline. In fact, the report finds that increased incarceration has been declining in its effectiveness as a crime control tactic for more than 30 years. Its effect on crime rates since 1990 has been limited, and has been non-existent since 2000.

More important were various social, economic, and environmental factors, such as growth in income and an aging population. The introduction of CompStat, a data-driven policing technique, also played a significant role in reducing crime in cities that introduced it.

The report concludes that considering the immense social, fiscal, and economic costs of mass incarceration, programs that improve economic opportunities, modernize policing practices, and expand treatment and rehabilitation programs, all could be a better public safety investment.

Nobel laureate Dr. Joseph E. Stiglitz called the report “groundbreaking” in a foreword.

This is ineresting reading. Also, their research contained information on how/why specific states’ dropoff in crime happened.

 

State v. Larson: Retail Theft With Extenuating Circumstances

Interesting opinion.

In State v. Larson wire cutters, which were used to sever the wire that attached a department store security device to a pair of Nike shoes, are a “device designed to overcome security systems” for purposes of RCW 9A.56.360(1)(b). 

Defendant Zachary Larson attempted to steal a pair of shoes from a retail store. The shoes were equipped with a security device that was attached to the shoes by wire. Yet, Larson, using wire cutters that he had brought into the store, severed the wire and removed the security device. When Larson tried to leave the store, he was stopped by security employees and, subsequently, was charged with one count of Retail Theft with Extenuating circumstances under RCW 9A.56.360(1)(b), which criminalizes the commission of retail theft while in possession of a “device designed to overcome security systems.”

While the case was pending, he argued a Knapstad motion seeking dismissal of the charge. Therein, he argued that, as a matter of law, wire cutters do not constitute a “device designed to overcome security systems.” The trial court denied his Knapstad motion. On December 18, the trial court found Larson guilty as charged. He was sentenced to 60 days of confinement. Larson appealed on the argument that the trial court improperly denied his Knapstad motion and that wire cutters do, in fact, constitute a device designed to overcome security systems.

The court disagreed with Larson and stated the following:

“The plain meaning of the statute reveals the legislature’s intent to punish thieves who, anticipating that the possession ofa device which may be able to foil a store’s security system will be expedient to their cause, commit retail theft while in possession of such a device. In recognition of the fact that wire cutters are designed to cut wire, which is a common feature ofsecurity systems, we hold that, within the meaning of former RCW 9A.56.360(1 )(b), wire cutters constitute a ‘device designed to overcome security systems.'”

The Court also reasoned that the Division II Court of Appeals decision in State v. Reeves, ___ Wn. App. ___, 336 P.3d 105 (2014) – a recent opinion which held that “ordinary pliers” do not constitute a device designed to overcome security systems – was wrongfully decided :

“To exclude wire cutters from the statute’s reach on the basis that wire cutters may be used in other settings to achieve different ends would frustrate the legislature’s intent, while providing those inclined to commit retail theft with an unmistakable incentive to employ “ordinary devices,” as characterized by the Reeves court, to pursue their nefarious ends. Surely, the legislature did not intend such a result.”

With that, the Court upheld Larson’s conviction.

State v. Weller: Community Caretaking

In State v. Weller, the WA Court of Appeals decided an officers’ entry into a garage to privately interview children about their allegations of abuse was lawful under the health and safety check community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement. Also, the seizure of the board the children stated was used by the parents while beating the children, was lawful under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement.

Sandra and Jeffrey Weller had six children in their care. In 2011, CPS became suspicious that the Wellers were abusing the children. Eventually, CPS conducted a welfare check of the family home with the assistance of numerous police officers. The officers did not have a search warrant. Officer Aldridge asked if they could come inside and speak with Sandra and the children. Sandra stepped back from the door and the officers entered the house. The officers attempted to talk privately with the twins. Officer Jensen and CW talked in one room. Officer Aldridge and CG talked in another room, and ultimately moved into the garage for greater privacy. Both children described being beaten repeatedly with a board.

Officer Aldridge was standing in the same place as when she entered the garage when she looked around and saw a board leaning against the garage wall in plain view. She asked the children if that was the board used to beat them, and they replied that it was. Officers saw what appeared to be bloodstains on the board. Based on her observations, Officer Aldridge decided to remove the twins and the other children from the Weller residence.

After speaking with the children, the State filed multiple charges against the Wellers, including several charges of second, third, and fourth degree assault, and several counts of unlawful imprisonment. At trial, the Wellers tried to suppress the evidence and dismiss the case on theories

The Wellers moved to suppress the board, arguing that it was seized during an unlawful search of their residence without a warrant. They argued that the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement was inapplicable because there was no immediate threat of injury to any persons and that entry into the house was a pretext for a search for evidence of a crime. However, the trial court denied the motion to suppress, concluding in a detailed oral ruling that the officers lawfully were in the garage under the community caretaking exception and that they were authorized to seize the board because it was in plain view.

The case proceeded to a jury trial. The jury found Jeffrey guilty on most counts and the trial court sentenced him for five counts of Assault Second Degree, one count of Unlawful Imprisonment, one count of Assault Third Degree of a child, and two counts of Assault Fourth Degree. The jury also found Sandra guilty on most counts and the trial court sentenced her for four counts of Assault Second Degree and one count of Unlawful Imprisonment. The defendants appealed.

The Wellers argue that the officers seized the board used to beat CW and CG in an unlawful warrantless search of their garage, and therefore that the trial court erred in denying their CrR 3. 6 motion to suppress the board. The Court disagreed, and held that the trial court did not err when it concluded that ( 1) the officers’ entry into the garage to privately interview the children was lawful under the community caretaking function exception to the warrant requirement, and (2) the seizure of the board was lawful under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement. Some background on these legal principles is necessary.

WARRANTLESS SEARCHES

Both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution prohibit warrantless searches and seizures unless one of the narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. The State bears the burden of demonstrating that a warrantless search or seizure falls within an exception to the warrant requirement.

 COMMUNITY CARETAKING

The community caretaking function exception to the warrant requirement arises from law enforcement officers’ community caretaking function and involves two aspects: officers rendering aid or assistance ( emergency aid exception) or making routine checks on health and safety (health and safety exception). Another exception to the warrant requirement is the plain view exception, which allows officers to seize an object if they are lawfully present in a constitutionally protected area and the object is in plain view.

A search pursuant to the community caretaking function exception must be totally divorced from  a criminal investigation. The exception does not apply where an officer’ s primary motivation is to search for evidence or make an arrest.

Here, the Court reasoned that the officers entered the garage because they were trying to find a private place to interview the children in conjunction with their welfare check. Nothing in the record suggests that the officers were searching the garage or looking for evidence.

HEALTH AND SAFETY CHECK INSPECTION

To invoke the health and safety check exception, the State must show that ( 1) the officer subjectively believed someone needed health or safety assistance, and (2) a reasonable person in the same situation would believe that there was a need for assistance, and ( 3) there was a reasonable basis to associate the need for assistance with the place searched. Next, the State must show that the encounter under this exception was reasonable, which depends upon a balancing of the individual’ s interest in freedom from police interference against the public’ s interest in having the police perform a community caretaking function.

Here, the Court reasoned that the three requirements for application of the health and safety check exception clearly were satisfied. The officers subjectively and reasonably believed that the Weller children needed health or safety assistance. A trained CPS investigator relayed to the officers her professional opinion that the Weller children were not safe and were expressing severe fear.

PLAIN VIEW

The ” plain view” exception to the warrant requirement applies when officers ( 1) have a valid justification for being in a constitutionally protected area, and ( 2) are immediately able to realize that an item they can see in plain view is associated with criminal activity. The test for determining when an item is immediately apparent for purposes of a plain view seizure is whether, considering the surrounding circumstances, the police can reasonably conclude that the item is incriminating evidence. Officers do not need to be certain that the item is associated with criminal activity – probable cause is sufficient.

Here, the Court decided the officers were lawfully present in the Wellers’ garage. Further, the surrounding facts and circumstances led the officers to believe that the board was evidence of a crime. As the welfare check progressed, the children said Mr. Weller periodically beat them with a board. Further, when the officers were in the garage, the children began to look for the board. And the children immediately confirmed that the board in the garage was in fact the board used to beat them. As a result, the Court held that the plain view exception to the warrant requirement applied to the officers’ seizure of the board.

The Court of Appeals upheld the convictions.

Attorney Alexander F. Ransom Awarded Client Distinction Award From Martindale-Hubbell.

Good news! Attorney Alexander F. Ransom has received the Martindale-Hubbell Client Distinction Award. Martindale-Hubbell is the premier lawyer rating service in the country. Martindale-Hubbell gives the Martindale-Hubbell Client Distinction Award to those lawyers whose clients give the lawyer a 4.5 average rating (out of 5.0) in the following areas: (1) Communications Ability; (2) Responsiveness; (3) Quality of Service; and (4) Value for Money.

Less than one percent (1%) of the more than 900,000 attorneys listed by Martindale-Hubbell on its martindale.com and lawyers.com websites receive the Martindale-Hubbell Client Distinction Award.

Congratulations, Alexander!

State v. Rubio: “Exigent Circumstances” Found in Arrest for Possession of Methamphetamine.

In State v. Rubio, the WA Court of Appeals Division III upheld the defendant’s conviction for Possession of Methamphetamine because exigent circumstances existed to seize and search the defendant after it was discovered he had open warrants for his arrest and possibly witnessed a domestic violence incident.

Officers from the Spokane police department responded to a domestic disturbance call and found Ricardo J. Rubio inside the apartment at the reported address. Police ran a check on Mr. Rubio and discovered three outstanding warrants for his arrest. He was subsequently arrested and booked into jail. While being booked, police discovered methamphetamine in Mr. Rubio’s sock. He was convicted of possession of a controlled substance. The judge denied Rubio’s pretrial motion to suppress the evidence. He was later convicted at a bench trial.

Rubio appealed on the argument that he was unlawfully seized because he was merely witnessed the reported DV disturbance. The Court of Appeals, however, disagreed. They reasoned the seizure was lawful under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement.

Some background is necessary. Generally, warrantless searches are unreasonable per se under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, courts recognize a few carefully drawn exceptions to this rule. The State carries the burden of proving that a warrantless seizure falls into one of these exceptions. A recognized exception to the warrant requirement allows police to seize and search a person without a warrant when justified by “exigent circumstances.”

EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCES

An officer is allowed to stop a witness under exigent circumstances when (1) the officer has reasonable cause to believe that a misdemeanor or felony involving danger or forcible injury to persons has just been committed near the place where he finds such person, (2) the officer has reasonable cause to believe that such person has knowledge of material aid in the investigation of such crime, and (3) such action is reasonably necessary to obtain or verify the identification of such person, or to obtain an account of such crime. The rationale behind the exigent circumstances exception is to permit a warrantless search where the circumstances are such that obtaining a warrant would compromise officer safety, facilitate escape or permit the destruction of evidence.

Here, the court reasoned Mr. Rubio was lawfully seized even though the officer had no search warrant. The officer’s detention of Mr. Rubio was reasonable due to exigent circumstances because it was imperative that the officer quickly locate the injured woman and her assailant.

The court also reasoned the seizure under exigent circumstances was lawful for three reasons. First, the police officer had reason to believe that a crime was just committed at the address involving injury to a person. Second, the officer had reason to believe that each person who was in the apartment, including Mr. Rubio, had knowledge which would aid in the investigation of the crime. Third, the officer’s request for Mr. Rubio’s identification was necessary to determine the true identity of Mr. Rubio. Running the warrant check was needed to verify that Mr. Rubio was the person he claimed to be. Consequently, Officer Kirby’s seizure of Mr. Rubio was lawful under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement.

My opinion? This is a difficult case to swallow. Sure, Mr. Rubio had warrants for his arrest. And yes, the police can lawfully arrest and incarcerate people for that reason alone. And yes, the authorities regularly find illegal contraband during inventory searches and/or when defendants are booked into jail on warrants.

Still, it’s difficult to accept the notion that citizens can become criminal defendants by merely being at the wrong place at the wrong time; and that merely witnessing an alleged incident can lead one to be seized, searched and charged for a totally different crime than the one police responded to in the first place. Interesting.