Monthly Archives: April 2015

State v. Irby: A Juror’s Bias Reverses Conviction

Image result for jury selection

In State v. Irby, The WA Court of Appeals reversed the murder conviction of a defendant because a juror’s remarks during jury selection indicated her express bias against the defendant.

In reaching their decision, the court reasoned that when a juror makes an unqualified statement expressing actual bias, seating the juror is a manifest constitutional error that may be raised on appeal. Also, a juror’s statement during voir dire that she “would like to say he’s guilty” requires a new trial because no inquiry was made from the Prosecution that would have neutralized the statement.

In 2005, James Rock was murdered at his home in rural Skagit County. The investigations led to Terrance Irby, a known associate of Rock. Rock’s neighbors had seen Irby in the neighborhood on March 8. Irby was soon located in custody in Marysville. He had been arrested there on March 8, after running a red light and attempting to elude police. In Irby’s truck, officers found Rock’s weapons and boots splashed with Rock’s blood.

Irby was arrested and charged with Aggravated Murder in the First Degree, Burglary in the First Degree, and Felony Murder.

Oddly enough, in 2011, the WA Supreme Court had already reversed Irby’s convictions because of a violation of his right to a public trial. The violation occurred when the court and the attorneys agreed by e-mail, without Irby’s participation, to dismiss some of the potential jurors before voir dire began.

The State recharged the case. He awaited trial.  Irby had three different standby counselors while his case was pending. Irby fired all of them before the second trial began. As a consequence, the trial court granted Irby’s request to proceed pro se; or in other words, by himself without defense counsel.

On March 5, 2013—the first day scheduled for jury selection —Irby voluntarily absented himself from the proceedings. Irby said he did not believe he could get a fair trial in Skagit County. Trial became somewhat of a circus. By Irby’s choice, the trial proceeded before a jury that had been picked without any participation by Irby. Every day before trial resumed, the trial court had Irby brought from the jail into the courtroom so that the court could verify that he still wanted to remain absent.

The jury convicted Irby as charged on March 12, 2013.

The primary issue on appeal was whether juror bias – specifically, the bias of the juror who said she “would like to say he’s guilty” – violated Irby’s right to a fair and impartial jury.

In reaching its decision the Court of Appeals reasoned that under RAP 2.5(a)(3), a party may raise for the first time on appeal a “manifest error affecting a constitutional right.” Here, criminal defendants have a federal and state constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. Criminal defendants have a federal and state constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. The error alleged here, seating a biased juror, violates this right.

Furthermore, the court reasoned that seating that particular juror manifested actual bias. Under RCW 4.44.170(2) actual bias is “the existence of a state of mind on the part of the juror in reference to the action, or to either party, which satisfies the court that the challenged person cannot try the issue impartially and without prejudice to the substantial rights of the party challenging.” The Court of Appeals said both thetrial judge and the Prosecutor failed to elicit any assurances from that juror that she had an open mind on the issue of guilt. This was wrong.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the juror at question demonstrated actual bias and that seating her was manifest constitutional error requiring reversal of all convictions and remand for a new trial.

My opinion? It’s awful and tragic that Mr. Rock died a violent and painful death. My condolences go to his family and everyone who cared for him. Anyone in their circumstance would want the murderer brought to justice and convicted for these horrible crimes.

However, gaining convictions is meaningless if the courts and prosecutors violate a defendant’s rights in the process. It devalues the entire criminal justice system. It loses credibility and coherence.

Perhaps the Judge and Prosecutor failed to make a record of “rehabilitating” that particular juror of her biases – a process which happens at EVERY jury trial I’ve conducted – because neither Mr. Irby nor a criminal defense attorney was at jury selection to attempt to strike that particular juror for cause. Neverthless, all of us now have a greater understanding of why it’s necessary for attorneys to engage the colloquy of ensuring that jurors are NOT biased – even when they most certainly are.

Eliminating biased jurors from trial not only ensures a fair trial for the defendant. It also creates a court record for ensuring that jury verdicts are not overturned on appeal. As this one was.

Good decision.

Police Body Cameras: Privacy & Costs

A recent article from the New York Times titled, Downside of Police Body Cameras: Your Arrest Hits Youtube has reignited the discussion of whether police body cameras are worth the trouble.

Recently, law enforcement agencies from around the country have been moving with unusual speed to equip officers with body cameras to film their encounters with the public. But the adoption of these cameras has created a new conflict over who has the right to view the recordings.

In Seattle, where some officers started wearing body cameras, the department has set up its own YouTube channel, broadcasting a stream of blurred images to protect the privacy of people filmed. Much of this footage is uncontroversial; one scene shows a woman jogging past a group of people and an officer watching her, then having a muted conversation with people whose faces have been obscured.

Interestingly enough, very intense public discussion of the issue is happening here in Washington State. Under RCW 42.56, which is Washington State’s Public Disclosure Law, anyone may file a public records request to obtain body camera recordings.

In Bremerton, Chief Strachan tested body cameras last fall before deciding NOT to purchase them. He said the demands the department had received for video during the testing period had been too burdensome.

“We got a request for any and all video shot by a police officer,” he said. “It’s pretty much impossible.”

In nearby King County, Sheriff John Urquhart said he would not equip his deputies with cameras until lawmakers reworked disclosure rules.

“I’d do it in a heartbeat,” he said, “but if the public wants body cameras, they’re going to have to give something up on public disclosure.”

My opinion? Some of the concerns mentioned above appear warranted, however, others do not. True, it’s concerning for a DV victim’s likeness and images to appear on YouTube. It might even violate their privacy. RCW 42.56.050 states, “A person’s ‘right to privacy,’ ‘right of privacy,’ ‘privacy,’ or ‘personal privacy,’ as these terms are used in this chapter, is invaded or violated only if disclosure of information about the person: (1) would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (2) is not of legitimate concern to the public.”

Under this, body camera evidence which violates people’s privacy rights might form the basis to support a civil lawsuit against police agencies which readily release that information without redacting people’s likeness and images. Indeed, under RCW 42.56.240, that information is exempt from Public Disclosure. In addressing this problem, it’s comforting that the Seattle The department broadcasts its footage on its own YouTube channel with people’s faces obscured and conversations muted to protect the privacy of people being filmed.

However, I disagree with the Bremerton police chief’s decision to refuse a body camera program altogether because it costs his agency too much money/resources to properly grant people’s public disclosure requests. Under RCW 42.56.120, a reasonable charge may be imposed for providing copies of public records. That makes sense. Police agencies should charge fees when they use their resources to inspect and copy requested material.

Here, the key is what a “reasonable” fee implies. Although law enforcement agencies should charge comparable costs to the consumer for using their resources to inspecting and copy requested materials, the charges should not be overly expensive. For example, in Florida, the Sarasota Police Department has temporarily halted its body camera program after an ACLU Florida lawyer sued over the costs of obtaining footage. The city said it would charge $18,000 for 84 hours of video to be placed on DVDs — about $214 per hour of video.

Police body cameras are a great idea. They put everyone on their best behavior. Let’s work through the bugs and restrain ourselves from throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

State v. Peppin: No Privacy for Public File Sharing

In State v. Peppin, the WA Court of Appeals ruled law enforcement’s warrantless use of enhanced  peer to peer file sharing software to remotely access shared files on an individual’s computer does not violate either the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution or article I, sec. 7 of the Washington Constitution.

In other words, an individual does not have a constitutionally protected privacy right in image files he shares with the public.

Here, defendant Casey Peppin was found guilty of three counts of Possession of Depictions of Minors Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct in the First Degree under RCW 9.68A.670. On December 29,2011, Spokane Detective Brian Cestnik conducted an online investigation of the Gnutella network to identify persons possessing and sharing child pornography. Using peer to peer software called “Round Up” version 1.5.3, Detective Cestnik found child pornography on Mr. Peppin’s computer in a shared folder. He obtained a warrant, searched he defendant’s home and recovered the computer(s) allegedly used to view and share images of minors engaged in sexual conduct.

BACKGROUND ON “PEER TO PEER FILE SHARING”

For those who don’t know, “peer to peer file sharing” is a method of Internet communication that allows users to share digital files. User computers link together to form a network; the network allows direct transfer of shared files from one user to another. Peer to peer software applications allow users to set up and share files on the network with others using compatible peer to peer software. For instance, LimeWire and Shareaza are software applications that allow users to share files over the Gnutella network.

To gain access to shared files, a user must first download peer to peer software, which can be found on the Internet. Then, the user opens the peer to peer software on his or her computer and conducts a keyword search for files that are currently being shared on the network. The results are displayed and the user selects a file for download.

The downloaded file is transferred through a direct connection between the computer wishing to share the file and the user’s computer requesting the file. The Gnutella network gives users the ability to see a list of all files that are available for sharing on a particular computer.

F or example, a person interested in obtaining child pornographic images opens the peer to peer software application on his or her computer and conducts a file search using keyword terms such as “preteen sex.” The search is sent out over the network of computers to those using compatible peer to peer software. The results of the search are returned and displayed on the user’s computer. The user selects the file he or she wishes to download. The file is then downloaded directly from the host computer onto the user’s computer. The downloaded file is stored on the user’s computer until moved or deleted.

A peer to peer file transfer is assisted by reference to an Internet Protocol (IP) address. In general, the numeric IP address is unique to a particular computer during an online Internet session. The IP address provides a location, making it possible for data to be transferred between computers.

This is where the police work comes in: investigators can search public records on the Internet to determine which Internet provider is assigned the IP address. Investigators can contact the Internet provider and gain information about the user based on the IP address assigned to the computer.

THE INVESTIGATIONS

Here, Detective Cestnik searched the Gnutella network for “pthc,” the commonly used term for preteen hard core Internet pornography. Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 17. The results indicated that images matching the search terms could be found on a host computer with an IP address linked to Spokane. Detective Cestnik’s check of the IP address through two different Internet search engines confirmed that the IP address was in Spokane and that Qwest Communications was the provider.

Next, Detective Cestnik presented Qwest Communications with a search warrant requesting information on the IP address for the host computer. Qwest Communications advised Detective Cestnik that the IP address was connected to Mr. Peppin and provided Mr. Peppin’s address.

Detective Cestnik then obtained a search warrant for Mr. Peppin’s computer. A complete forensic investigation uncovered over 100 videos of what appeared to be minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

TRIAL OUTCOME

Mr. Peppin moved to suppress the computer files downloaded by Detective Cestnik during his Internet search. He maintained that law enforcement’s access and download of his computer files via the Internet was an intrusion into his private affairs and an unlawful warrantless search. The court denied Peppin’s motions to suppress. At trial, he was found guilty on all 3 counts.

COURT OF APPEALS DECISION

The legal issue addressed by the court was whether Mr. Peppin had a constitutionally protected privacy right in the image files he shared with the public. In short, the Court said, “No.”

First, federal circuit courts have consistently held that a person who installs and uses file sharing software does not have a reasonable expectation ofprivacy in the files to be shared on his or her computer.

Second, even the broader protection of the Washington State Constitution also does not offer any relief to Mr. Peppin. It stated, “What is voluntarily exposed to the general public and observable without the use of enhancement devices from an unprotected area is not considered part of a person’s private affairs.” The court emphasized that here, Mr. Peppin voluntarily offered public access to the computer files obtained by Detective Cestnik. Mr. Peppin used peer to peer software to make these shared files available without restriction. Anyone wanting to view or download the files could do so. Law enforcement’s access of these files was not an intrusion into Mr. Peppin’s private affairs.

The court summed it up:

Additionally, this is not the type of information that a citizen of this state is entitled to hold as private. The inherent nature of peer to peer software is the public sharing of digital computer files. Individuals using file sharing software cannot expect a privacy interest in files they hold open to the public. Again, Mr. Peppin’s use of peer to peer file sharing voluntarily opened this information to the public for anyone to access, including law enforcement. There is no disturbance of a person’s private affairs when law enforcement accesses shared computer files that the person holds publically available for viewing and download. Thus, there is no violation within the context of article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution.

My opinion? Although I understand the logic – as well as the government’s desire to criminalize the sexual exploitation of minors – at what point does “private” communications end and “public” communications begin? How intrusive is the government’s technology? How often do they use the internet to spy on citizens for public safety reasons? I suppose we’ll see . . .

State v. Jones: Slight Lane Travel = Unlawful Search

Good case. In State v. Jones, The WA Court of Appeals decided a police officer does not have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle that crosses the fog line three times in a mile for violating the safe lane travel statute, RCW 46.61.140(1).

Anacortes Police Officer Jacqueline Richter saw Donald Jones driving within the city limits of Anacortes, Washington. As she followed Jones in her patrol car for about a mile, she observed Jones’s vehicle “pass over the fog line approximately an inch” three times, each time “correcting its position with a slow drift.” She stopped Jones and told him that she had stopped his vehicle “due to erratic lane travel.” There were no other vehicles on the roadway at the time. Jones agreed to perform field sobriety tests. There was no indication of intoxication.

Officer Sam King arrived to assist Richter. King saw a rifle in the backseat of Jones’s truck. Jones consented to a vehicle search “for the sole purpose of recovering the rifle.” A records check revealed that Jones did not have a valid driver’s license. In the course of their conversation, Jones told King that he had a felony conviction in Idaho for possession of a controlled substance. The State charged Jones with one count of Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the Second Degree.

Jones moved to suppress the fruits of the vehicle search. Citing State v. Prado, Jones challenged the lawfulness of the stop. The trial court denied Jones’s motion. At trial he was found guilty. He appealed.

The Court of Appeals held that stopping Jones’s vehicle was unlawful under RCW 46.61.040(1) and State v. Prado. the trial court erred by not suppressing the evidence of the firearm. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court.

The Court reasoned that a traffic stop is a seizure. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guaranties against unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires either a warrant or proof that the seizure qualifies under one of the few “‘jealously and carefully drawn'” exceptions to the warrant requirement.

Here, said the Court, there was no evidence of “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity” to support a stop and search of Jones’s vehicle. The State presented no evidence about Officer Richter’s training and experience in identifying impaired drivers. Officer Richter did not testify that she suspected Jones was impaired or that she stopped him for this reason. The State presented no evidence of dangerous driving or any other traffic infraction. Finally, the trial court did not find that Officer Richter stopped Jones because of a reasonable suspicion that he was driving under the influence.

Because the State failed to justify its warrantless seizure of Jones, the trial court should have suppressed the evidence discovered because of that seizure.

My opinion? Good decision. I’m happy that the Court of Appeals is finally supporting its decision in State v. Prado. In that case, a police officer stopped a car that had crossed a lane divider line in an exit lane by approximately two tire widths for one second. The State charged the driver with driving under the influence of an intoxicant. The district court denied Prado’s motion to suppress, and Prado was convicted.  He appealed.

Ultimately, in deciding Prado the Court of Appeals held that “minor incursions over a lane line” do not, by themselves, constitute a sufficient basis for an investigatory stop. Also, “a vehicle crossing over a lane once for one second by two tire widths does not, without more, constitute a traffic violation justifying a stop by a police officer.”

Prado was an excellent decision in 2008. Unfortunately, Prado hasn’t been well-supported by other court decisions. Indeed, in my own practice, judges deciding suppression issues seem to have turned a blind eye to Prado decision. Hopefully, State v. Jones shall reinforce Prado and give it the respect it deserves.

Rodriguez v. United States: Nonconsensual Dog Sniff of Car Held Unconstitutional

**EXCELLENT OPINION**

In State v. Rodriguez, the United States Supreme Court held that absent reasonable suspicion, police extending a traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.

In summary, the Supreme Court ruled that (1) the 4th Amendment does Fourth Amendment does not tolerate a dog sniff conducted after completion of a traffic stop, (2) a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violated the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures, (3) a seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation becomes unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the issuing of a ticket for the violation, and (4) a stop may, however, be prolonged for a dog sniff when there is independent information giving rise to an individualized suspicion that the occupants of the car are involved in a drug offense.

The 6-3 ruling is indeed a big win for the 4th Amendment.

In this case, Officer Struble, a K-9 officer, stopped the defendant Rodriguez for driving on a highway shoulder. After issuing a warning for the traffic offense Officer Strubble asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around the vehicle. Rodriguez refused. Struble detained him until another police officer arrived. Struble’s dog perfomed a search and alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. The dog found methamphetamine.

Seven or eight minutes elapsed between the time Struble issued the warning and the dog alerting to the presence of contraband.

Rodriguez faced several federal drug charges. Although he moved to suppress evidence seized from the vehicle on the basis that Officer Struble prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion in order to conduct the dog sniff search, the lower court denied Rodriguez’s motion. Eventually, the United States Supreme Court weighed in on the search and seizure issues.

The Court reasoned that a routine traffic stop is more like a brief stop under Terry v. Ohio than an arrest. Its duration is determined by the seizure’s “mission,” which is to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attend to related safety concerns.

Beyond determining whether to issue a traffic ticket, an officer’smission during a traffic stop typically includes checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants againstthe driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof ofinsurance. These checks serve the same objective as enforcement ofthe traffic code: ensuring that vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly.

The court further reasoned that a dog sniff is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission. Also, the Court was concerned that seizing citizens for traffic stops and holding them to conduct a more intrusive search with no evidence of criminal activity beyond the mere traffic stop is unlawful: “The critical question is not whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket, but whether conducting the sniff adds time to the stop.

My opinion? Great ruling! It’s rare that the Supreme Court upholds the 4th Amendment these days. Fortunately, this favorable outcome happened because the suspect asserted his rights by refusing the dog sniff. Past rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court limit 4th Amendment protections where suspects DID NOT assert their rights. See Florida v. Bostick.

Yet here’s a case where the suspect did flex their rights. Look at the outcome! It’s a testament – a reminder, if you will – that asserting your rights makes a difference. Great case.

Study: Marijuana and Alcohol Doubles Odds for DUI

Alcohol & Marijuana: A Dangerous Combination

Marijuana is becoming increasingly legalized in the US for medical and recreational use. A new study analyzes the simultaneous use of alcohol and marijuana. In short, simultaneous users had double the odds of drunk driving, social consequences, and harm to self and others.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2005 and 2010 National Alcohol Survey (n=8,626; 4,522 females, 4,104 males). This was a Random Digit Dial, Computer Assisted Telephone Interview survey of individuals aged 18 and older from all 50 states and DC. Blacks and Hispanics were over-sampled. The study authors assessed differences in demographics, alcohol-related social consequences, harms to self, and drunk driving across simultaneous, concurrent, and alcohol-only using groups.

“We looked at three groups of adults,” explained Meenakshi S. Subbaraman, a corresponding author for the study and associate scientist at the Alcohol Research Group, a program of the Public Health Institute. “One, those who used only alcohol in the previous 12 months; two, those who used both alcohol and cannabis but always separately, or concurrently; and three, those who used both alcohol and cannabis and usually together, or simultaneously.

According to the study, simultaneous users did not necessarily always use cannabis while they drank; the groups were based on how often they drank when using cannabis, and not vice versa.

The study authors found that, compared to adults who solely used alcohol, simultaneous users had double the odds of drunk driving, social consequences, and harms to self. Compared to concurrent users, simultaneous users had double the odds of drunk driving. Simultaneous users also had the heaviest drinking patterns in terms of quantity and frequency.

The research brought interesting conclusions. “If cannabis use becomes more prevalent as U.S. states and other countries continue to legalize it, then we need to be prepared to advise people appropriately,” cautioned Subbaraman. “If you use both substances together, your risk of drunk driving, and possibly other consequences, may be higher than if you stick to using one at a time.”

The study appears in the May 2015 online issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Dehydrated Drivers As Bad On The Road As Drunk Drivers, Study Suggests

Drinking water while driving

New research suggests that driving while dehydrated is equally as destructive as driving while drunk. Drivers who had consumed alcohol over the legal limit as well as drivers who were dehydrated made twice as many driving mistakes as those who were hydrated.

The Telegraph reports that not drinking enough water can cause drivers to make more mistakes, increasing their chances of a collision. The study revealed that drivers who had only had 25ml of water an hour made more than double the number of mistakes on the road than those who were hydrated – the same amount as those who have been drink driving.

Professor Ron Maughan, Emeritus Professor of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, who led the study at Loughborough University, said: “We all deplore drink driving, but we don’t usually think about the effects of other things that affect our driving skills, and one of those is not drinking and dehydration.

“There is no question that driving while incapable through drink or drugs increases the risk of accidents, but our findings highlight an unrecognised danger and suggest that drivers should be encouraged to make sure they are properly hydrated.

Dehydration can also result in impaired mental functioning, changes in mood, and reductions in concentration, alertness and short-term memory, say the researchers who carried out the first study into dehydration, driving errors and accident risk.

My opinion? Although I don’t want to minimize the impact that DUI has on its victims and society, let’s keep our information in perspective. Along with the above study, numerous other studies performed by the the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute suggest that eating, talking on a cellphone and/or texting while driving is just as distracting – if not more distracting – than driving while under the influence of intoxicants.

Now, research suggests that dehydration – being thirsty – creates the same physiological symptoms among drivers that intoxicants do.

Interesting.

State v. MacDonald: Police Cannot Testify for Victims at Sentencing

In a close opinion, the WA Supreme Court ruled in State v. MacDonald that an investigating officer may not request the judge for a sentence greater than that in the State’s plea agreement. Even when the investigating officer claims to be speaking on the victim’s behalf, statements that are contrary to the plea agreement will constitute a breach of the agreement.
 In 1978, Arlene Roberts was found dead in her home. The police collected several latent fingerprints from bank statements and traveler’s checks within her trailer but never identified a suspect. The case went inactive.
 In 2010, detective Scott Tompkins reviewed the case files and matched the fingerprints to MacDonald.
The Prosecutor charged MacDonald with Murder in the First Degree.
 After the trial began, the parties entered into plea negotiations. The State agreed that the prosecutor would change the charge from first degree felony murder to second degree manslaughter and recommend a five-year suspended sentence in exchange for an Alford plea. MacDonald accepted the plea agreement.
 At sentencing, Deputy Prosecutor Kristin Richardson informed the court that detective Tompkins wished to speak on behalf of the victim pursuant to RCW 9.94A.500. Though detective Tompkins was involved throughout the plea negotiations and Richardson intended for Tompkins to sit at counsel’s table pursuant to Evidence Rule 615 in order to assist her, Prosecutor Richardson asserted that she did not know what Tompkins wanted to say. MacDonald objected, but the trial court permitted Tompkins to testify as a victim advocate over MacDonald’s objection.

 Tompkins immediately asked the court to impose the maximum sentence. He described what happened to the victim and gave the court marked photographs of the victim’s body as police found her. Tompkins informed the court that the medical examiner’s report contained 18 paragraphs detailing her injuries and then asserted that Roberts “died a horrific death.”

The trial court imposed the maximum sentence, giving MacDonald 60 months in prison with a minimum sentence of 55 months and credit for time served. Macdonald moved to withdraw his plea. The Court of Appeals denied MacDonald’s motion.

The WA Supremes decided to reverse the Court of Appeals and permit MacDonald to decide whether to withdraw his guilty plea or to seek specific performance. The court agreed with the reasoning in State v.  Sanchez that investigating officers cannot make sentence recommendations contrary to a plea agreement. The Court also reasoned that the same due process concerns stopping an investigating officer from undermining a plea agreement also stop that officer from making unsolicited remarks on a victim’s behalf to the court at sentencing that are contrary to the plea agreement. Washington’s crime victims’ rights laws do not permit the State to breach a plea agreement.

My opinion? Although I offer my deepest condolences to the family of the victim, I must agree with the WA Supremes on this.

A plea agreement is a contract between the State and the defendant. The Prosecutor thus has a contractual duty of good faith. Prosecutor cannot undercut the terms of the agreement, either explicitly or implicitly, or by conduct showing intent to circumvent the terms of the plea agreement. In Washington, the statutory relationship between prosecutors and investigating officers binds investigating officers to plea agreements in a criminal case. That said, detective Tompkins was acting in the role of substantially assisting the prosecution. This is unlawful. It violates procedural due process. Apparantly, the WA Supremes agreed. Good opinion.

State v. Ellison: No Right to Allocution

In State v. Ellison, the WA Court of Appeals decided a defendant lost his right to give a statement at his sentencing because his lengthy presentation changed from religious songs and unrelated topics to protests of his innocence and an accusation that his attorney was lying to the court.

At a bench trial, Mr Ellison was convicted of Rape in the Second Degree and Child Molestation in the Second Degree. At his sentencing, the court invited Ellison to allocute.

For those who don’t know, “Allocution” is defined as the right of a criminal defendant to make a personal argument or statement to the court before the pronouncement of sentence. It is the defendant’ s opportunity to plead for mercy and present any information to try mitigating the sentence.

Here, Ellison sang a short religious song and spoke about various topics not clearly related to the sentencing proceeding. After making extensive remarks, Ellison began to protest his innocence and accuse his trial attorney of lying to the court. At that point, the court cut Ellison off, explained that the matters he related were irrelevant to the issues at hand, and pronounced the sentence. Ellison asked for permission to finish his remarks, but the court declined. The court imposed life imprisonment without the possibility of release. Ellison appealed.

The Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and denied Ellison’s appeal. it reasoned that the sentencing court allowed Ellison to speak for some time, cutting him off only when he began using the opportunity to testify about the facts of the case and complain about the conduct of his trial attorney. Unfortunately, those were not legitimate purposes for allocution. Because the court let Ellison speak without interruption until it was clear he was using the allocution for improper purposes, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in cutting short Ellison’ s allocution.

Didlake v. DOL: Fees for DOL Hearings Held Constitutional

Cost of a DUI

Here’s an interesting opinion on the ever-increasing financial costs of fighting DUI crimes and the Department of Licencing’s (DOL) automatic suspension of a DUI defendant’s driver’s license.

In Didlake v. Department of Licensing, the Court of Appeals held that Washington’s Implied Consent Statute, RCW 46.20.308, which requires drivers arrested for DUI to pay a $200-$375 statutory fee in order to have an administrative hearing on license suspension, does NOT violate due process because of the driving privilege is not a fundamental right and DOL waives the fee for indigent drivers.

In 2010 – 2011 police arrested James Didlake and other defendants for DUI. Washington’s Implied Consent Statute, RCW 46.20.308, requires that a driver arrested for Driving Under the Influence of an Intoxicant (DUI) pay a filing fee to obtain an administrative review hearing to prevent a driver’s license suspension or revocation. And as required by Washington’s implied consent law, the Department initiated license suspension proceedings against them. Each defendant paid a $200 fee for an administrative review hearing. After they prevailed at their hearings, the Department rescinded their license suspensions.

Didlake filed a class action lawsuit against the DOL, asking for injunctive and declaratory relief, plus a refund and damages. He alleged that the $200 statutory fee for an administrative hearing violates due process. Didlake filed a motion for class certification under CR 23. After filing its answer, the DOL filed a motion to dismiss Didlake’s lawsuit under CR 12(b)(6).

On April 5, 2013, the trial court granted the DOL’s motion to dismiss. Didlake asked the Washington Supreme Court for direct review. On March 5, 2014, the Supreme Court transferred the case to the Court of Appeals.

In rendering its decision, the Court of Appeals gave lots of background on the procedural aspects of challeging DOL license suspensions. The court reasoned that the implied consent law provides certain procedural protections to drivers. The DOL must give the driver written notice that it intends to suspend or revoke the driver’s license. The DOL must also notify the driver of the right to a hearing and specify the steps to obtain one. Within 20 days of this notice, the driver may request in writing a formal hearing before the DOL. As part of the request, the driver must pay a mandatory fee. The DOL may waive the fee, however, for drivers who are indigent.

At the hearing, the driver may have assistance of counsel, question witnesses, present evidence, and testify. The hearing officer determines if the officer had reasonable grounds to believe the driver was driving under the influence and if the driver refused to take a test or took a test that revealed a BAC of 0.08 or higher. After the hearing, the DOL “shall order that the suspension, revocation, or denial either be rescinded or sustained.”

Here, the Court reasoned that Washington courts have almost always have upheld the constitutionality of filing fees. Courts have consistently distinguished between fundamental interests and interests that are “solely monetary,” involving “economics and social welfare,” or even “important” or “substantial.” If the interest involved is fundamental, due process requires access for all. Here, the court reasoned, a fee waiver for indigent litigants accomplishes this mandate. If the interest is not fundamental, “a monetary prerequisite to an appeal is thus permissible, even for indigent appellants.

Additionally, Courts have identified the driving privilege as an “important” and “substantial” but not fundamental right. Consequently, the court reasoned, this contradicts Didlake’s assertion that the filing fee has a “chilling effect” on drivers’ exercise of their due process rights. Thus, he fails to establish a facial challenge on due process grounds. And because he paid the fee and received a hearing that complied with due process, he does not show that the fee requirement is unconstitutional as applied to him. “Whether facial or as-applied, Didlake’s due process challenges fail.”

 The Court concluded that because Didlake failed to establish that the implied consent statute’s fee requirement violates procedural due process, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order dismissing Didlake’s class action claim.

My opinion? Speaking as a DUI attorney, DOL hearings and license suspensions are just another way for the State to profit from defendants charged with DUI. These days, a DOL hearing costs $375. Additionally, a defendant’s window of time to apply for these hearings is small – only 20 days after the DUI incident happened. Finally, DOL hearings are very difficult to win. There must be some glaring legal weakness in the case regarding (1) the pullover of the defendant’s vehicle, (2) the evidence of DUI, (3) whether the officer read the Implied Consent Warnings, and/or (4) whether the defendant tested over .08 BAC or refused the BAC machine.

Unfortunately, given the Court’s analysis above, it appears the wheels of justice shall continue to financially grind upon defendants facing license suspensions from DUI charges.