Monthly Archives: October 2015

State v. Thierry: Prosecutor’s Improper Closing Argument Reverses Conviction.

In State v. Thierry, the WA Court of Appeals Division II decided that a Prosecutor’s statements during the closing argument of a child sex abuse case was an improper appeal to passion and prejudice.

The State charged Alfred James Thierry Jr. with four counts of Rape of a Child First Degree and two counts of Child Molestation First Degree, based on conduct against his son, JT.

At trial, the Prosecutor’s closing argument discussed direct versus circumstantial evidence. This explanation included the following:

“None of you were present when these acts occurred. No one testified for you that they watched any of these acts happen. That would be direct evidence of the acts themselves, but that is not required and, if it were, the State could never prosecute any of these types of cases.”

She made a similar argument shortly thereafter, in a discussion of the sufficiency of the State’s evidence:

“Did Thierry rape and molest his son? Yes, he did. The evidence tells you that he did. What’s the evidence? JT is the evidence, and he is all that is required for you to find him guilty of these crimes. If the law required more, if the law required anything, something, anything beyond the testimony of a child, the child’s words, JT’s words, those instructions would tell you that, and there is no instruction that says you need something else. And, again, if that was required, the State could rarely, if ever, prosecute these types of crimes because people don’t rape children in front of other people and often because children wait to tell.”

She again returned to this argument near the end of her initial closing remarks, in discussing the burden of proof:

“Now I want to talk just briefly about the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. You don’t need to know all of the pieces. You don’t need to have all of the information or have all of the answers. If that were necessary, first of all, the standard would be beyond all doubt possible, but if that were necessary, once again, the State would not be able to prosecute any of these crimes or really any crime, actually, because how can you all as jurors who are selected from the community know nothing about any of the people involved, and certainly yourselves were not present for any act or crime that was committed, how can you know with 100 percent certainty?”

The prosecutor continued in this vein during rebuttal, returning to her public policy theme:

Defense counsel wants you to basically disregard everything that JT has said between what he told Sayfullah, between what he told Ms. Arnold-Harms, between when he told his primary care provider Ms. Lin and what he told Amber Bradford. ‘Just disregard all of that because he’s a child, because he was 8 when he said these things and because he was 9 when he was on the stand. Nothing he said is credible so just disregard it all.’ If that argument has any merit, then the State may as well just give up prosecuting these cases, and the law might as well say that “The word of a child is not enough.

At that point Thierry’s defense attorney objected that the prosecutor was “fueling the passion and prejudice of the jury.” The court overruled the objection and permitted the prosecutor to continue.

The jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts.

Thierry appealed that several of the remarks the Prosecutor made in closing argument merit reversal. He also argued that the cumulative effect of the improper statements denied him a fair trial.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals agreed with Thierry and decided that the Prosecutor’s arguments were improper and that it had a substantial likelihood of affecting the verdict.

The court reasoned that as a general matter, to prevail on a prosecutorial misconduct claim a defendant must show that the prosecutor’s conduct was both improper and prejudicial in the context of the record and all of the circumstances of the trial. To establish prejudice sufficient to require reversal, a defendant who timely objected to the challenged conduct in the trial court must show a substantial likelihood that the misconduct affected the jury verdict.

The Court further reasoned that it’s improper for prosecutors to use arguments calculated to inflame the passions or prejudices of the jury.  Arguments that compel the jury to send a message to society about the general problem of child sexual abuse qualifies as such an improper emotional appeal.

Here, the Prosecutor’s statement that, “If Defense Counsel’s argument concerning JT’s credibility has any merit, . . . the State may as well just give up prosecuting child sex abuse cases, and the law might as well say that ‘the word of a child is not enough’” also qualified as an improper appeal to passion and prejudice.

The Court further reasoned that even if the Prosecutor’s argument was deemed purely a response to the defendant’s argument, Defense Counsel never suggested that the jury should not believe JT because of his age. Furthermore, nothing in Defense Counsel’s closing argument, therefore, warranted the prosecutor’s message that the State may as well give up prosecuting child sex abuse cases if JT were not believed and Thierry acquitted.

Finally, the court reasoned that the Prosecutor’s arguments had a substantial likelihood of affecting the verdict. The outcome of the case depended entirely on whether the jury chose to believe JT’s accusations or Thierry’s denial. Consequently, the Prosecutor’s remarks created a substantial risk that the jury decided to credit JT’s testimony for improper reasons. The prosecutor’s remarks exacerbated that risk by misrepresenting Defense Counsel’s argument so as to unfairly undermine Thierry’s defense.

The Court of Appeals reversed Thierry’s convictions and remanded the case for further proceedings.

My opinion? Good decision. Generally, it’s a professional courtesy to not object during opposing counsel’s closing arguments. It’s considered rude. Nevertheless, defense attorneys must object at all times when appropriate, even if doing so is frowned upon by judges and juries. Prosecutorial misconduct happens all of the time, and ESPECIALLY during closing arguments. Those statements, made again and again, definitely affected the outcome of the case. Again, good decision.

State v. Mayer: Officer Gives Confusing Miranda Warnings

In State v. Mayer, the WA Supreme Court decided that a deputy sheriff inadequately advised the defendant of his Miranda rights when he initially told the defendant that a lawyer would be appointed for him prior to questioning if he could not afford one but also said that no lawyer would be appointed for him unless he was arrested, jailed, and taken to court.

Here, defendant Nicholas Mayer was suspected of robbing KC Teriyaki,  a casual restaurant in Salmon Creek, while the employees were closing the restaurant for the day. The masked gunmen pushed one of the employees inside the restaurant; pointed a gun at the employee; grabbed a bag from inside; and then fled with the bag, which contained cash from the day’s sales. The apparent motive for the robbery was because Mr. Mayer’s sister, Emily Mayer, was a disgruntled ex-employee.

Police stopped Mr. Mayer’s vehicle, detained Mayer and the vehicle’s other occupants, and transported them to the police station for questioning regarding the robbery. Deputy Tom Dennison of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office questioned Mayer in an interview room at the police station. Dennison began by reading Mayer his Miranda rights and asking if he could record the interview. Mayer initially waived his Miranda rights and agreed to the recording.Once recording began, Dennison again advised Mayer of his Miranda rights:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right at this time to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before questioning if you wish. You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements.”

This time, however, Mayer asked Dennison to clarify how he could obtain appointed counsel:

DEPUTY DENNISON: “Do you understand each of these rights as I’ve explained them to you?”

MR. MAYER: Yes. Um, If I wanted an attorney and I can’t afford one, what — what would — ?

DEPUTY DENNISON: If you wanted an attorney– you know, if you were charged with a crime and arrested, if you wanted an attorney and couldn’t afford one, the Court would be willing to appoint you one. Do you want me to go over that with you again?

MR. MAYER: Yeah, but how would that work? Will you be– how it– how I–

DEPUTY DENNISON: You’re not under arrest at this point, right?

MR. MAYER: Oh, okay. Okay.

DEPUTY DENNISON: So, if you were, then you would be taken to jail and then you’d go before a judge and then he would ask you whatever at that point, if you were being charged, you would afforded an attorney if you couldn’t hi — you know, if you weren’t able to afford one.

MR. MAYER: All right. I understand.

DEPUTY DENNISON: Understand?

MR. MAYER: Yeah.

DEPUTY DENNISON: Okay. So you do understand your rights?

MR. MAYER: Yes.

After this exchange, Mayer waived his Miranda rights, agreed to speak with Dennison regarding the robbery, and made incriminating statements. Mayer admitted, among other things, that on the day of the robbery he met with his sister Emily, who drove the getaway car, and John Taylor, the other robber; they drove to the teriyaki restaurant; Mayer entered the restaurant with Taylor; Taylor was armed with a handgun, and Mayer had a knife; Mayer told the employees “give me the money”; Taylor grabbed the deposit bag containing money; Mayer ran from the restaurant with Taylor; they were picked up by Emily; and Mayer split the proceeds of the robbery with Taylor.

Based on the confession, Mayer was arrested and charged with 11 criminal counts (later reduced to 10 counts), including Robbery in the First Degree. Mayer moved to suppress the incriminating statements he made during his interview with Officer Dennison, but the superior court denied the motion after a CrR 3.5 hearing.

The jury ultimately convicted Mayer on all 10 pending counts. The trial court sentenced Mayer to 306 months of imprisonment. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the conviction and sentence in an unpublished opinion. The WA Supreme Court granted review on his Miranda challenge.

For those who don’t know, the explanation of Miranda rights must be given before any custodial interrogation, stemming largely from the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.  The person detained and interrogated must be made aware of the right to remain silent, the right to consult with an attorney and have the attorney present during questioning, and the right to have an attorney appointed if indigent. Without a Miranda warning or a valid waiver, statements might be inadmissible at trial under the exclusionary rule (e.g., they cannot be used as substantive evidence of guilt in criminal proceedings). See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966).

Here, the WA Supreme Court ruled that Mayer’s confession should have been suppressed. They reasoned that Officer Dennison’s linkage of Mayer’s right to appointed counsel to conditional future events (arrest, jail, charge, and arraignment) contradicted his earlier statements that Mayer could have access to appointed counsel “before questioning” and that he could exercise his rights “at any time.” Critically, Officer Dennison did not tell Mayer that despite the fact that no appointed attorney was immediately available, Mayer’s other Miranda rights remained in full effect and he could protect his right to the presence of counsel by remaining silent until he could speak to an attorney.

Under these circumstances, ruled the court, Officer Dennison’s explanation of Mayer’s rights was deficient, and the State has failed to meet its burden of establishing that Mayer knowingly and intelligently waived his rights. Mayer’s subsequent confession therefore should have been suppressed. However, the Court further reasoned that because any error in admitting the confession was harmless, the court affirmed Mayer’s conviction.

My opinion? Good decision. This Miranda advisement from the police officer was contradictory and confusing. The deputy should have clarified that the defendant was not obligated to respond to questions until he had the opportunity to confer with a lawyer. Again, good decision. Unfortunately for the Defendant, however, the WA Supreme Court also decided the error was harmless. In other words, he was still convicted of the charges and must serve his sentence.

State v. Linder: Unwitnessed Search is Unlawful

Image result for police search

In State v. Linder, the WA Court of Appeals Division III decided that evidence obtained pursuant to a search warrant was properly suppressed because the officer’s inventory of the search was not conducted with at least one witness.

Here, Defendant Aaron Linder was arrested by Kalama Police Chief Grant Gibson in March 2013 for driving with a suspended license. During the search incident to arrest, Chief Gibson found a small tin box inside the pocket of Mr. Linder’s hoodie. After being informed of his Miranda rights, Mr. Linder admitted being a daily user of hard drugs and that the tin box contained drug paraphernalia. But he refused to give his consent for Chief Gibson to open the box initially, and refused a second time at the police station.

The police obtained a search warrant. Sergeant Parker, without anyone else present, executed the warrant by opening the metal box and photographing and inventorying its contents. It was typical for the department’s night shift officer to work alone. The Kalama police department has a total of only five sworn officers.

Sergeant Parker inventoried the tin box as containing two pieces of aluminum foil, an empty plastic box, two plastic tubes, a hair pin, a safety pin, and a piece of plastic from a cigarette package. The cigarette wrapper contained a crystalline substance that appeared to be methamphetamine. After he finished the inventory and completed the return of service form, Sergeant Parker placed the items, a copy of his report, and a note for Chief Gibson in a temporary evidence locker.

The next morning, Chief Gibson, also acting alone, verified that the contents in the box matched Sergeant Parker’s inventory and field tested a small quantity of the cellophane wrapper and its contents, which tested positive for methamphetamine. He packaged the remainder of the crystalline substance for submission to the crime laboratory. Mr. Linder was thereafter charged with one count of Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, Chapter 69.50 RCW, for possession of methamphetamine.

Before trial, Mr. Linder moved to suppress the evidence found in the tin box on the grounds that it was searched in violation of CrR 2.3( d). The rule provides that a return of the search warrant shall be made promptly, shall be accompanied by a written inventory of any property taken, and-relevant here-that “the inventory shall be made in the presence of the person from whose possession or premises the property is taken, or in the presence of at least one person other than the officer.” In the suppression hearing that followed, both Sergeant Parker and Chief Gibson testified that they were unaware of the rule’s requirement that the inventory be made in the presence of another person.

The trial court granted Mr. Linder’s motion to suppress. The State appealed.

In reaching its decision, the WA Court of Appeals looked to the Exclusionary Rule In considering whether the contraband should be suppressed.

For those who don’t know, the Exclusionary Rule is a legal principle in the United States, under constitutional law, which holds that evidence collected or analyzed in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights is sometimes inadmissible for a criminal prosecution in a court of law. The exclusionary rule may also, in some circumstances at least, be considered to follow directly from the constitutional language, such as the Fifth Amendment‘s command that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” and that no person “shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law”.

The Exclusionary Rule is grounded in the Fourth Amendment and it is intended to protect citizens from illegal searches and seizures. The exclusionary rule is also designed to provide a legal remedy and disincentive, which is short of criminal prosecution in response to prosecutors and police who illegally gather evidence in violation of the Fifth Amendment in the Bill of Rights compelled to self-incrimination. The exclusionary rule also applies to violations of the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the right to counsel.

The WA Court of Appeals reasoned that Washington’s version of the Exclusionary Rule had three objectives:

First, and most important, to protect privacy interests of individuals against unreasonable governmental intrusions; second, to deter the police from acting unlawfully in obtaining evidence; and third, to preserve the dignity of the judiciary by refusing to consider evidence which has been obtained through illegal means.

Here, reasoned the Court, excluding the evidence served the third objective of preserving the dignity of the judiciary by refusing to consider evidence obtained through illegal means.  Here, a police officer’s unwitnessed late night execution of a search warrant in this case clearly violated CrR 2.3(d), called the reliability of his inventory into question, and could not be remedied other than by suppression.

My opinion? Great decision. Kudos to Division III for following the law.

State v. Rooney: Unlawful Search of Bedroom, Yet Valid Frisk of Pants.

In State v. Rooney, the WA Court of Appeals Division II gave interesting results on a multi-layered search & seizure case. First, an officer who lawfully entered a parolee’s room in order to arrest him, properly conducted a Terry frisk of a roommate’s pair of pants before giving them to the roommate. The frisk was justified by the presence of several swords, an axe and multiple knives in the room. However, the officer’s search of a room over the objection of the roommate, who was not on community custody, violated the roommate’s Constitutional rights.

Alexandria White, who was serving a term of community custody, began living with the defendant, Norman Rooney, in his home in December 2013 shortly after her release from prison. Her parole officer Chris Napolitano supervised White’s community custody. Napolitano knew that Rooney and White had lived together like a married couple and they had always lived in the same room together.

After White moved in with Rooney again that December, Napolitano discovered White had changed her address without notifying him, which violated her community custody conditions.

Napolitano obtained an arrest warrant for White and, with a team of law enforcement officers, went to Rooney’s house to arrest her on December 30, 2013. As Napolitano walked into the bedroom, White was standing in the bedroom with Rooney, who appeared to be asleep in bed. Napolitano observed swords and axes hanging on the bedroom wall and a couple of knives laying on the shelves. He observed additional weapons on Rooney’s nightstand. Napolitano advised White that by failing to report her new address and not being available for contact she had violated her community custody. White acknowledged that Napolitano would arrest her for the violation.

After Napolitano arrested White and placed her in the living room, Napolitano told White that he was going to search the bedroom. White responded that she lived in the living room, not the bedroom, but Napolitano did not see any sleeping arrangements or anything that appeared to be White’s belongings in the living room. Napolitano ordered Rooney to leave the bedroom so the officers could search it. Rooney objected to the search because he was not currently on community custody, but he began to physically comply.

Rooney, who was dressed in what appeared to be boxer shorts, asked to put on pants. Napolitano replied that he would have to search the pants “for safety reasons” before Rooney could put them on and leave the room. Given the other weapons in the room, Napolitano was concerned that Rooney might have a weapon in the pants. Rooney grabbed a pair of pants, and when Napolitano took hold of the pants, he immediately felt a firearm.

After Rooney was arrested and placed in the living room, Napolitano and Harvey searched the bedroom and found methamphetamine, heroin, and clonazepam. The State charged Rooney with three counts of Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance (methamphetamine, heroin, and clonazepam) and one count of First Degree Unlawful Possession of a Firearm. Rooney moved to suppress evidence of the controlled substances and the firearm. The trial court denied Rooney’s motion and found him guilty as charged at a bench trial. On appeal, Rooney argues that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that warrantless searches and seizures are generally unreasonable and violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. However, consent is one well-recognized exception to this rule. The State bears the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that a warrantless search falls into one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement.

The Court further reasoned that, in searches involving a cohabitant who consents to a warrantless search, Washington has adopted the Common Authority Rule; which says that a cohabitant may grant consent to search a residential area that each cohabitant has equal authority to control. This rule is based on the Washington Constitution’s guarantee of each individual’s expectation of privacy and the theory that a person assumes risk that his or her cohabitant may allow “outsiders” into a shared space.

Finally, the Court reasoned that the consent of only one person with common authority over the place to be searched when multiple cohabitants are present is NOT sufficient to conduct a lawful search of shared space.  “We have never held that a cohabitant with common authority can give consent that is binding upon another cohabitant with equal or greater control over the premises when the non-consenting cohabitant is actually present on the premises,” said the Court. “When a cohabitant who has equal or greater authority to control the premises is present, his consent must be obtained and the consent of another of equal or lesser authority is ineffective against the non-consenting cohabitant.”

With that, the court held that under application of the common authority rule, because Rooney was present and objected, the officers’ search of Rooney’s room was unlawful. The fact that White was serving a community custody term does not undermine Rooney’s right to object to a warrantless search of his bedroom. Therefore, the officers’ warrantless search of Rooney’s bedroom was unlawful as to Rooney, and the trial court erred in denying Rooney’s motion to suppress the methamphetamine, heroin, and clonazepam evidence found during the unlawful search.

Regarding the frisk of Rooney’s pants, the Court of Appeals reached an entirely different decision. They decided the trial court did not error in denying Rooney’s motion to suppress evidence of the firearm found in Rooney’s pants. The Court reasoned that an officer may conduct a non-consensual protective Terry frisk for weapons if the officer can articulate specific facts that create an objectively reasonable belief that the person is armed and dangerous. The officer need not be certain that the person is armed before he or she conducts a protective frisk.

Here, Napolitano and other law enforcement officers saw “several swords, an axe, and multiple knives” in Rooney’s bedroom. Because he was aware of the number of weapons, Napolitano was concerned for his safety. Also, Rooney’s behavior following Napolitano’s warning that the pants would be searched, together with Napolitano’s observation of the weapons in plain view in his bedroom, gave Napolitano articulable suspicion that the pants Rooney wanted to wear might have contained a weapon.

The court concluded that the officers’ warrantless search of Rooney’s bedroom over his objection was unlawful, and therefore, the evidence of the controlled substances must be suppressed. But Napolitano’s frisk of Rooney’s pants was lawful and based on reasonable suspicion. Therefore, the court reversed Rooney’s three convictions for Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance (methamphetamine, heroin, and clonazepam), and affirmed his conviction for First Degree Unlawful Possession of a Firearm.

 

Marijuana DUI Is Hard To Detect

New marijuana laws could soon change how police conduct roadside checks.

The Canadian CBC News reported in a recent article that Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste admitted that cracking down on marijuana users who drive while stoned is proving tricky for the state.

“We’re still learning, it’s ongoing,” he said.

Canadian courts have found drug impairment tests untrustworthy and a poor indicator of impairment. That’s why out of 50,000 charges laid each year for drunk driving in Canada, fewer than 1,000 are for drug impairments.

The news article reported that Batiste says while Washington state legalized marijuana nearly a year and a half ago, they have recently seen an increase in the number of people getting behind the wheel while high.

“We are addressing that through a variety of ways: through information sharing and teaching our troopers on how to better detect it,” said Batiste.

The key to Washington state’s enforcement is a 2013 DUI law that limits the amount of active THC — the element of pot that makes you high — in a driver’s blood. The state has set a maximum of five nanograms per millilitre of blood, which state officials believe is the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of .08. A similar law is also in place in Colorado, which also legalized marijuana use in 2013. To enforce it officers need to order a blood test, which can be very controversial.

The states have trained officers to look for signs of marijuana use on the road; distracted driving, light body tremors, different sized pupils, impaired motor skills and the smell of marijuana in the vehicle.

However, research has shown measuring impairment based on THC levels is not clear cut. That’s because unlike alcohol, people metabolize THC at different rates, so impairment can vary widely from person to person making it hard to determine if a person is impaired solely based on THC levels.

In addition, these tests have been challenged in courts, where people have claimed to have smoked days before their blood test registered the presence of THC.

542705085

 

One researcher has found most heavy marijuana users would be below the five-nanogram level within hours of last consuming the drug, and virtually all users would be below the mark after 24 hours. But the research also found signs of impairment in heavy, chronic, daily users were still observable after three weeks of abstinence.

Batiste says Washington is also looking for technology like breathalyzers that could detect if someone is high, but so far, there’s no hand-held device that police can use to measure the amount a suspected driver has consumed or determine impairment.

FBI DNA Database Error

Here is a letter from the WA State Crime Lab outlining some errors that have been discovered in the FBI DNA database that was used by the lab when “estimating the significance of having included an individual as a possible contributor to a forensic DNA typing profile.”

The Federal DNA Database Unit (FDDU) analyzes DNA markers from buccal and blood samples of federal convicted offenders, arrestees facing federal charges, individuals convicted of certain District of Columbia offenses, as well as non-U.S. citizens detained under the authority of the United States of America, for development of DNA profiles that are uploaded to the National DNA Index System (NDIS).

The FBI does not believe the errors will materially affect any assessment of evidence. Although the WA State Crime Lab agrees, it also acknowledges that “some probabilities will be slightly stronger while some others will be slightly weaker.”   They have updated the databases as of June 3, 2015 and any case files completed before this scheduled for trial or that are subject to discovery or public disclosure will have the probability estimates recalculated.  Only if there is a difference greater than 10-fold will  an amended report be issued.

My opinion? Many of us believe DNA evidence is SO foolproof. And for the most part, when calculated correctly, it is. However, errors like these to our system of justice. Jurors, victims, defendants, Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys heavily rely on DNA evidence to prove whether the defendant actually committed the alleged crime. The evidence is excruciatingly important to cold-case murders and sex offenses. Please, WA State Crime Lab, test and retest your samples when updating the database!

Study: Youth Tolerance Of Marijuana May Increase Chances of DUI

Study offers support for the notion of e-cigarettes as a gateway drug

A new study from the journal Pediatrics suggests ways to reduce the risk that children will drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs as teenagers.

The study found that 12-year-old children who believed marijuana could help them relax or was otherwise beneficial were more likely to drive under the influence when they were 16. The study also showed these minors were also significantly more likely to ride with someone else who was buzzed, drunk or high behind the wheel.

“Youth view marijuana use as less dangerous than drinking,” the study authors wrote. “We must begin to address how changing views of marijuana might increase risk for not only marijuana use, but other behaviors.”

Driving under the influence is common among American teenagers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10% of high school students do so in any given month, and more than 20% have been passengers of someone driving under the influence.

So researchers from Rand Corp. in Santa Monica and Arlington, Va., went looking for risk factors in middle school that could predict these dangerous behaviors in high school. They turned to data from a substance use prevention program called CHOICE that was tested in 16 middle schools in greater Los Angeles.

The Rand researchers focused on 1,124 students who completed detailed surveys in 2009 (when their average age was 12.2 years old), 2011 (when their average age was 14.3) and 2013 (when their average age was 16.3 and 88% were eligible to drive in California). The majority of these students (57%) were girls, and half were Latino.

Using statistical models to control for the students’ age, gender, race and ethnicity, school and whether their mothers had graduated from high school, the researchers identified several factors that seemed to predict unsafe driving at age 16.

According to the study, those who held more tolerant ideas about marijuana when they were 12 (in sixth or seventh grade) were 63% more likely than their peers to admit either driving under the influence themselves or to ride with someone who was under the influence

Additionally, 12-year-olds who felt most confident that they could resist marijuana use wound up being 89% more likely to mix alcohol and drugs with cars, motorcycles or other vehicles. This finding surprised the researchers, they wrote.

By the time the students were 14, some of the risk factors had changed. Those who said they had used alcohol in the last month were more than twice as likely as their peers to drive under the influence or ride with an intoxicated driver two years later.

Also, those whose friends used marijuana were 2.4 times more likely to be involved in unsafe driving later, and those whose family members used marijuana were 54% more likely to do the same.

And positive beliefs about marijuana still mattered — 14-year-olds who had them were still 67% more likely to mix alcohol, drugs and motor vehicles at age 16.

The researchers noted that marijuana has taken on a benign image among middle schoolers “as medical and recreational marijuana legalization increases in our country, adolescents are becoming more accepting of marijuana use,” they wrote. “This highlights the need to address these types of beliefs as early as sixth grade.”

My opinion? If these studies are accurate, they merely reveal our need to EDUCATE our youth about drugs, alcohol and vehicles. In short, DRUGS/ALCOHOL AND VEHICLES DON’T MIX. It doesn’t matter what type of drug you’re taking; whether it be prescription, medical marijuana or street drugs. Don’t do drugs and drive. And it doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you’re drinking. Don’t drink and drive.  If your doctor informs you that taking your prescription medication may affect your ability to operate a motor vehicle, then please think twice about operating a motor vehicle.

I’ve assisted many clients facing DUI charges of varying degrees. However, studies like this show that society is becoming less tolerant and sympathetic toward individuals charged with DUI. It takes a very competent and experienced defense attorney to reveal the science, forensics and idiosyncrasies of DUI litigation in today’s anti-drug climate. Please consult a qualified attorney if you’re facing DUI charges.

State v. Bentura-Ozuna: Letter Found in Jail Cell Supports Conviction for Witness Intimidation

In State v. Bentura-Ozuna, the WA Supreme Court held that the defendant committed the crime of Intimidating a Witness  under RCW 9A.72.110(2) when a letter found in his jail cell directed a threat to a former witness because of the witness’s role in an official proceeding. The statute defines a “threat” to mean “to communicate, directly or indirectly, the intent to harm another.”

Here, In June 2010, Ozuna was incarcerated in the Yakima County Department of Corrections (Yakima County Jail). Ozuna was awaiting sentencing for a prior conviction. The conduct underlying that conviction involved Augustine Jaime Avalos, a member of the same gang as Ozuna. Avalos had testified against Ozuna in Ozuna’s underlying trial and was also incarcerated in the Yakima County Jail.

On June 8, when Ozuna was moved from one prison cell to another, a corrections officer found two unstamped, unsealed letters in his possession. The deputy opened the letters. One letter was meaningless to this issue. The other letter said the following:

Ey homie, I just got your (unreadable). Well it was a blessing to hear from you. It put’s a smile on my face to know that your ready to ride for me. . .. As you already know, I agreed to a plea deal for 10 years 9 months cause of a pussy that don’t know how to ride or Die. He would rather break weak than to honor our sacred code of silence. He is now marked a rat and a piece of shit in my book He has sealed his fate and now it’s just a matter of time. He rode with me and was given my trust and he decided to dishonor that privaledge …. [A ]11 I can say for that fool is, you know what time it is. You guys let him live in luxery for way to long already. . . How can you live with a rata like that and still be able to rest in peace in that puto’s presence? I hope and pray for satisfaction before I leave this building and may that fool suffer and Die in his rat hole. Fucken snitch bitch rat! … That puto took 10 years of my life and a fucken leva from my barrio, “my big homie” “Gorge” is living in the same house as him …. Gorge could of did something but just decided to let that puta slide and live under the same roof with him …. Tell that fool he’s a piece of shit just like him. Let’em know that this is Campana Gang! He put’s the crack in our bell. No loyalty, no honor, no heart! … Tell’ em he’s as good as dead to me.

Let that fool feel the wrath and let’ em know the rata that he is and tell’em that I siad that bad things come to those that snitch. May he rest in piss … So now you know what I want primo, don’t hesitate vato. Take action, reep the rewards later. Don’t think, just act. … Hit me up later after the shit get’s handled. Do it on the 25 cause that’s when I have court, and I want to have a smile on my face that day knowing that … fool’s getting a lil taste of what’s coming to him. The 25 is the day I get sentenced. Good looking out Primo, don’t let me down fucker! … Tell’em that Vanessa’s gonna be the one to set him up for us, mark my words! Show him how set ups are done. There just waiting for him to get out. … Lol. … Satisfaction will be mine! Let’ em know that he fucked up.

On July 9, Avalos was assaulted by inmate David Soto while in a courthouse holding room. Avalos received stiches at the hospital for his injuries. The inmates who were present when Avalos was injured were not cooperative. Ozuna was not present during the assault.

At trial, the Prosecution produced ample testimony confirming that there was a threat to another person in the letter, however,  no evidence established that the letter was delivered to anyone before the officer confiscated it.

The State also produced expert testimony about gang culture from a Sunnyside Police Department officer who worked in the Yakima area and was knowledgeable about the local gangs, as well as the individuals at issue here.

Similarly, two other officers from the Yakima County Jail discussed the status of being a “shot caller” or “tank boss,” meaning someone who has elevated decision-making authority within a gang or prison. One officer testified that Ozuna was a “shot caller” in the Yakima County Jail.

Before trial, Ozuna argued a Knapstad motion to Dismiss the charge for lack of evidence. Defense counsel argued that “directing a threat at somebody means not keeping it to yourself; it means directing it to somebody, not necessarily … to the intended victim, but to somebody. The Court denied the Knapstad motion to dismiss.

The trial proceeded, and the jury returned a verdict convicting Ozuna of Intimidating a Former Witness. The trial court entered judgment and imposed an exceptional sentence of 10 years based on the jury’s finding of gang-related aggravating factors. Ozuna appealed.

The WA Supreme Court reasoned that a communication must be transmitted and received. However, a person may “direct a threat” under the intimidation of a former witness without that threat being communicated to the threat’s target. “The threat may be transmitted to a third party.” Consequently, there was sufficient evidence at trial for a rational jury to find that Ozuna directed a threat to a third party or to Avalos himself.

The court further reasoned that Ozuna had the state of mind, motivation, and opportunity to direct a threat regarding Avalos. Avalos had been a longtime gang member with Ozuna, and Avalos testified against Ozuna. They were incarcerated in the same prison. Ozuna had gang allies in the prison. Avalos had enemies. Furthermore, testimony from witnesses established the gang follows a strict “no snitch” code, enforced by violent retaliation.

Here, Ozuna’s confiscated letter reveals his state of mind. It said, for example, “Let that fool feel the wrath and let’ em know the rata that he is and tell him that I siad that bad things come to those that snitch. May he rest in piss.” Additionally, the jury could consider the timing of Avalos’s assault by a member of Ozuna’s gang, David Soto. “The evidence is sufficient insofar as it establishes Ozuna’s state of mind, motivation, and opportunity to direct a threat regarding Avalos.”

The WA Supreme Court affirmed Ozuna’s conviction.

States With Weird Liquor Laws

A news report from time.com discusses how many states have bizarre, outdated and just plain weird laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol.

Texas
Texas prides itself on its business-friendly, free-market ethos. But when it comes to alcohol, Texas has some pretty elaborate regulations. Wal-Mart is feuding with Texas over the state’s refusal to let it stock liquor in its aisles. The issue? A 1995 law preventing public companies with more than 35 shareholders from selling hard liquor in the state. Walmart, which argues the law is unconstitutional, sued. Earlier this week, a court date was set for Sept. 2016.

Pennsylvania
For sheer strangeness alone it’s hard to beat Pennsylvania v. 2,447 Bottles of Wine. With its Quaker roots, Pennsylvania has some of the strictest alcohol rules in the nation, allowing sales of wine and liquor only through 600 special-state run stores. When a Chester County attorney was recently charged with importing more than 2,400 bottles of wine and selling some without a license, he struck a deal that let him keep about 1,000 bottles. But state law requires the remainder, more than 1,300 bottles, to be destroyed.

Massachusetts
Pennsylvania has Quakers, Massachusetts has Puritans. If that conjures an image of dour finger waving, you’re not far off the mark. Massachusetts law bans happy hours and drink specials, not to mention drinking games, and severely restricts when supermarkets can sell beer and wine. Some think the Bay State may interpreting its heritage too seriously. The Boston Globe,citing a colonial historian who noted that early settlers opened plenty of taverns, recently argued “Drinking Laws in Massachusetts Aren’t Puritanical — They’re Worse.”

Maine
Like many states, Maine restricts the sale of liquor on Sundays, in this case prohibiting it before 9 a.m. There is an important exception, however. In 2013, sharp-eyed Mainers realized St. Patrick’s Day would fall on a Sunday that year. Not to worry: Gov. Paul LePage signed an emergency law allowing liquor to be served as early as 6 a.m. when the holiday falls on a Sunday. Crisis averted.

 Louisiana

A state also known for its traditions, though not necessarily puritanical ones. Louisiana was the last state to raise its drinking age to 21 from 18. It has taken certain additional steps to combat drunk driving, including an open-container law, which discourages drinking in a vehicle, at least in theory. The law acknowledges the state’s ubiquitous drive-by daiquiri stands with a provision that considers a container closed so long as the straw hasn’t been put in the opening on the lid of the cup. One recent transplant describes the apparent logic of this:

As my friend once said, during my inaugural drive through daiquiri run, “We’re not going to drink it while we’re driving, we’re just going to go get it.”

“Then what are we going to do with it?”

“Then we’re going to go stop and drink it,” she said.

Nevada
In Nevada, bars can (and do) stay open 24 hours, and liquor can be sold at supermarkets and convenience stores. Open containers are permitted in Las Vegas and the nearby Strip. Also, state law explicitly states that it is not a crime to be drunk in public because drunkenness is a health problem—and obviously what all those people sipping gin and tonics on the patio of the Bellagio’s pool need most is the Nevada State Legislature’s support and sympathy.

New Jersey
Several states, including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Idaho, set quotas for the number of liquor licenses they issue to bars and restaurants. That can lead to licenses being traded on the secondary market and changing hands for hefty sums. There are reports of sales in Montana for as much as $1 million. But no one does a shakedown like New Jersey. One New Jersey license reportedly sold for as much as $1.6 million.

Idaho
While Idaho’s liquor licenses may not sell as for as much as New Jersey’s, the state’s quota system has drawn attention for a different reason. The quotas, which allow for just one license for every 1,500 people, are designed to be strict: Temperance is written into the state’s constitution, which calls it a “first concern” of good government. But granting exceptions has proved pretty tempting too. The result: a spate of laws that seem to open the door, if only a crack, like this one highlighted by the Institute for Justice.

For example, in order to grant an exception to Clark House, a historic bed and breakfast on Hayden Lake, the Legislature passed an amendment lifting the rural license ban on any hotel that ‘has been in existence for at least 75 years and has been on the historic register for a minimum of 10 years, is situated within 500 yards of a natural lake containing a minimum of 36,000 acre feet of water when full with a minimum of 32 miles of shoreline, and is located in a county with a minimum population of 65,000.’

Utah
If there’s one thing you know about Mormons it may be that they don’t drink alcohol (or coffee for that matter.) So it’s not a huge surprise that Utah’s attitude toward liquor is more like Pennsylvania’s than that of its next door neighbor Nevada. In fact, Utah’s regulations are so strict, the Salt Lake City tourism board has a whole page devoted just to debunking Utah drinking law myths. The “Zion curtain,” in which the bartender mixes drinks out of sight, really exists—although only in restaurants opened after July 2012, not in bars or clubs, we are reassured. You can have more than one drink in front of you at a time, although indeed it is not permitted to order a double. If you order a drink in a restaurant, you also have to order food, at least an appetizer (which can be shared). Sounding not a little defensive, the tourism board concludes: “But let’s be honest: there are lots of weird liquor laws in the world.”

Washingtonians, if you think we’ve got it bad, there is worse.

State v. Cayetano-James: Prohibiting Phone Call Testimony

In State v. Cayetano-James, the WA Court of Appeals Division I decided the trial court mistakenly denied the defendant’s motion to have a witness testify telephonically from Mexico.

The defendant was charged with Rape of a Child in the First Degree. While the case was pending, he filed a notice of the defense of alibi. The Prosecutor changed the trial dates and amended the charges. In response, Defense Counsel filed and argued a motion to dismiss under CR 8.3(b). Because of this, Defense Counsel argued a potential witness in Mexico will most likely need to be contacted to refute the amendment to the charges.

On March 27, 2013, the trial court heard a defense motion to permit the telephonic testimony of Laura Camacho. Defense counsel argued that because of Camacho’s immigration status, the court should allow her to testify by telephone or, alternatively, order her telephonic deposition. Although Defense Counsel argued that Camacho’s testimony was material, the court denied the motion for telephonic testimony. The court also denied Defense Counsel’s motion for a continuance. Finally, at trial, the court excluded Camacho’s Skype testimony and phone call testimony of other witnesses. Not surprisingly, the jury returned a verdict of guilty.

On appeal, the WA Court of Appeals held the trial court abused its discretion by excluding the telephonic testimony of this defense witness.

First, the court reasoned that the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 3 of the Washington Constitution guarantee that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This right to due process includes the right to be heard and to offer testimony. The accused’s right to due process is, in essence, the right to a fair opportunity to defend against the State’s accusations.

Second, said the court, the right to call witnesses in one’s own behalf has long been recognized as essential to due process. “Just as an accused has the right to confront the prosecution’s witnesses for the purpose of challenging their testimony, he has the right to present his own witnesses to establish a defense.” Additionally, Washington courts have broad authority under ER 611 to control trial proceedings and also have discretion to permit telephonic testimony under CR 43(a)(1).

Finally, the trial court abused its discretion when it excluded “essential facts of high probative value whose exclusion effectively barred [the defendant] from presenting his defense” without a showing by the State that allowing Camacho to testify by telephone would disrupt the fairness of the fact-finding process. This deprived the Defendant’s witness of the opportunity to present testimony that would have been relevant, material and vital to the defense; and violated his constitutional right to present a complete defense.

The court reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial.

My opinion? Good decision. Obstructing a defendant from presenting witnesses for their defense violates the 6th Amendment. Period.