Monthly Archives: December 2015

Court Reverses Pot Conviction

 

In State v. Rose, the WA Court of Appeals Division III decided to reverse Mr. Rose’s conviction for Possession of Marijuana because Washington’s general criminal prosecution saving statute does NOT permit a prosecution for less than 1 ounce of marijuana that was pending when Initiative 502 became effective.

On June 26, 2012, defendant Justin Rose was fishing on the Yakima River below the Roza Dam when he and his companions were approached by a Washington Fish and Wildlife agent interested in checking for their fishing licenses. The Fish and Wildlife agent noticed that Mr. Rose was smoking. Based on the agent’s training and experience, he believed Mr. Rose was smoking marijuana from a bong. When the agent told Mr. Rose what he had seen, Mr. Rose admitted he had been smoking marijuana and handed over the bong, which contained some marijuana, to the agent. Mr. Rose was over age 21 at the time. He was charged with one violation of RCW 69.50.4014 (possession of less than 40 grams of marijuana) and one violation of former RCW 69.50.412(1) (2002) (use of drug paraphernalia).

In October 2012, Mr. Rose entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the State, staying the prosecution. For those who don’t know, a deferred prosecution is an agreement between someone who is charged with a crime and the State Attorney’s Office. This agreement will require that within a specified period of time, the person charged with a crime will complete all requirements in the agreement. The State agreed that if Mr. Rose complied with the conditions. identified in the agreement for one year, it would move to dismiss both charges. The conditions imposed on Mr. Rose included performing community service, paying a fee and costs, obtaining an alcohol and drug evaluation, and fully complying with any recommendation of alcohol or drug treatment or other services resulting from the evaluation.

Initiative 502 came into effect while Mr. Rose’s case was pending. The law unconditionally decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of marijuana by persons 21 and over, and did remove marijuana paraphernalia from the unlawful categories of paraphernalia.

Unfortunately, Mr. Rose  violated the conditions of his deferral agreement by failing to enter into an intensive outpatient treatment program. The district court revoked the agreement, proceeded to a bench trial, and found Mr. Rose guilty of both counts.

Before sentencing, Mr. Rose moved to dismiss the charges based on the decriminalization of his offenses by I-502. The district court denied Mr. Rose’s motion. It recognized that RCW 10.01.040 – which provides that offenders are prosecuted under the laws in effect at the time of their offenses – does not apply if intervening legislation conveys a contrary intent. It sentenced Mr. Rose to 180 days confinement. Mr. Rose appealed to the Superior Court, which upheld his convictions. In response, he successfully appealed his case to the WA Court of Appeals.

The WA Court of Appeals reversed Mr. Rose’s convictions. It acknowledged that  although the common law provides that pending cases be decided according to the law in effect at the time of the decision, the Washington legislature adopted a criminal prosecution saving statute, now codified at RCW 10.01.040, whose saving clause “presumptively ‘save[s]’ all offenses already committed and all penalties or forfeitures already incurred from the effects of amendment or repeal,” requiring that they be prosecuted under the law in effect at the time they were committed “unless,” as the statute provides, “a contrary intention is expressly declared in the amendatory or repealing act.”

Here, the WA Court of Appeals sought to reconcile these countervailing laws.

The Court reasoned that in this case – and unlike actual laws written legislatures – we are dealing with an initiative to the legislature:

“While standard rules of statutory construction apply, our concern is with the intent of the voters. The issue is whether an intent by the voters to apply its decriminalization provisions to stop pending prosecutions is fairly conveyed by the initiative.”

The Court further reasoned that we look at the language of 1-502 from the perspective of the average informed lay voter rather than from the perspective of the legislature. It acknowledged that average lay voters presented with an initiative that they are told will stop treating adult marijuana use as a crime are more likely to make the assumption that prosecution will be stopped on the effective date. Consequently, and in these rare cases where legislation includes additional language that conveys disapproval or concern about continued prosecution, the Court felt compelled to respect the intent of the voters.

My opinion? Good decision. Washington General Criminal Prosecution Saving Statute should not allow prosecutors to enforce archaic laws which were ultimately killed by the will of the voters. Period. Kudos to Division III.

Cruel & Unusual Punishment?

In State v. Schmeling, the WA Court of Appeals Division II decided that Felony Possession of a Controlled Substance is constitutional as applied under the Eighth Amendment and under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause even though the statute makes possession of very small amounts of a controlled substance a felony without knowledge of possession or intent to possess.

Here, as part of a theft investigation, law enforcement officers searched Richard Schmeling’s car and uncovered two small baggies that contained white residue. The residue was tested and turned out to be methamphetamine. The State charged Schmeling with Felony Possession of a Controlled Substance under RCW 69.50.4013. Schmeling’s first trial ended in a mistrial because of a hung jury. On retrial, the jury convicted Schmeling. He appealed his conviction on the argument that RCW 69.50.4013 violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process because it makes possession of drug residue a felony without requiring any culpable mental state.

The Court of appeals reasoned that Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The basic concept of the Eighth Amendment is that punishment for a crime must be proportionate to the offense. There are two types of Eighth Amendment analysis: (1) determining whether a sentence is disproportionate to the particular crime, and (2) using categorical rules to define constitutional standards for certain classes of crimes or offenders.

  1. WAS SCHMELING’S SENTENCE PROPORTIONATE TO HIS CRIME?

The Court gave historical background showing that many Eighth Amendment cases address whether a particular punishment is disproportionate to the crime. The Eighth Amendment does not require strict proportionality between crime and sentence and forbids only extreme sentences that are ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the crime. Most courts have shown a reluctance to review legislatively mandated sentences. As a result, successful challenges to the proportionality of sentences are exceedingly rare.

Here, Schmeling argues that classifying possession of small amounts of a controlled substance as a felony without a knowledge or intent constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the WA Supreme Court rejected a similar argument in State v. Smith. In that case, Smith was convicted of possession of more than 40 grams of marijuana, which was punished as a felony. He argued that the seriousness of the offense did not warrant classifying his crime as a felony. The court rejected Smith’s argument, noting that it was unaware of any authority supporting the proposition that classification alone could constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The court also held that Smith’s actual sentence was not grossly disproportionate to his offense. Consequently, under the traditional proportionality analysis, Smith controls. Therefore, classification of a crime as a felony despite the absence of a knowledge or intent requirement does not result in grossly disproportionate punishment.

2. WAS SCHMELING’S SENTENCE UNCONSTITUTIONAL GIVEN THE NATURE OF THE OFFENSE OR THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OFFENDER?

This analysis involves two steps. First, the reviewing court considers “objective indicia of society’s standards (categorical approach), as expressed in legislative enactments and state practice” to determine whether there is a national consensus against the sentencing practice at issue. Second, the reviewing court considers precedent and its own understanding and interpretation of the Eighth Amendment to determine in the exercise of its own independent judgment whether the punishment is unconstitutional.

The Court acknowledged that Schmeling wanted them to apply a categorical approach. However, the Court of Appeals declined to apply the categorical approach to punishment of adult drug offenders like Schmeling. It held that under State v. Smith, RCW 69.50.4013 does not violate the Eighth Amendment even though it punishes the possession of small amounts of controlled substances as a felony without imposing a knowledge or intent element.

3. DID SCHMELING’S SENTENCE VIOLATE DUE PROCESS?

In short, the Court held that RCW 69.50.4013 does NOT violate due process even though it makes possession of drug residue a crime without requiring any culpable mental state.

The court reasoned that Strict Liability Crimes – crimes with no knowledge or intent  requirement – do not necessarily violate due process. “We do not go with Blackstone in saying that ‘a vicious will’ is necessary to constitute a crime, for conduct alone without regard to the intent of the doer is often sufficient. There is wide latitude in the lawmakers to declare an offense and to exclude elements of knowledge and diligence from its definition.”

The Court of Appeals further reasoned that WA’s Supreme Court repeatedly has stated that the legislature has the authority to create strict liability crimes that do not include a culpable mental state. Also, our Supreme Court twice has directly addressed in two other cases whether the elements of possession of a controlled substance under prior versions of RCW 69.50.4013 contains a knowledge or intent element. Those cases were State v. Bradshaw and State v. Cleppe. In both cases, the court held that the legislature deliberately omitted knowledge and intent as elements of the crime and that it would not imply the existence of those elements.

Here, Schmeling cites two cases from other jurisdictions holding that a strict liability offense violated due process. However, given our Supreme Court’s repeated approval of the legislature’s authority to adopt strict liability crimes, the Court found Schmelling’s arguments unpersuasive.

In sum, the Court of Appeals held that RCW 69.50.4013 does NOT violate due process even though it does not require the State to prove intent or knowledge to convict an offender of possession of a small amount of a controlled substance. It affirmed Schmeling’s conviction and sentence.

U.S. Supreme Court to Update DUI Procedures


The US Supreme Court plans to update the rules for prosecuting individuals accused of drunk driving by reviewing a trio of cases dealing with “Refusal” statutes.

In North Dakota, a state law makes it a crime for a motorist to refuse to take “any” type of test — blood, alcohol or urine — used to prosecute driving under the influence (DUI) cases. The court will decide the constitutionality of this provision in the context of two cases, Birchfield v. North Dakota and Beylund v. North Dakota, each of which presents the same question from a slightly different angle.

In Beylund, motorist Steve Michael Beylund agreed to take a blood test after being threatened with criminal penalties if he refused. In Birchfield, motorist Danny Birchfield refused to take a breath test. The highest court in North Dakota reviewed the existing legal precedent and found no reason to overturn the refusal law.

The drunk-driving cases provide the Court with something of a sequel to its ruling in 2013 in Missouri v. McNeely, which left the clear impression that, if police have enough time, they should get a warrant before taking a test of a suspected drunk driver.  The Court ruled that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not always amount to an emergency situation that permits a DUI test without a warrant.

The North Dakota justices wrote, “Birchfield has not drawn our attention to any appellate court decisions striking down criminal refusal statutes, and we have found that since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in McNeely, criminal refusal statutes have continued to withstand Fourth Amendment challenges, particularly in Minnesota.”

Last month, however, in Hawaii v. Won, the Hawaii Supreme Court cited the US Supreme Court’s reasoning in finding refusal statutes as unconstitutional. In light of McNeely, Hawaii’s justices decided the US Supreme Court had clearly ordered law enforcement to obtain a warrant before compelling a “search” of a person’s blood, as the Fourth Amendment requires.

The US Supreme Court will tackle the different rulings from these States in the context of a third case, Bernard v. Minnesota, which deals with that state’s law treating a breath test as a “search incident to arrest.” Here, William Robert Bernard Jr used his truck to pull a boat out of the water. Officers believed he was DUI. After Bernard was arrested, he refused a breath test.

At any rate, the U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether criminalized refusal statutes represent a DUI exception to the Constitution.

 

Jury Acquits Mr. Ransom’s Client of Assault Fourth Degree (DV) & Malicious Mischief Third Degree (DV)

Client was charged with Assault Fourth Degree Domestic Violence (DV) under RCW 9A.36.041 and Malicious Mischief Third Degree (DV) under RCW 9A.48.090. Here, Client allegedly destroyed her ex-boyfriend’s laptop and struck him in the face while they argued. Both crimes are gross misdemeanors punishable up to 1 year jail and a $5,000 fine each. Making matters worse, a conviction for DV crimes brings enhanced jail penalties, mandatory DV evaluations and treatment, mandatory probation, a court-imposed No-Contact Order with the alleged victim and loss of firearms rights.

The Prosecutor refused to negotiate or resolve the charges in light of client’s prior criminal history. Also, the alleged victim insisted he was victimized throughout his relationship with Client. Nevertheless, and at trial, Mr. Ransom successfully suppressed evidence of Client’s prior bad acts and criminal convictions under Evidence Rule (ER) 404(b) and ER 609. Although the judge denied Mr. Ransom’s self-defense jury instruction, Mr. Ransom successfully prevailed at trial by raising reasonable doubt to the State’s lack of evidence and the alleged victim’s lack of credibility. The jury acquitted Client under 1 hour.

Fewer Teens Driving After Drinking & Smoking Pot

Good news. New research from the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows that fewer teens and young adults are driving under the influence of alcohol or a combination of alcohol and marijuana. The publication is affiliated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 2002 to 2014, self-reported driving under the influence of alcohol alone dropped by 59 percent among those aged 16 to 20 and by 38 percent among those aged 21 to 25, the study found.

 “The decline in driving under the influence of alcohol is probably due to a combination of factors,” said lead researcher Dr. Alejandro Azofeifa, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

He also mentioned the decline in binge drinking and the enforcement of underage drinking laws have dropped the numbers significantly.

Also, driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana combined declined by 39 percent across both age groups.

However, driving drunk did increase with age, Azofeifa said. Among 16-year-olds, only 1.5 percent drove under the influence of alcohol, but 18 percent of 21-year-olds did, according to the report.

And although there were significant drops in the prevalence of driving under the influence of alcohol and alcohol and marijuana combined, there was little decrease in the number of young adults driving under the influence of marijuana alone, Azofeifa said.

Though driving under the influence of marijuana alone declined 18 percent, from 3.8 percent in 2002 to 3.1 percent in 2014, this drop was seen only among those aged 16 to 20, researchers found.

The reasons why driving under the influence of marijuana alone hasn’t declined among other drivers aren’t clear, Azofeifa said.

“Driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana is a risky behavior, and can result in a fatal car accident,” he said. “Regardless of the encouraging numbers we are seeing in this report, there are still too many people driving under the influence and too many people dying in car accidents.”

Car crashes are the leading cause of death among American teens and young people, he noted.

J.T. Griffin, chief government affairs officer at Mothers Against Drunk Driving, called it “good news that the prevalence of drunk driving is down among young people. It’s proof that things like the 21 minimum drinking age are working.”

But, he added, “alcohol remains the number one drug that is killing people on the road. There are still too many people dying at every age. We are making good progress, but until we get to a place where there are no more fatalities we still have a lot of work to do.”

State v. Cherry: Consent & Self-Incrimination

In State v. Cherry, the WA Court of Appeals Division II decided that a police officer’s questions to the passengers of a vehicle – which were intended to determine whether one of the passengers could safely remove the defendant’s car from the scene – were routine booking questions and did not violate the defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights.

Defendant Mathew Cherry was arrested for driving with a suspended license. He was driving two passengers. When the police officer asked Cherry to confirm who was in the car, Cherry identified his two passengers. When asked whether either passenger could take the car, Cherry responded that neither had a license and that he did not know anyone who did. The officer told Cherry that his car would be impounded.

Cherry consented to a search of his car. A pipe containing methamphetamine residue was found. When Cherry was booked into jail, he resisted a strip search and apparently swallowed the contents of a small pouch after it was seen between his legs.

The State charged Cherry with Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance and Tampering With Evidence. Cherry filed a CrR 3.6 motion to suppress the evidence found in his car, arguing that the officers threatened to have his car impounded if he did not consent to its search and that his consent was coerced. The trial court also conducted a CrR 3.5 hearing in which Cherry challenged the admission of his statements to police. At trial, a jury found Cherry guilty as charged. He appealed.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals upheld Cherry’s convictions. Here, the officer’s questions to Cherry’s passengers were not intended to and did not elicit incriminating information. Rather, the questions were intended to determine whether Cherry’s car could be safely removed from the scene.

Additionally, the court disagreed with Cherry’s arguments that officers were not permitted to ask for consent to search his car after he invoked his right to remain silent. Here, the officer informed Cherry of his Miranda rights before requesting Cherry’s consent to search the car. The court reasoned that the request for consent to search was not designed to elicit testimonial evidence and Cherry’s consent was not an incriminating statement. Therefore, law enforcement did not violate Cherry’s constitutional right to remain silent by requesting consent to search his car after Cherry had invoked that right.

Moreover, Cherry’s statements to police that he had consumed drugs earlier that day were admissible, and not made in response to any questioning likely to elicit an incriminating response. The court reasoned that even if Cherry’s statements were prompted by watching the police search his car, as Cherry now argues, they were not prompted by unlawful interrogation. There was no violation of Cherry’s right to remain silent. Therefore, his statements were properly admitted.

Finally, the court disagreed with Cherry’s arguments that his consent to search was not voluntary, and therefore, it violated the Fourth Amendment and the evidence found during the search is inadmissible. Here, under these facts, Cherry clearly consented.

For all of these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirm Cherry’s convictions.

New Vehicle Technolgy Could End DUI

An article from Vancitybuzz.com and MADD Canada discussed recent new technology which could effectively end drunk driving as we know it.

The technology is called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, or DADSS for short, works in two ways: a breath based system or a touch-based system. Watch the video above for a more in-depth look at how the technology works.

The breath-based system detects and analyzes the driver’s breath within seconds of entering the vehicle and determines if their blood-alcohol level is within legal driving limits. The touch-based technology could be installed in the push button ignition and can detect ethanol (alcohol) levels in the driver’s finger.

Apparently, it works like this: if your car starts and it’s later determined that your blood-alcohol is too high for the legal limit, then it will completely disable the vehicle – obviously, an attention grabber for law enforcement.

The technology is slated for implementation in around 14 to 20 years.

My opinion? Completely disabling a vehicle could be more dangerous than necessary.