Monthly Archives: March 2016

Some Bellingham Inmates Transported Out Of County

Today, the Bellingham Herald reported that the City of Bellingham shall transport inmates to a King County jail if the Whatcom and Yakima County jail don’t have room available.

Recently, council members approved a contract with the South Correctional Entity regional jail (SCORE) located in King County.
It was reported that because the City did not promise to send a certain number of inmates to the facility per year, the cost to house someone there would be charged at higher rate of $157 per day.

The City has moved inmates to Yakima County Jail on a weekly basis since mid-January, in response to Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo’s policy shift in the new year to keep the population in the main Whatcom County Jail at or below about 212 inmates. The daily cost to house inmates in Yakima is about $54.

Under the agreement, the City shall transfer inmates who only have misdemeanor charges in Bellingham. The county is still responsible for all people being held on felony charges, regardless of which agency books them into jail.

It was reported that since the beginning of the year, there have been on average about seven inmates with Bellingham-only charges in the main jail on any given day. Consequently, the City’s inmates are a relatively small percentage of the total jail population.

As of Friday, March 18, the City had eight people in the main jail, 13 in the work center on Division Street, and seven people on electronic home monitoring through the City’s contract with Friendship Diversion Services.

 

State v. Castillo-Lopez: Substituting Counsel & Continuances

In State v. Castillo-Lopez, Division II of the WA Court of Appeals upheld that the trial court’s decision to deny a motion to continue a trial on five counts of Rape of a Child in the Second Degree to allow the defendant’s retained attorney to replace the defendant’s court appointed attorney.

Mr. Castillo-Lopez was charged with having sexual intercourse with his step-daughter “T.S.” on five separate occasions between January 2012 and February 2013. T.S. turned 12 years old in 2012.

The court set the case for trial on July 7, 2014.

On June 19, 2014, Castillo-Lopez argued motions for substitution of counsel and for a continuance of the trial date. Castillo-Lopez argued the case should be continued because his new attorney needed time to prepare and the parties were still awaiting DNA evidence. Although the trial court ruled it would grant the substitution, the court denied the continuance. The Court referenced  “a statute that says the court has to consider also the impact of this on the child . . . (RCW 10.46.085).

On July 3, a different judge presided over a trial confirmation hearing. And again, the trial court made it clear that it would allow the substitution, but would not grant the continuance.

The matter proceeded to trial. The jury found Castillo-Lopez guilty of five counts of rape of a child in the second degree. The trial court sentenced Castillo-Lopez to a minimum of 500 months’ confinement.

Castillo-Lopez appealed on the argument that the trial court denied him his counsel of choice and abused its discretion when it denied his motions to substitute counsel that were dependent upon the court granting his motions to continue the trial date.

The Court of Appeals, however, disagreed. It decided the trial court did not abuse its discretion because the denial of the continuance was based on tenable grounds. In considering these types of motions, a trial court should consider all relevant information because “these situations are highly fact dependent and there are no mechanical tests that can be used.” State v. HamptonFinally, it reasoned that  trial courts should consider all relevant information including the 11 factors described in the most recent version of LaFave’s Criminal Procedure treatise:

(1) whether the request came at a point sufficiently in advance of trial to permit the trial court to readily adjust its calendar;

(2) the length of the continuance requested;

(3) whether the continuance would carry the trial date beyond the period specified in the state speedy trial act;

(4) whether the court had granted previous continuances at the defendant’s request;

(5) whether the continuance would seriously inconvenience the witnesses;

(6) whether the continuance request was made promptly after the defendant first became aware of the grounds advanced for discharging his or her counsel;

(7) whether the defendant’s own negligence placed him or her in a situation where he or she needed a continuance to obtain new counsel;

(8) whether the defendant had some legitimate cause for dissatisfaction with counsel, even though it fell short of likely incompetent representation;

(9) whether there was a “rational basis” for believing that the defendant was seeking to change counsel “primarily for the purpose of delay”;

(10) whether the current counsel was prepared to go to trial;

(11) whether denial of the motion was likely to result in identifiable prejudice to the defendant’s case of a material or substantial nature.

Here, the trial court did not abuse its discretion because the denial of the continuance was based on tenable grounds. It considered relevant information and applied a number of the above-listed factors in making its decision. It also reasoned Castillo-Lopez never expressed dissatisfaction with his appointed counsel. Castillo-Lopez did not want a continuance. Again, the trial court made it clear it would grant the motion for substitution of counsel, but without a continuance. Thus, the denial of the motion for a continuance on July 3, 2014 was not an abuse of discretion because there were no substantial or compelling reasons to continue the trial date and the benefit to Castillo-Lopez was outweighed by the detriment of a continuance on the child victim.

My opinion? The Court should have granted at least  one continuance. Although the crimes were heinous, that’s not the point. Under the 6th Amendment, all defendants deserve a fair trial and to be represented by counsel of their choosing. It takes a lot of time to prepare for jury trial in a multi-count sex case involving Class A felonies. At least one continuance is warranted.

State v. Pearson: DUI Blood Draw Held Unlawful

In State v. Pearson the WA Court of Appeals Division I held that (1) exigent circumstances did not support a warrantless blood draw for marijuana, (2) it’s reversible error to discuss the .05 THC limit in a DUI case that arose prior to the passage of I-502.

Defendant Tamisha Pearson was a medicinal marijuana patient due to numerous health problems. She struck a pedestrian with her car, pulled over and called 911. Seattle Police Officers arrived. Officer Jongma was a drug recognition expert. Pearson initially denied consuming any drugs or alcohol that day. She agreed to perform field sobriety tests.

Some of Pearson’s behavior during the sobriety tests indicated she was impaired. Pearson told Officer Jongma that she is authorized to consume medicinal marijuana and that she had smoked earlier in the day. Based on that, Officer Jongma arrested Pearson for suspicion of Vehicular Assault and DUI.

Officer Jongma transported Pearson to Harborview Medical Center for a blood draw. They arrived at the hospital at approximately 5:26 pm—2 hours after the initial collision and 1 hour and 20 minutes after Officer Jongma arrived on the scene. At approximately 5:50 pm, a nurse drew Pearson’s blood without her consent and without a warrant. A toxicologist analyzed Pearson’s blood sample for cannabinoids on February 21, 2012. The analysis determined Pearson’s THC concentration was approximately 20 nanograms.

On August 18, 2012, the City of Seattle charged Pearson in Seattle Municipal Court on one count of driving while under the influence of an intoxicating drug. The court initially granted Pearson’s motion to suppress the blood evidence.

TRIAL

At trial, the City introduced testimony of forensic toxicologist Justin Knoy of the Washington State Toxicology Laboratory. Over Pearson’s objection, the City elicited testimony from Knoy that the per se legal limit of THC concentration under Washington law was 5 nanograms. At the time, however, no per se limit for THC concentration in Washington existed when the accident occurred. The jury found Pearson guilty of DUI.

ISSUES ON APPEAL

The Court of Appeals addressed four issues: (1) whether exigent circumstances existed to justify the warrantless extraction of Pearson’s blood, (2) whether exigent circumstances existed to justify the warrantless testing of Pearson’s blood, (3) whether the trial court erred when it failed to include Pearson’s proposed jury instruction, and (4) whether the trial court erred when it permitted Knoy to testify that the per se legal limit for THC concentration was 5 nanograms.

1.Exigent Circumstances did NOT Exist to Justify Extracting & Testing Pearson’s Blood.

First, the Court of Appeals decided the City failed to show that obtaining a warrant would have significantly delayed collecting a blood sample. It reasoned that the natural dissipation of THC in Pearson’s bloodstream alone did not constitute an exigency sufficient to bypass the warrant requirement.

2. Trial Court Mistakenly Admitted Testimony From Toxicologist.

Second, the Court of Appeals decided the trial mistakenly admitted testimony from the toxicologist regarding THC limits. At the time, evidence of the .05 legal THC limit was NOT in effect when the offense occurred and was irrelevant to the central question at trial—whether Pearson’s ability to drive was lessened in any appreciable degree by her use of marijuana. The court reasoned the evidence was highly prejudicial because the blood test showed that Pearson had a THC concentration of 20 nanograms. Consequently, evidence of the current per se legal THC limit of 5 nanograms invited the jury to retroactively apply law that was not in effect at the time of the alleged offense and conclude that the blood evidence alone was sufficient to prove guilt.

3. The Defendant’s Jury Instruction Was Properly Denied. 

At trial, the lower court denied the Defendant’s proposed jury instruction:

It is not unlawful for a person to consume a drug and drive. The law recognizes that a person may have consumed a drug and yet not be under the influence of it. It is not enough to prove merely that a driver had consumed a drug.

The Court of Appeals held that, under these circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it refused to include Pearson’s proposed jury instruction because she was able to argue her theory of the case based on the instructions given.

In conclusion, the Court of Appeals reversed the Defendant’s conviction and remanded it back to the lower court.

My opinion? Good rulings; especially the one regarding the mistakenly-admitted testimony from the Toxicologist. I-502’s legal limits regarding THC was not in effect at that time. Having a witness testify to limits was, therefore, a mistake.

Police Brutality Bill in WA Senate

Seattle Times reporter Steve Miletich wrote an article discussing a bill, introduced in the WA State Legislature, which  would make it easier to bring criminal charges against officers over the use of deadly force.

House Bill 2907, sponsored by 12 Democrats in the House, would remove language in state law RCW 9A.16.040 barring police officers from being prosecuted for killing someone in the line of duty as long as they acted in good faith and without malice, or what is defined as “evil intent.”

Miletich reports that RCW 9A.16.040 was the subject of a Seattle Times Special Report  and virtually precludes murder or manslaughter charges against police officers even if prosecutors concluded that an officer committed a wrongful killing.

House Bill 2907 comes at a time of national scrutiny of killings by police, marked by the Black Lives Matter movement. Miletich reports that it “faces a steep hurdle” to attract enough votes in the House, which is narrowly controlled by Democrats, some from conservative rural districts, and to win passage in the Republican-controlled Senate.

In addition to striking the “malice” and “good-faith wording,” House Bill 2907 eliminates language outlining some scenarios in which officers may use deadly force. It’s replaced requirements stating that an officer must “reasonably” believe that there is an “imminent threat” of death or serious injury to the officer or a third party, and that lethal action is necessary to prevent it.

What is reasonable, imminent and necessary is likely to be hotly debated. Supporters believe the proposed changes would be beneficial.

“This legislation provides much-needed guidance to law enforcement officers statewide on the use of deadly force,” Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement. “It rightly allows officers to use deadly force only if they reasonably believe that there is an imminent threat of serious harm to themselves or other persons.” She argues that  current laws have made it nearly impossible for the public to hold officers accountable for the wrongful use of deadly force and has hindered our ability to ensure justice for all.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Public Safety. It grew from legislation prepared by the Black Alliance of Thurston County, formed in the aftermath of the shooting of two young black men in Olympia last year by a white police officer.

My opinion? The legislation is timely, for sure. Statistics suggest that shootings from police are increasing. Modern technology by way of dash-cams, cell phone cameras and police body cameras has exposed the phenomenon. Archaic laws should not continue to protect police officers who unnecessarily shoot people.

Mugshot Shaming & Facebook

A news article from CBS 6 News reports that the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia has decided to post weekly mugshots of people arrested on DUI charges on their Facebook page. Every Thursday they put the mugshots together into a video that gets thousands of views.

The sheriff told CBS 6 that while deputies aren’t making the arrests, they’re hoping the videos will make a difference.

“It’s a community issue,” he said, and pointed out that DUI infractions are on the rise.

Over the past seven days, 22 people in Chesterfield were charged with DUI.

“So we wanted to do our part, in conjuction with the police department, who do a good job making the arrests, and seeing if we couldn’t help deter somebody from getting in that car when they’ve had too much to drink,” said Sheriff Karl Leonard.

Additionally, the Chesterfield Sheriff’s Office wants to remind viewers that everyone you see here is innocent until proven guilty in court.

My opinion? Often, clients facing criminal charges ask me whether they can sue the Bellingham Herald – or anyone else, for that matter – on claims of slander and/or libel for posting their arrest on the Herald’s weekly jail reports.

Unfortunately, the typical answer is “No.” Under the common law, proving slander and libel require a finding that the information distributed to the public is untrue. Here, the fact that someone was arrested is, in fact, true. Therefore, that information can be reported. Additionally, news media outlets reporting this information provide the caveat to viewers that arrested individuals are innocent until proven guilty in court. Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office has done this as well.

Still, social media is used by everyone. Who among us wants their arrest information posted on Facebook? The information is a scarlet letter. It’s embarrassing. Worst-case scenario,  people may lose employment opportunities and come under scrutiny from their peers, family and friends from the posting of this highly personal information on Facebook.

On a positive note, posting people’s mugshots on Facebook could reveal whether police are racially profiling DUI defendants. Watch the video. Notice how 99.9% of Chesterfield County’s DUI offenders are Hispanic or African American? This, in a county where census data information reveals that 70% of Chesterfield County’s population is 70% Caucasian?

Interesting. Stay tuned . . .

DV Assault & Malicious Mischief Charges DISMISSED

 

Today, Mr. Ransom obtained dismissals on a Client’s charges of Assault Fourth Degree (DV); Malicious Mischief Third Degree (DV) and Malicious Mischief Third Degree (non-DV).

These crimes are gross misdemeanors. Each one of them is punishable up to a year in jail, a $5,000.00 fine, DV evaluations, drug/alcohol evaluations and 2-5 years of active probation. Being convicted also harmed Client’s future employment opportunities, prohibited the owning/possessing a firearms and denied his entry into Canada.

Mr. Ransom’s investigations revealed that all parties were heavily intoxicated, Client acted in self-defense and the alleged victims did not want to pursue charges. Based on this, Mr. Ransom convinced Prosecutor to enter a 6-month Stipulated Order of Continuance (SOC). Client dutifully and successfully completed the SOC’s stipulations. This favorable resolution avoided trial and resulted in dismissals of all charges.

Mr. Ransom and Client are extremely grateful for the efforts of government authorities who investigated and negotiated this case.

Bellingham’s New & Innovative Jail Alternatives Program

 

Recently, the Bellingham City Council approved a new and innovative program to expand alternatives to incarceration and help reduce Whatcom County Jail overcrowding issues.

The Bellingham Reduced Incarceration Challenge (BRIC) program allows eligible defendants to serve their incarceration through a private, non-profit agency, Friendship Diversion Services (FDS).

ELECTRONIC HOME MONITORING UNDER THE BRIC PROGRAM

Here, FDS provides jail alternatives such as Electronic Home Detention (EHD) and monitoring through such devices as SCRAM once the defendant is screened and deemed eligible. GPS technology allows 24-hour monitoring. Participants on EHD must remain in their residence unless the Court permits them to leave for a specific purpose. However, they may leave the home for certain verified periods for approved activities to include school, work, treatment, counselling, probation/parole, medical/ dental appointments, scheduled court hearings, attorney appointments and child care provisions.

While there are fees associated with this jail alternative, the costs are significantly lower than traditional jail and/or jail alternatives.

Even more attractive, this alternative sentencing program is especially helpful for those with medical issues that prevent them from serving traditional jail or alternatives since they can serve their sentence at home and continue their prescribed medical treatment.

ELIGIBILITY

Anyone serving through FDS must meet statutory eligibility criteria, a screening assessment and have a sentence of more than one day. The present costs associated with FDS commitment is as follows:

*$50 hook-up fee (for ankle bracelet)

*$14.50 per day (GPS)

*$25.00 per day (GPS and SCRAM)

All defendants will be eligible to apply for financial assistance if FDS finds that they qualify as low income during the intake screening process.

HOW IT WORKS

At sentencing, the Court enters a Home Detention Order (HDOR) authorizing the defendant to serve his/her sentence through FDS, if eligible. Any request for credit for time served (CFTS) should be presented with verification at the time of sentencing. The defendant is then initially screened to determine eligibility. If deemed eligible, the defendant must comply by first contacting FDS by phone within 1 business day to set an intake appointment. At sentencing, the defendant signs a promise to appear for a Jail Review scheduled approximately 2 weeks after sentencing. That review hearing is stricken once the Court receives confirmation from FDS that the defendant has complied. A sample copy of this HDOR is attached. If requesting credit for time served (CFTS) towards any jail recommendation, the attorneys should come prepared at sentencing with documentation verifying any jail already served since the Court cannot obtain that information.

Any violations of the HDOR are reviewed by the Court to determine appropriate sanctions including removing the defendant from the FDS program and withholding jail alternatives for the balance of the sentence.

The Court intends to expand the BRIC program to encourage rehabilitation and reintegration. These programs benefit both the individual and the community. Programs being considered, among other things include re-licensing, theft awareness classes and even the possibility of work crews.

My opinion? I’m impressed. The BRIC program is a new and innovative way to facilitate EHM without having to get Whatcom County Jail Alternatives or a private home monitoring company involved. Good stuff.

Drowsy Driving

An recent news article by Krithika Varagur of the Huffington Post discusses the oft-ignored epidemic of how sleep deprivation has severe effects on performance. Staying awake for 24 hours is equivalent to having a BAC of 0.08 percent, which is legally drunk.

The evidence exists. For example, the National Sleep Foundation suggests that drowsy driving is linked to about 100,000 car crashes every year. Also, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined the average number of accidents linked to sleep deprivation between 2005 and 2009 to be about 83,000 per year. Finally, studies by the American Automobile Association estimate that more than 300,000 accidents each year involve a drowsy driver, with 6,400 resulting in someone’s death.

Varagur says that despite these staggering numbers, only two states in the U.S. have any laws against “drowsy driving,” and even these are largely symbolic and tough to enforce.

Problematically, it’s difficult to prove that drowsy drivers were, in fact, asleep at the wheel while driving. “The burden of proof in drowsy driving cases falls almost totally on police officers,” Jeff Evans, program manager of the National Sleep Foundation, told Varagur of The Huffington Post. “Barring a confession from the accused driver, it is very difficult to prove that someone was sleep-deprived.”

New Jersey became the first state to pass drowsy driving legislation in 2003 with “Maggie’s Law,” which says that if a driver kills someone after not sleeping for more than 24 hours, the driver can be charged with vehicular homicide.  “Maggie’s Law” was the result of a campaign by Carole McDonnell, whose daughter Maggie was killed in a 1997 car crash by a van driver who had smoked crack and hadn’t slept in 30 hours. The driver’s case resolved with him paying a $200 fine because the jury could not consider driver fatigue as a factor of guilt.

Again, however, the law is difficult to enforce because it requires the driver to admit sleeplessness in court. Also, there’s no test yet to prove someone is sleep-deprived. In the decade since the law’s passage, only one person has been prosecuted under it for driving while fatigued.

In 2013, Arkansas passed a similar law that allows the state to charge a driver with “negligent homicide” in a fatal crash if the driver hasn’t slept in 24 hours.

At the moment, the issue of drowsy driving lacks the strong political will that drunk driving had. Mothers Against Drunk Driving helped reduce alcohol-related accidents dramatically in the 1980s, and in the 1990s, Harvard public health professor Jay Winsten led a national “designated driver” campaign to popularize one possible solution for the drunk driving crisis. Both these efforts elevated the problem of drunk driving in the American public consciousness.

My opinion? It’s terrible to say, but I don’t know if criminalizing this behavior through legislation is the proper solution. Again, “drowsy driving” is very hard to prove unless a police officer or witness actually saw the driver asleep. And although police might get the driver to admit they were sleeping, these incriminating statements can be suppressed, explained away or justified at trial.

There’s a range of opinions on how best to address the problem, and not all of them include legislation.