Monthly Archives: October 2016

“Knock & Announce” Was Too Short.

Image result for cops break down door

In State v. Ortiz, the WA Court of Appeals Division III held that police violated a defendant’s rights when they forced entry into his home after waiting only 6-9 seconds of their “knock and announce” during the early morning.

In late July 2011, Wapato Police Sergeant Robert Hubbard viewed the backyard of the defendant’s property from the vantage point of a cooperative neighbor. He saw two marijuana plants. Sergeant Hubbard was granted a search warrant for the property.

on August 11, 2011, at approximately 6:4 7 a.m., Sergeant Hubbard and 11 other police officers executed the search warrant at the property. He knocked on the door three times, announced “police search warrant,” waited one to two seconds, and repeated that process twice more. Hearing nothing inside the home, the officers breached the front door and entered the home.

Upon searching the property, the officers found 41 marijuana plants in various stages of growth and other evidence of a grow operation. Mr. Ortiz was eventually charged with one count of manufacture of a controlled substance, one count of involving a minor in an unlawful controlled substance transaction, and several other counts not relevant on appeal.

At the end of trial, the jury found Mr. Ortiz guilty.

On appeal, Mr. Ortiz argued he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his defense attorney failed to challenge the execution of the search warrant for failure to comply with the knock and announce rule.

EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL.

The Court of Appeals began by explaining that effective assistance of counsel is guaranteed by both the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 22 of the Washington Constitution. First, the defendant must show he received deficient representation. Second, the defendant must show he suffered prejudice as a result of the deficient performance.

“KNOCK & ANNOUNCE” RULE.

Next, the court explained the “knock and announce” rule. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that a non-consensual entry by the police be preceded by an announcement of identity and purpose on the part of the officers. This is part of the constitutional requirement that search warrants be reasonably executed.

In WA State, the parallel requirement of article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution is codified in RCW 10.31.040. It states, “To make an arrest in criminal actions, the officer may break open any outer or inner door, or windows of a dwelling house or other building, or any other enclosure, if, after notice of his or her office and purpose, he or she be refused admittance.”

The Court explained that in order to comply with the “Knock & Announce” statute, the police must, prior to a non-consensual entry, announce their identity, demand admittance, announce the purpose of their demand, and be explicitly or implicitly denied admittance. The requirement of a demand for admittance and an explicit or implicit denial of admittance have been merged into a ‘waiting period,’ often linked to whether the police officers are refused admittance. Strict compliance with the rule is required unless the State can demonstrate that one of the two exceptions to the rule applies: exigent circumstances or futility of compliance. Finally, the proper remedy for an unexcused violation is suppression of the evidence obtained by the violation.

Here, the only disputed issue was whether the police waited long enough before they broke down the door. The answer to this question depends upon the circumstances of the case.

The Court elaborated that the reasonableness of the waiting period is evaluated in light of the purposes of the rule, which are: ( 1) reduction of potential violence to both occupants and police arising from an unannounced entry, (2) prevention of unnecessary property damage, and (3) protection of an occupant’s right to privacy.

Here, the Court believed the waiting period of 6-9 seconds was unreasonable:

“In this case, due to the early hour of the search, the occupants were foreseeably asleep. Six to nine seconds was not a reasonable amount of time for them to respond to the police, and thus no denial of admittance can be inferred. Even Sergeant Hubbard admitted it would not be a surprise that sleeping occupants would be unable to respond in that amount of time. In addition, the purposes of the rule were not fulfilled due to the property damage done by battering in the door. The police did not comply with the rule.”

Although the State presented cases where the “knock and announce” rule was adhered to after police officers breached entry quickly after announcing, the Court nevertheless reasoned that in each of those cases the defendants were both present and awake. But here, the officers did not have any indication the home’s occupants were present or awake.

Because the police violated the knock and announce rule, and there is no legitimate strategic or tactical reason for failing to challenge the search, counsel was deficient for not moving to suppress the evidence. This deficiency, reasoned the court, prejudiced the defendant.

The Court concluded that Mr. Ortiz established that he was deprived of his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. The court reversed his convictions and remanded the case back to the trial court with directions to suppress the fruits of the illegal search.

My opinion? Excellent decision. Search and seizure issues like this are incredibly interesting. For more information on the case law surrounding these issues please review my Legal Guide titled, Search & Seizure: Basic Issues Regarding Their Search for Weapons, Drugs, Firearms and Other Contraband.

Possessing Controlled Substances for Family Members.

Image result for giving pills to family

In State v. Yokel, the WA Court of Appeals Division II decided that it’s a valid defense for defendants to possess a controlled substance pursuant to a household member’s valid prescription.

On February 15, 2015, a police officer discovered defendant Mary Yokel’s car parked in front of a motel room. Yokel had an active arrest warrant. Officer Croy knocked on the motel room door and made contact with Yokel. He then arrested Yokel on the warrant and searched her person incident to arrest. During the search, Officer Croy located one pill in Yokel’s pants pocket and verified it was Vicodin, containing hydrocodone. Yokel said she was holding the Vicodin pill for her daughter, who has a valid prescription. The State charged Yokel with two counts of possession of a controlled substance.

At trial, Yokel wanted to introduce evidence that she possessed the Vicodin pursuant to her 16-year-old daughter’s valid prescription. Yokel’s defense was that on the day in question, she had taken two of the pills out of the Vicodin bottle, gave one to her daughter, and put the other one in her pocket after determining that her daughter should not take two pills.

However, the trial judge denied Yokel’s motion to continue the case to allow her daughter to testify. Also, the court granted the Prosecutor’s motion in limine to exclude any evidence regarding Yokel’s daughter’s valid Vicodin prescription.

As a result, at trial, Yokel was not allowed to testify that she possessed the controlled substance for the purpose of administering it to her daughter. The jury found Yokel guilty of one count of possession of a controlled substance (hydrocodone). Yokel appealed.

  1. RCW 69.50.4013(1) PROVIDES THE DEFENSE THAT DEFENDANTS MAY HOLD PRESCRIPTION PILLS FOR FAMILY MEMBERS.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals agreed with Yokel that RCW 69.50.4013(1) permits a defendant to possess a household member’s valid prescription for a controlled substance. It reasoned the statute provides an affirmative defense to a person who lawfully possesses a controlled substance obtained “directly from” or “pursuant to” a valid prescription. By including these different phrases in the statute, the legislature indicated its intent that each phrase have a different meaning.

Additionally, former RCW 69.50.308 (2013), one of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act’s statutes, allows practitioners to dispense controlled substances to an “ultimate user” pursuant to a prescription. The Act defines an “ultimate user” as an individual who lawfully possesses a controlled substance for the individual’s own use.

Consequently, reasoned the Court, this definition of “ultimate user” indicates the legislature’s intent to allow an ultimate user to possess a controlled substance for the use of another household member:

“Interpreting former RCW 69.50.4013(1) as prohibiting ultimate users from lawfully possessing a controlled substance prescribed to another household member leads to an absurd result. Reading the statute in such a way criminalizes behavior that may involve a common caretaking function. For example, a son who picks up his bedridden father’s prescription medication or a mother who administers a prescription medication to her infant daughter would be in violation of the statute.”

2. THE RIGHT TO PRESENT A DEFENSE.

The Court of Appeals said the trial court violated Yokel’s constitutional right to present a defense when it suppressed her from testifying why she held the pill for her daughter. The Court reasoned that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 22 of the Washington Constitution guarantee a criminal defendant the right to present a defense to the crimes charged.

Here, a defendant has the right to present admissible evidence in her defense and must show the evidence is at least minimally relevant to the fact at issue in her case.  Further, a defendant is entitled to a jury instruction supporting her theory of the case if there is substantial evidence in the record supporting it. “The trial court effectively barred Yokel from presenting a defense because it excluded all evidence regarding her daughter’s prescription and declined to give her proposed affirmative defense instruction,” reasoned the Court. “In light of our ruling above, the instruction and all evidence in support thereof should have been allowed at trial.”

The Court of Appeals concluded the trial court misinterpreted former RCW 69.50.4013(1) and, as a result, denied Yokel the right to present a defense. Therefore, it reversed Yokel’s conviction and remanded for a new trial.

My opinion? Excellent decision. The court rightfully went to arguments of statutory construction and interpreted the plain meaning of the statute to reach its decision. Well done.

Premeditated Murder Unproved.

Image result for premeditated

In State v. Hummel, the WA Court of Appeals Division I reversed a defendant’s conviction for first degree murder due to insufficient evidence of premeditation. It reasoned that proof of a strong motive to kill the victim does not, in itself, establish planning or the method of killing. Because the prosecutor did not request the court instruct the jury on murder in the second degree, the Court dismissed the case with prejudice.

The facts are interesting. Two juries in Whatcom County Superior Court found defendant Bruce Allen Hummel guilty of killing his wife, Alice Hummel. Both were retired Alaska teachers. Their two daughters lived on Alabama Hill in Bellingham in the early 1990s. This case was heavily covered in the Bellingham Herald.

The story begins with Mr. Hummel informing their children that their mother decided to move away and leave the family. Over the years, the girls continued to receive letters and gifts in the mail from Alice. Bruce Hummel told the girls Alice had earned a promotion and moved to Texas.

In 2001, the girls reported their mother missing in 2001. They recalled the strange circumstances of their mom’s disappearance. Bellingham police detectives found only traces of their mother’s existence: a current driver’s license from Alaska, monthly disability deposits from a teachers’ retirement system in Alaska, and withdrawals from a bank account in Alaska. Once detectives confronted him with $340,000 in disability checks he had collected under Alice’s name, Mr. Hummel admitted Mrs. Hummel had been dead for years. He claimed she committed suicide by cutting her wrists. Her body was never found.

Hummel was convicted of 12 counts of wire fraud in federal court, for the theft of the disability checks, then charged with murder in the first degree in Whatcom County.

At his first trial in August 2009, Hummel of first-degree murder in August 2009. He appealed as he started serving a sentence of 45 years in prison. The Washington State Court of Appeals found, in 2012, that that there was sufficient evidence to prove the case, but that Hummel’s rights were violated during voir dire, when potential jurors were questioned in private about sensitive issues in their personal lives. (Many other similar, serious cases have been overturned in Washington for not undertaking what is called the Bone-Club analysis, essentially a checklist to avoid violating a defendant’s right to a public trial).

At his second trial in May 2014, Hummel was again convicted of first-degree murder. This time he was sentenced to 26 years in prison, a shorter term because the Court of Appeals found his federal crimes should not count toward his criminal history because there was no comparable state law to federal wire fraud in 1990.

Hummel appealed with assistance from the Washington Appellate Project. Hummel argued there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction because the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the essential element of premeditation.
The Court of Appeals agreed. It reasoned that no trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Hummel killed Alice with premeditated intent to commit murder in the first degree. Reversal for insufficient evidence is “equivalent to an acquittal” and bars retrial for the same offense.  Also, the Court reasoned that the Double Jeopardy Clause forbids a second trial for the purpose of affording the prosecution another opportunity to supply evidence which it failed to muster in prior proceedings. Because the prosecutor did not request the court instruct the jury on the lesser included crime of murder in the second degree, the Court of Appeals held it could not remand to enter a judgment on murder in the second degree.
The Court of Appeals reversed and vacate the conviction for premeditated murder in the first degree, and remand the case back to Superior Court to dismiss the conviction with prejudice.
My opinion? This isn’t over. I’m certain the State shall appeal to the WA Supreme Court.

Felony Disenfranchisement & Voting.

Image result for disenfranchised felon

A new study conducted by professors Christopher Uggen, Ryan Larson, and Sarah Shannon and released by the Sentencing Project reveals that a record 6.1 million Americans are forbidden to vote because of felony disenfranchisement, or laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felony-level crimes. The number of disenfranchised individuals has increased dramatically along with the rise in criminal justice populations in recent decades, rising from an estimated 1.17 million in 1976 to 6.1 million today.

Apparently, the United States remains one of the world’s strictest nations when it comes to denying the right to vote to citizens convicted of crimes. An estimated 6.1 million Americans are forbidden to vote because of “felony disenfranchisement,” or laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felony-level crimes.

The study’s key findings include the following:

  • As of 2016, an estimated 6.1 million people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, a figure that has escalated dramatically in recent decades as the population under criminal justice supervision has increased. There were an estimated 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, 3.34 million in 1996, and 5.85 million in 2010.
  • Approximately 2.5 percent of the total U.S. voting age population – 1 of every 40 adults – is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.
  • Individuals who have completed their sentences in the twelve states that disenfranchise people post-sentence make up over 50 percent of the entire disenfranchised population, totaling almost 3.1 million people.
  • Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised.
  • The state of Florida alone accounts for more than a quarter (27 percent) of the disenfranchised population nationally, and its nearly 1.5 million individuals disenfranchised post-sentence account for nearly half (48 percent) of the national total.
  • One in 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than that of non-African Americans. Over 7.4 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8 percent of the non-African American population.
  • African American disenfranchisement rates also vary significantly by state. In four states – Florida (21 percent), Kentucky (26 percent), Tennessee (21 percent), and Virginia (22 percent) – more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.

My opinion? It makes no sense why convicts are prevented from voting if they’ve been sentenced and punished. It’s a terrible violation of civil rights. Period. Please contact my office if you’re a convicted felon who has paid your debt to society and want your voting rights and/or firearms rights restored.

I-873: Police Accountability

Image result for I-873: Police Accountability

We’ve all heard it. Killings by police in the line of duty have surged in Washington and the United States over the past decade, according to a Seattle Times analysis. During that period, only one police officer has been criminally charged in state courts with the illegal use of deadly force on the job.

In fact, that case is the only one to be brought in the three decades since Washington enacted the nation’s most restrictive law on holding officers accountable for the unjustified use of deadly force.

Not This Time! and Washington For Good Policing (W4GP) are a grass-roots movements that evolved from the  killing by the Seattle Police Department of Mr. Che Andre Taylor on February 21, 2016. The campaigns  are working to collect 350,000 signatures to put Initiative 873 in front of Washington State’s legislature in January 2017.

This is the first legislative initiative of its kind in the nation that would put forth police accountability. If passed, the legislative initiative may be a model for other states.

The initiative appears to be gaining momentum. It is endorsed by the Seattle Police Department, the ACLU of Washington, numerous state senators, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, Kshama Sawant and Lorena Gonzalez of the Seattle City Council, Lisa Duggaard of the Public Defenders Association, Jim Cooper and Jessica Bateman of the Olympia City Council.

Also, the following newspapers and media outlets have discussed and encouraged the passage of the bill:

It’s refreshing that I-873 has such a broad range of support, especially from the Seattle Police Department. Let’s move forward with the hope that holding officers accountable for unjustified shootings increases respect for police and professionalism within police ranks. For sure, it’s step in the right direction.

Corpus Delicti & Murder Confessions

Image result for criminal interrogation and confessions

In State v. Young, the WA Court of Appeals Division II decided the defendant’s confession to murder was properly admitted because the State presented ample independent evidence of (1) the fact of death, and (2) a causal connection between the death and a criminal act.

On the morning of July 4, 2013, John Young entered the Desert Food Mart in Benton City and asked the cashier to call 911 because he had witnessed a shooting of a man named Jacob. Police were summoned. As the investigation proceeded, Mr. Young became a suspect. He was brought in for questioning, and consented to audio and video recording of an interview.

During the interview, an officer read Mr. Young Miranda warnings and obtained his agreement that he understood he was now a suspect and any statements he made could be used against him. Mr. Young then confessed that Jacob was involved in a drug deal gone wrong. With the assistance of an accomplice named Joshua Hunt,  Mr. Young admitted he fired one shot into Jacob’s head near the temple-cheek region, killing him.

Mr. Young also confessed that he and Mr. Hunt disposed of their shoes and gun by putting the items into a backpack and throwing the backpack into a river. Later, police recovered the shoes and gun.  The shoes matched footprints and shoe patterns that had been found in the sand near Jacob’s body. The Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory determined that all of the bullets recovered from the crime scene had been fired from the Charter pistol found in the backpack.

Mr. Young was charged with first degree murder.

During a 3.5 hearing, Young’s attorney lawyer stipulated to the admission of the videotaped interview, telling the court:

“We believe it’s in our interests to actually stipulate to the 3.5 hearing, and I’ve discussed that with Mr. Young, and I know the Court will make its own inquiries, but he knows and understands he has a right to that hearing, but we believe it’s in our benefit and strategic interest to proceed with the stipulation.”

The court questioned Mr. Young, who stated he understood he had a right to a hearing on the admissibility of the statements but was agreeing instead that all of his statements were admissible.

During trial, Mr. Young’s videotaped confession was played for the jury. At the conclusion of the evidence, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Mr. Young appeals.

Mr. Young argued his defense counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel by stipulating to the admission of Mr. Young’s confession when there was no independent evidence apart from his confession, under the corpus delecti rule, sufficient to establish all the elements of first degree murder.

For those who don’t know, corpus delicti is a term from Western jurisprudence referring to the principle that a crime must be proved to have occurred before a person can be convicted of committing that crime.

The Court of Appeals rejected Young’s arguments. It reasoned that in a homicide case, the corpus delecti generally consists of two elements: (1) the fact of death, and (2) a causal connection between the death and a criminal act. It can be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence, which need not be enough to support a conviction or send the case to the jury. In assessing whether there is sufficient evidence of the corpus delicti independent of a defendant’s statements, the Court assumes the truth of the State’s evidence and all reasonable inferences from it in a light most favorable to the State.

Here, the corpus of the crime of murder was amply established by (1) a dead person; (2) multiple gunshot wounds that established a casual connection with a criminal act; (3) testimony eliminating the possibility of self-inflicted wounds; and (4) the recovery of the weapon miles away from the dead body.

Furthermore, the Court reasoned that the State is not required to present independent evidence of the defendant’s mental state. It reasoned the State is not required to present independent evidence sufficient to demonstrate anything other than the fact of death and a causal connection between the death and a criminal act.

Finally, the Court rejected Mr. Young’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel:

“It appears from his closing argument that Mr. Young’s trial lawyer believed his client’s videotaped interview would advance that argument. Mr. Young fails to demonstrate that his trial lawyer lacked a strategic reason for the stipulation.”

With that, the Court of Appeals confirmed Mr. Young’s conviction.

My opinion? This case represents a fairly straightforward analysis of the corpus delicti defense. I’ve had great success when it applies, and have managed to get many criminal charges reduced or dismissed under this defense. However, the corpus delicti defense is extremely narrow. Aside from the defendant’s confession, there must be virtually NO independent evidence connecting the defendant to the crime. Here, other evidence existed which implicated Mr. Young and the defense was found inapplicable.

Marijuana Arrests Increase.

Image result for mass incarceration of blacks for drug crimes

Excellent article from reporter Timothy Williams of the New York Times discusses a new study by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch which reveals that marijuana arrests were about 13.6 percent more than the 505,681 arrests made for all violent crimes, including murder, rape and serious assaults.

The report comes in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott last month in Charlotte, N.C. Mr. Scott, 43, had attracted police attention in part because, the police said, he was smoking marijuana.

The report is the latest study to highlight the disparate treatment African-Americans often receive in the criminal justice system, including disproportionate numbers of blacks who are sent to jail when they are unable to pay court-imposed fees, or stopped by the police during traffic stops or while riding bicycles. Its many findings are disturbing.

THE REPORT’S FINDINGS:

  • Although whites are more likely than blacks to use illicit drugs — including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes — black adults were more than two-and-a-half times as likely to be arrested.
  • In Iowa, Montana and Vermont — places with relatively small populations of African Americans — blacks were more than six times as likely to be arrested on drug possession charges than whites.
  • In terms of marijuana possession, black adults were more than four times as likely to be arrested as white adults in the 39 states in which sufficient data was available.
  • In Manhattan, where blacks make up about 15 percent of the population, African-Americans are nearly 11 times as likely as whites to be arrested on drug possession.
  • African-Americans may also be more apt to face arrest, according to researchers, because they might be more likely to smoke marijuana outdoors, attracting the attention of the police.
  • The above disparities persist whether there are few or many African-Americans in a given area.

Mr. Williams also wrote that, according to criminologists, African-Americans are arrested more often than whites and others for drug possession in large part because of questionable police practices. Police departments, for example, typically send large numbers of officers to neighborhoods that have high crime rates. A result is that any offense — including minor ones like loitering, jaywalking or smoking marijuana — can lead to an arrest, which in turn drives up arrest rate statistics, leading to even greater police vigilance.

“It is selective enforcement, and the example I like to use is that you have all sorts of drug use inside elite college dorms, but you don’t see the police busting through doors,” said Inimai M. Chettiar, director of the Justice Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

Recorded Arguments & Privacy.

Image result for privacy and cell phones

In State v. Smith, the WA Court of Appeals Division II held that an accidentally recorded argument between the defendant and his wife was improperly admitted at trial and violated the Washington Privacy Act.

John and Sheryl were a married couple. On June 2, 2013, they were in their residence drinking. They became intoxicated and began to argue. John began to beat and strangle Sheryl, who lost consciousness due to the strangling. Sometime during the attack, John used the residence’s landline telephone to try to locate his cell phone. Unable to do so, he was unaware that his actions activated his cell phone’s voice mail function, which started recording part of the dispute. In that recording, John is heard yelling insults at Sheryl. Sheryl responded to these statements by screaming unintelligibly or asking him to stop or leave her alone. At one point during the recording, Sheryl tells John to “Get away,” to which he responds, “No way. I will kill you.”

Shortly after the voice mail was recorded, John left the residence. Sheryl called 911 and reported that John had beaten her. A police officer with the Vancouver Police Department arrived at the residence, and Sheryl was transported to the hospital. John’s cell phone was retrieved and taken by the police. John was later arrested and charged with first degree attempted murder (domestic violence), second degree attempted murder (domestic violence), first degree assault (domestic violence), and second degree assault (domestic violence). Before trial, John moved to suppress the cell phone voice mail recording based on RCW 9.73.030, which applies to intercepting, recording and/or the divulging of private communications under the WA Privacy Act. The trial court held a CrR 3.6 hearing and denied his motion.

At John’s bench trial, the recorded voice mail, 911 phone calls, and photographs of Sheryl’s injuries were admitted into evidence. The trial court found John guilty of second degree attempted murder and second degree assault, both with domestic violence enhancements.

John appealed on three issues: (1) whether the recorded voice mail’s contents are a conversation; (2) if the contents are a conversation, whether it was private; and (3) if a private conversation, whether it was recorded or intercepted.

For the following reasons, the Court held that John recorded a private conversation in violation of RCW 9.73.030.

1. DID A CONVERSATION TAKE PLACE?

Amidst screaming from Sheryl, the following communications took place:

John: “You think you’re bleeding?. . . . You’re the most fucked up person. Give me back the phone.”

Sheryl: “Get away.”

John: “No way. I will kill you.”

Sheryl: “I know.”

John: “Did you want to kill me? Give me back my phone.”

Sheryl: “No. Leave me alone.”

The Court reasoned that the contents of the recorded voice mail constituted a conversation. Although Sheryl’s screams alone would not constitute a conversation, these screams were responsive to statements that John was making to Sheryl and were scattered throughout the entire dispute, which contained repeated verbal exchanges between the two individuals as outlined above. Within this context, Sheryl’s screams serve as an expression of sentiments responsive to John’s yelling and thus constitute part of a conversation.

2. WAS THE CONVERSATION PRIVATE?

The Court held that the conversation was private. Here, a domestic dispute occurred between two married persons in the privacy of their home. It reasoned that the location of the conversation, the relationship between the parties, and the absence of third parties all declare the privacy of the conversation. Therefore, reasoned the Court, John had a “subjective intention and reasonable expectation that the conversation with Sheryl would be private.”

3. IF THE CONVERSATION WAS PRIVATE, WAS IT RECORDED OR INTERCEPTED?

The Court held that the WA Privacy Act was violated when John accidentally recorded a private conversation without Sheryl’s consent. It reasoned that the WA Privacy Act requires the consent of all parties to a private conversation. Further, the case law has implied that no third party is required to record a conversation. In other words, a party to a private conversation can also be the person who impermissibly records the conversation. Thus, reasoned the Court, John’s recording of this conversation can violate the privacy act, even though he accidentally made himself a party to it.

Based on the above, the Court reversed and remanded the second degree attempted murder conviction, but affirmed the second degree assault conviction.

My opinion? Although my sympathies go out to the victim, the Court’s decision was correct. Privacy is a mysterious subject matter in our ever-changing world. Cell phones and other devices allow us to record anything, any time, anywhere. The fact is, most of us don’t know even know we’re even being recorded in our daily lives. So you can imagine a scenario where accidental recordings become the subject for intense litigation.

Many clients ask me if recorded conversations between themselves and alleged victims/witnesses are admissible at trial. Clearly, the answer is “No” under the WA Privacy Act unless the participants are (1) aware that their conversation is being recorded, and (2) expressly consent to the recording. Interesting stuff. This case was a good decision upholding our privacy rights in the face of today’s technological advancements.

Lawnmowers Aren’t Vehicles.

Image result for steal riding lawnmower

In State v. Barnes, the WA Court of Appeals Division III held that a riding lawnmower is not a “motor vehicle” for the the crime of Theft of a Motor Vehicle, RCW 9A.56.065.

On June 22, 2015, defendant Joshua Barnes and a female companion, Danielle Goodman, drove a white pickup to Judy Fraker’s property near Leavenworth. Fraker was home. Barnes exited the pickup, mounted Fraker’s riding lawnmower, and started the mower’s motor. The mower was a Craftsman, gas-powered, self-propelled riding lawnmower, with a twenty-six horse power engine. Barnes drove the lawnmower up a ramp and into the bed of his pickup.

Fraker exited her home, confronted Barnes, ordered him to remove her lawnmower from his pickup and leave her premises. Barnes obeyed. Two days later, Barnes admitted to law enforcement that he attempted to steal the riding lawnmower.

The State of Washington charged Barnes with Theft of a Motor Vehicle, Driving With License Suspended in the Third Degree, and Criminal Trespass in the Second Degree. Barnes argued a Knapstad Motion to dismiss the allegation of Theft of a Motor Vehicle under arguments that the evidence was insufficient because a lawnmower is not a “motor vehicle.” The trial court agreed and dismissed the charge of theft of a motor vehicle without prejudice. The State pursued appealed.

The Court began by saying that Washington follows the “Plain Meaning” rule. In other words, to determine legislative intent, this court looks first to the language of the statute. If the statute’s meaning is plain on its face, the court will give effect to that plain meaning as the expression of what was intended. Here, the Court reasoned that a riding lawnmower meets the elements· of ‘motor vehicle’ if we read RCW 46.04.320 and .670 literally.

Nevertheless – and in a surprising twist – the Court questioned whether we should always follow the Plain Meaning principle. First, “The legislature sometimes uses inept language in expressing its intent,” reasoned the Court. Second, courts should interpret statutes to affect their purpose. “Therefore, any unlikely, absurd, or strained consequences resulting from a plain and literal reading of the statute should be avoided and a literal reading of RCW 46.04.320 and its definition of “motor vehicle” would lead to unintended and silly results,” reasoned the Court:

“As argued by Joshua Barnes, a literal reading ofRCW 46.04.320 and its definition of ‘motor vehicle’ would lead to unintended and silly results. An iRobot Roomba, a self-propelled vacuum, would be a motor vehicle, since one could transport small property on the Roomba. A jokester could place her cat on top of the vacuum and send the iRobot Roomba down her neighborhood street. Theft of a child’s remote control car that includes a doll in the driver’s seat would also qualify for theft of a motor vehicle if we literally read RCW 46.04.320 and .670. Therefore, the purposes behind RCW 9A.56.065 should assist in limiting a literal meaning of the ‘motor vehicle’ definition.”

With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed the superior court’s dismissal of charges against Joshua Barnes for theft of a motor vehicle. “A riding lawnmower is not a motor vehicle for purposes of theft.”

My opinion? Good decision. I’ve argued many pretrial motions where my opponent’s statutory interpretations lead to absurd results. Sometimes, we must point out the obvious.

Panhandling is Free Speech

Image result for police arrest panhandler

 In  City of Lakewood v. Willis, the WA Supreme Court held that a Lakewood Municipal Ordinance that prohibited begging near highways and intersections of major highways violated the First Amendment.
Mr. Willis was standing near an exit ramp from I-5 in Lakewood and holding a sign saying he was disabled and needed help.  An officer cited Mr. Willis for “Aggressive Begging,” a crime under Lakewood Municipal Code (LMC) 9A.04.020A.
At trial, the jury found Mr. Willis guilty. The municipal court sentenced him to 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000, with 90 days and $750 suspended. The court also assessed $125 in costs. Mr. Willis appealed, raising several constitutional challenges to the statute.
On appeal, the WA Supreme Court reasoned that although the government can impose certain restrictions on speech in a public forum, such as reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions; it cannot impose restrictions based on content. Consequently, Willis may challenge the ordinance as facially overbroad regardless of his conduct. “Because both provisions impose a content-based speech restriction in a substantial number of traditional public forums, Willis’ facial challenge succeeds. Thus, his conviction must be reversed.”
My opinion? This is a great decision, and should be helpful to defense attorneys in other municipalities with ordinances that limit and outlaw panhandling.  Sure, aggressive panhandling from the homeless is annoying. However, it should not be criminalized. It wastes taxpayer money to incarcerate the homeless on these charges. Next thing you know, the Girl Scouts of America will be jailed for selling cookies at your grocery store.
Big congratulations to attorney David Ionnotti, who represented Mr. Willis.  The ACLU and Washington Defender Association filed one amicus brief in the case, and the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness filed another.