Monthly Archives: December 2016

Bounty Hunters & Bondsmen

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In Applegate v. Lucky Bail Bonds, the WA Court of Appeals held a bail bondsman may forcibly enter another party’s land and/or house if he has reasonably believes the fugitive is there.

The appeal arises from a civil case brought by appellant Ron Applegate against respondent Lucky Bail Bonds Inc. and its agents. Lucky posted bail for Applegate’s daughter, Elizabeth, on her shoplifting charges. Elizabeth failed to appear for court dates. Lucky’s agents went to Applegate’s rural property at night in search of Elizabeth. They found her in Applegate’s residence, but only after getting into a shoving match with Applegate and allegedly entering his  residence without permission. During the struggle, bail bonds agents broke several of Applegate’s ribs. He filed suit alleging assault, trespass, and other causes of action.

Applegate’s civil cause of action went to a jury trial in superior court. The jury rendered a verdict in favor of Lucky Bail Bonds.

On appeal, Applegate argued that under the Restatement of Torts (Second), bondsmen do not have a privilege to enter the private dwelling of a third party, and that the court’s admission of certain jury instructions was error.

The court reviewed RCW 18.185, which pertains to “Bail Bond Agents.” The statute defines a bail bond recovery agent as “a person who is under contract with a bail bond agent to receive compensation. . . for locating, apprehending, and surrendering a fugitive criminal defendant for whom a bail bond has been posted.” The statute requires recovery agents to be trained, tested, and licensed.

The court also reviewed RCW 18.185.270(1), which states that bail bond recovery agent on a recapture mission must carry a copy of the contract pertaining to the individual fugitive and, if requested, must present the copy to “the fugitive criminal defendant, the owner or manager of the property in which the agent entered in order to locate or apprehend the fugitive, other residents, if any, of the residence in which the agent entered in order to locate or apprehend the fugitive, and to the local law enforcement agency or officer.”

Applegate argued that the statute does not specifically authorize a bondsman’s encounters with third parties on their property and in their dwellings, and that the trial court’s jury instructions submitted at trial misstated the law and endorsed the actions of “rogue bounty hunters.”

Contrary to his argument, the Court of Appeals ruled that the jury instructions did not allow the jury to condone lawless behavior by rogue bounty hunters. If the jurors had believed the agents unreasonably attacked Applegate or broke into his home without reason to believe Elizabeth was there, the instructions required them to find that the agents exceeded the privilege and were acting unlawfully.” With that the Court of Appeals concluded the jury instructions did not misstate the law.

Finally, the Court ruled that the jury instructions for criminal trespass under RCW 4.24.630 were lawful and not erroneous. it reasoned that under the criminal trespass statute, the plaintiff must prove wrongful injury to property. An injury that is wrongful can be committed only by a person who “lacks authorization” so to act. Here, the bail bondsmen had a privilege to enter Applegate’s property. Therefore, they did not “lack authorization” under the statute.

My opinion? Getting bailed out of jail is a luxury, however, it carries obligations that many defendants should be aware of. Worst-case scenario, bail bond companies can deploy bounty hunters to seek defendants who abscond their responsibilities. Period. Therefore, defendants should expect a knock on their front doors – and the front doors of their loved ones – if bounty hunters get involved.

Pre-Arrest Silence & Business Records Exceptions to Hearsay Rule

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In State v. Magana, the WA Court of Appeals held (1) the Fifth Amendment is not an obstacle to the State’s introduction of a suspect’s pre-arrest silence as evidence of guilt, and (2) the State failed to lay a proper evidentiary foundation for the Lineup ID Report, however, the erroneous admission of the document was harmless error.

Sergio Magana Jr., an adult, met met fourteen-year-old Y.L. through Facebook. After exchanging text messages, Y.L. and Mr. Magana made plans to meet at Y.L.’s home. Mr. Magana wanted to be alone with Y.L. When the day they planned to meet arrived, Mr. Magana went inside Y.L.’s home and forcibly raped her. Not long after leaving, Mr. Magana texted and told Y.L. not to mention his name and to delete all of their text messages because her “age scared him.”
After approximately two weeks, Y.L. reported Mr. Magana’s conduct to the police. Y.L. identified Mr. Magana from a photo lineup and submitted her phone so text messages could be extracted. The police then began looking for Mr. Magana.
After about six weeks, Mr. Magana made contact with the police and spoke to a detective over the telephone. During the call, Mr. Magana arranged to meet with the police. However, he never showed up for his appointment. About a month later, Mr. Magana finally met with a police detective in person. He was advised of his Miranda rights and acknowledged that he had indeed met Y.L. over Facebook, but he denied having intercourse. Mr. Magana was charged with one count of third degree rape of a child. Following a mistrial and then a second trial, he was found guilty by a jury and sentenced by the trial court. Mr. Magana appealed.
1. PRE-ARREST SILENCE.
On appeal, Mr. Magana argued the jury should not have known about his failure to appear for his initial police interview. He claims this was an improper comment on his right to silence, in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
However, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the rule from the  United States Supreme Court’s Salinas v. Texas holds that the Fifth Amendment is not an obstacle to the State’s introduction of Mr. Magana’s pre-arrest silence as evidence of guilt. Furthermore, although Washington State’s Constitution typically provides more protections than the U.S. Constitution, “this is not an area where our state’s constitution affords greater protection than the federal constitution.”
Consequently, the Court of Appeals reasoned Mr. Magana was not under arrest or any sort of police custody. They said his scheduled police interview was voluntary, and to the extent Mr. Magana’s failure to appear for the interview was relevant, the State was entitled to present this evidence.
PHOTO LINEUP EVIDENCE.
Also on appeal, Mr. Magana argued the State’s photo lineup exhibit was hearsay and admitted into evidence without proper foundation. However, the State argued that the exhibit was a properly authenticated business record.
The Court reasoned that under RCW 5.45.020 and ER 803(6), a document may be admitted as a business record as long as a witness testifies to the document’s identity and mode of preparation, and explains that the document “was made in the regular course of business, at or near the time of the act, condition or event.”
Here, the exhibit at issue consisted of three pages. The first page is an array of six hand-numbered photos, one of which depicts Mr. Magana. The second page is entitled “Lineup ID Report,” which is a computer-generated report that documents biographical information, including dates of birth, for the six individuals depicted on the photo array. The third page is a copy of the written admonishment form Y.L. signed prior to reviewing the photo array.
However, The Court of Appeals reasoned that during the photo identification process, Y .L. failed to review the second page of the report. Also concerning was that at trial, no witness testimony was presented regarding the creation of the Lineup ID Report included on page two.
For these reasons, and because no foundation was laid for the Lineup ID Report, it was improperly admitted as a business record. Nevertheless, and given the entirety of the evidence, the erroneous inclusion of the Lineup ID Report was harmless error which did not impact the jury’s verdict.
The Court of Appeals affirmed Mr. Magana’s convictions, but remand to the trial court for resentencing.

Protective Sweeps of Homes

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In State v. Chambers, the WA Court of Appeals decided (1) the police’s “protective sweep” of the defendant’s home was improper because the defendant was arrested outside his home and the officers did not have specific facts that other armed individuals might be inside the defendant’s home, and (2) the defendant’s 3.5 Motion to Suppress statements made to police was rightfully denied because police scrupulously honored the defendant’s Fifth Amendment invocation of his right to remain silent.

In this case, defendant Lovett Chambers was drinking at the Feedback Lounge, a neighborhood bar in West Seattle that he frequented. Chambers was a convicted felon of African-American descent who moved to Seattle in 1989, worked in the construction industry, obtained degrees in computer science and started an IT business. In 1992, he got married and later purchased a house in West Seattle with his wife. A few years later, Chambers asked his wife to buy him a Colt .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun. She did so, apparently unaware that he was a convicted felon.

On the night of the incident, Mr. Chambers had numerous drinks at the Feedback Lounge. He carried and concealed his .45 pistol.   At some point, two Caucasian men entered the bar and began drinking. The gentlemen did not know Mr. Chambers. Later, all of the gentlemen departed the bar simultaneously and walked to their respective vehicles which were parked nearby each other in the parking lot.

For reasons unknown, words were exchanged between Chambers and the two gentlemen, who apparently uttered racial epitaphs to each other, Mr. Chambers, or both. One of the gentleman – Michael Travis Hood – pulled a shovel from his vehicle; apparently to defend himself from Mr. Chambers. However, Chambers shot Mr. Hood three times with his .45 pistol. Chambers walked away, got into his car and drove home in his BMW.

Mr. Hood died from lethal gunshot wounds to his back.

Seattle police arrested Chambers at his home at 10:49 p.m. Officer Belgarde read Chambers his Miranda rights at 10:51 p.m. Chambers smelled of alcohol. He was “swaying,” had trouble balancing, slurred his words, and was argumentative. Officer Galbraith drove Chambers to the precinct. Officers obtained a warrant to search Chambers’ home and seized a loaded .45 caliber handgun, a spare magazine, and the BMW keys. The police impounded the BMW. Later, officers interrogated Chambers and obtained numerous incriminating statements regarding the shooting.

The State charged Chambers with murder in the second degree of Hood while armed with a deadly weapon. Chambers asserted a claim of self-defense. Before trial, Chambers filed a CrR 3.6 motion to suppress the evidence seized from his house and the statements he made. The court denied the motion to suppress the evidence seized from the house. The court concluded the police “were authorized to enter the house to conduct a protective sweep to ensure their safety.” The court also denied the motion to suppress Chambers’ statements to police and reasoned his “right to remain silent was scrupulously honored” under Michigan v. Mosley.

The jury found Chambers guilty of the lesser-included offense of manslaughter in the first degree. By special verdict, the jury found Chambers was armed with a firearm at the time he committed the crime. The court imposed the low-end standard range sentence of 78 months plus the mandatory consecutive 60-month firearm enhancement. Chambers appealed.

  1. Evidence Seized from the House Was Obtained Through a Unlawfully Conducted “Protective Sweep,” However, The Trial Court’s Decision to Deny Chambers’ Suppression Motion Was Harmless Error.

Chambers contends the court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence the police seized from his house: the Colt .45, a magazine clip with .45 caliber bullets, and the keys to the BMW.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution prohibit a warrantless search and seizure unless the State demonstrates that one of the narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. One recognized exception to the warrant requirement is a “protective sweep” of the home. The court further reasoned that under Maryland v. Buie the U.S. Supreme Court describes a protective sweep as a limited cursory search incident to arrest and conducted to protect the safety of police officers or others.

The Court of Appeals decided the trial court erred in concluding the police had the authority to conduct a protective sweep of Chambers’ house. First, a warrantless search of “spaces immediately adjoining the place of arrest” without probable cause or reasonable suspicion does not apply when the police arrest an individual outside his home.

Here, the undisputed facts do not support the warrantless entry and protective sweep of the kitchen under Buie and the court erred in denying the motion to suppress:

“The record does not support the conclusion that there were “articulable facts” that the kitchen harbored “an individual posing a danger.” The police had information that only Chambers shot Hood and was alone when he drove away. The findings establish the only individual in the house when police arrested Chambers was his spouse. The front door was open after the arrest and the police could see Sara was sitting on the living room couch watching television and remained in the living room.”

However, the Court of Appeals also ruled that the verdict would have been the same absent the trial court’s error. Chambers testified he acted in self-defense when he shot Hood with the Colt .45. Chambers admitted that he parked his BMW in front of the Beveridge Place Pub on January 21, that he kept a .45 caliber gun under the passenger seat of the BMW, and that he used the Colt .45 to shoot Hood near Morgan Junction Park. For these reasons, the trial court’s decision to deny Chamber’s motion to suppress was harmless error.

2. Chamber’s Incriminating Statements Are Admissible.

On appeal, Mr. Chambers asserts the detectives did not “scrupulously honor” his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The court reasoned that the Fifth Amendment provides, in pertinent part, “No person shall be . .. compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court adopted “procedural safeguards” to protect the privilege and held that before questioning an individual in custody, the police must clearly inform the suspect of the following:

That he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.

Here, the Court of Appeals decided that because the circumstances leading up to the police’s interview with Chambers show the police scrupulously honored Chambers’ right to cut off questioning, the court did not err in denying the motion to suppress the statements Chambers made.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that the record shows the police advised Chambers of his Miranda rights at 10:51 p.m. when he was arrested on January 21. Chambers stated he understood his rights and unequivocally said he did not want to talk to the police. The record establishes the police did not “ask the defendant any questions or persist in repeated efforts to wear him down or change his mind after he invoked his rights.” After he invoked his right to remain silent at 10:51 p.m. on January 21, the police did not question Chambers while at police headquarters. And while driving to Harborview to obtain a blood draw at 3:07 a.m. on January 22, the detectives did not ask Chambers any questions.

Nonetheless, on the way to Harborview, Chambers said he did not want to talk about what happened. While at Harborview, Chambers seemed to have “sobered up.” When they left Harborview approximately 45 minutes later, Detective Steiger advised Chambers of his Miranda rights again. Chambers stated he understood his rights and did not invoke the right to remain silent.

With that, the Court of Appeals concluded the undisputed facts support the conclusion that the right to cut off questioning was scrupulously honored.

The Court affirmed the jury verdict.

My opinion? The police should have advised Mr. Chambers of his Ferrier warnings, a topic which I have blogged many times. Ferrier warnings must be given if police officers seek to enter the home to conduct a warrantless search for evidence of a crime or contraband. Still, even if Ferrier warnings were given and Mr. Chambers denied the police entry into his home, his incriminating statements to police ultimately assigned harmless error to the unlawful search.

Holiday Drinking In The U.S.

Interesting article by Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post discusses how data on total monthly alcohol sales in the United States carries a time-tested seasonal trend: the spikes in December of each year.

Clearly, the holidays are traditionally a time for boozing it up.

For example, the Department of Health and Human Services recently updated the official federal statistics on the percent of state residents ages 12 and older who drink at least once a month. Also, Ingraham’s article discusses how various direct and indirect measures of alcohol consumption, including breathalyzer data, Web searches for hangover relief and alcohol-related traffic deaths all suggest that peak American drinking happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

THE NORTHEAST

New England is home to the nation’s heaviest drinkers – New Hampshire, where about 64 percent of residents age of 12 or older drink monthly, is tops in the country. Vermont, Maine and Connecticut also come in at drinking rates above 60 percent. Hard-drinking cheeseheads in Wisconsin see to it that their home is the only Midwestern state in the top tier of American drinkers.

THE NORTHWEST

Ingraham discusses how the next tier of heavy drinking states are all in the northern part of the country. Some researchers posit that there may be a relationship between heavy drinking and latitude. At the country level, alcohol consumption tends to increase the farther you get away from the equator. This could be a function of the potential for boredom and depression during winter months when the nights are long and the days are short. For a prime example of this, see recent stories involving alcohol and misconduct among people who live in Antarctica.

RELIGIOUS STATES

Ingraham discusses other cultural factors affect some States’ attitudes about drinking. On the map above, take a look at Utah and particularly Idaho. They’re in the bottom tier of the states for drinking frequency. Utah, where only 31 percent of adults drink in a given month, comes in dead last. This is almost certainly because of the large Mormon populations in those states — 58 percent of Utahans are Mormon, as are 24 percent of people in Idaho. Mormonism generally prohibits the use of alcohol and other drugs.

There’s likely a similar religious influence in places Alabama, Mississippi and the other Southern states where drinking is low. Those states have large evangelical Christian populations, many of whom are abstainers.

HOLIDAY DUI PATROLS IN WASHINGTON STATE

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Coincidentally, the Washington State Patrol announced its increased Holiday DUI Patrol campaign of “Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over.” Our State Troopers are extremely proactive in reaching their Target Zero goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2030.

Also, our local police and sheriff’s offices are working very hard responding to incidents of domestic violence, burglary, assault and other criminal incidents associated with holiday celebrations.

SEEK COMPETENT LEGAL REPRESENTATION IF YOU FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES THIS HOLIDAY SEASON.

For many, the holiday season is a joyous time when family and friends get together and celebrate. Naturally, our holiday merriment could involve the libations of alcohol and/or legal (and illegal) drugs.

We must enjoy the holidays safely and responsibly. Unfortunately, incidents of domestic violence, DUI, and other criminal behaviors – intentional or otherwise – can dampen our holiday festivities.

It’s never desirable to face criminal charges which could negatively affect your life for years to come. However, if you, friends or family find themselves in situations involving law enforcement, jail and/or criminal charges then contact the Law Office of Alexander Ransom as soon as possible.  I staunchly defends my clients’ constitutional rights to a fair trial, just proceedings and the suppression of evidence involving unlawful searches, seizures and self-incrimination. My practice involves saving people’s careers and reuniting families by seeking reductions and dismissals of criminal charges when appropriate.

Happy holidays!

-Alex Ransom, Esq.

State v. Ortuno-Perez: “Other Suspect” Evidence

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In State v. Ortuno-Perez, the WA Court of Appeals held that a murder defendant was wrongfully prohibited from introducing evidence that another person, who was armed at the murder scene, actually committed the murder.

In the early morning hours of October 12, 2013, Jesus Castro was shot in the head while standing outside of a house in Renton. He died several days later.

The single shot was fired at close range from a .22 caliber firearm. At the time the shot was fired, anywhere between 5 to 12 people were standing in close proximity to Castro. In that group were 2 individuals particularly pertinent here, the defendant Santiago Ortuno-Perez and Austin Agnish—each of whom was armed with a handgun at the time.

On the same day that Castro was shot, Ortuno-Perez was identified as a suspect and subsequently arrested outside of a house in Kent. In the days that followed, Ortuno-Perez was identified as the shooter by several witnesses who were present at the scene, including Agnish. Ortuno-Perez was subsequently charged with one count of murder in the first degree, committed while armed with a firearm.

Crucial to his defense at trial, Ortuno-Perez sought to introduce evidence that another person, not him, killed Castro. In particular, his counsel sought to identify Austin Agnish as the shooter, to cross-examine the State’s witnesses for potential bias in their testimony, and to present additional evidence indicating that a person other than Ortuno-Perez was the shooter.

However, the trial court denied Ortuno-Perez’s request because Ortuno-Perez had not demonstrated that Agnish had taken steps to commit the crime.

Four days later, Ortuno-Perez’s counsel filed a detailed offer of proof regarding the “other suspect” evidence that the defense would have introduced but for the trial court’s adverse ruling. Again, the trial court excluded the “other suspect” defense.

On the 10th day of testimony, Ortuno-Perez moved for a mistrial, arguing that his right to present a defense had been denied by the trial court’s “other suspect” rulings. The judge denied the motion for mistrial.

The jury convicted Ortuno-Perez of murder in the second degree, committed while armed with a firearm. He was sentenced to 280 months of confinement. Ortuno-Perez appealed.

Ultimately, the WA Court of Appeals reversed  Ortuno-Perez’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

“OTHER SUSPECT” EVIDENCE.

The court reasoned that Washington’s “other suspect” evidence rule—applicable to proffered evidence that a specific person other than the defendant committed the charged crime—has developed from a broad common law rule to a specific and focused application of well established principles of materiality and probative value. Furthermore, the court reasoned that State v. Franklin holds that such evidence should be admitted if there is an adequate nexus between the alleged other suspect and the crime. Thus, the threshold analysis for “other suspect” evidence involves a straightforward, but focused, relevance inquiry, reviewing the evidence’s materiality and probative value for whether the evidence has a logical connection to the crime.

THE SIXTH AMENDMENT.

The Court further reasoned that the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, section 22 of the Washington Constitution guarantee a criminal defendant a meaningful opportunity to present a defense. This right, however, is not absolute. It may, in appropriate cases, bow to accommodate other legitimate interests in the criminal trial process, including the exclusion of evidence considered irrelevant or otherwise inadmissible. As with all evidence, the proponent bears the burden of establishing the admissibility of “other suspect” evidence.

Because the premise underlying the introduction of “other suspect” evidence is to show that someone other than the defendant committed the charged crime, the standard for admission is whether the proffered evidence tends to indicate a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt. Evidence is relevant when it is both material—the fact to be proved is of consequence in the context of the other facts and the applicable substantive law — and probative — the evidence has a tendency to prove or disprove a fact.

SUPPRESSING “OTHER SUSPECT” EVIDENCE VIOLATED ORTUNO-PEREZ’S RIGHTS UNDER THE SIXTH AMENDMENT.

Here, the Court of Appeals agreed that the “other suspect” evidence that Ortuno-Perez proffered actually supported a reasonable doubt as to his guilt. Prior to trial, defense counsel sought permission to present evidence to the jury that Agnish, not Ortuno-Perez, killed Castro. In his briefing, Ortuno-Perez’s counsel indicated that it planned to present evidence that Agnish (1) was using prescription drugs at the time that Castro was shot, potentially altering his perception of the shooting and his memory thereof, (2) was armed with a handgun and in close proximity to Castro at the time of the shooting, (3) lied about having access to guns other than the one he admitted carrying at the time of the shooting, and (4) was a member of a gang and had expressed a belief that Castro belonged to a rival gang.

However, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the trial court abused its discretion by improperly excluding the proffered evidence. It said the evidence proffered by Ortuno-Perez relating to Agnish’s potential culpability was of a type that tended to logically connect Agnish to Castro’s murder:

“If credited by the jury, it would establish Agnish’s motive (a gang clash), his opportunity (he was present at the murder scene and in close proximity to Castro at the instant of the shooting), and his means (he was armed with a handgun). Thus, the evidence proffered was plainly relevant to the question of the identity of Castro’s murderer and was of a type that, if credited by the jury, would support a reasonable doubt as to Ortuno-Perez’s guilt.”

The Court of Appeals said that as a result of the trial court’s erroneous rulings , Ortuno-Perez was unfairly prejudiced in two major respects: (1) his ability to confront the witnesses against him was compromised by the rulings preventing him from exploring the potential biases of witnesses who may have been covering for Agnish out of either affinity or fear; and (2) his ability to argue in closing argument that logical inferences from the evidence actually admitted during trial supported a reasonable doubt as to his guilt was compromised by rulings precluding him from suggesting to the jury that anyone other than Ortuno-Perez himself had shot Castro.

The trial court’s erroneous rulings were not harmless. The “other suspect” evidence which the trial judge excluded could have caused a reasonable juror to doubt whether Ortuno-Perez was guilty as charged. Consequently, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial.

My opinion? Good decision. Under the Sixth Amendment, allowing attorneys to argue inferences from the evidence is a rudimentary aspect of this right.  Defense Counsel must be afforded the utmost freedom in the argument of the case and some latitude in the discussion of their causes before the jury.

State v. Murray: Improper Implied Consent Warnings Held Unimportant

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In State v. Murray, the WA Supreme Court held that DUI breath test results should not be suppressed even though the police officers who informed defendants did not properly inform the defendants of THC warnings. In February, I discussed Robison’s Court of Appeals decision to suppress the BAC test before the WA Supreme Court re-addressed the issue on this most recent appeal.

Late one night, a state trooper observed Robison speeding through a restaurant parking lot toward a road. The trooper had to hit his brakes to avoid a collision as Robison exited the parking lot. The trooper decided a traffic stop was in order. The trooper could smell both alcohol and cannabis coming from Robison’s car. The officer investigated Robison for Driving While Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUI). Robison performed poorly on field sobriety tests and agreed to take a roadside breath test.

Based on the results, the officer arrested Robison for suspected driving under the influence (DUI) and took him to a police station. At the station, the trooper read Robison an implied consent warning from a standard form’s that did not mention the new statutory language concerning THC. The form warning did warn Robison that he was subject to having his driver’s license suspended, revoked, or denied if the test revealed he was under the influence of alcohol.

Robison argued a 3.6 motion to suppress the results of the breath test, arguing that the implied consent warning was inadequate because it did not mirror the statutory language regarding the consequences of a finding of THC in his blood. The district court commissioner concluded that the warnings accurately informed the defendant that the result of a breath test would reveal the alcohol concentration of his breath and that it would be misleading to advise or imply to the defendant that the breath test could obtain a THC reading.

Robison was found guilty. Robison appealed to the superior court, which reversed, concluding the officer had no discretion to leave out a portion of the implied consent warning. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision to suppress, and the WA Supreme Court accepted review on the State’s appeal.

Ultimately, the Court affirmed the lower courts and upheld Robison’s conviction. A driver’s implied consent to a breath test for alcohol, and the arresting officer’s duty to warn of the potential consequences of the test, have been part of our statutory system for decades. Both the legal consequences of driving while intoxicated and the details and exactitude of the warning required by the legislature have changed during that time. For example, Initiative 502, which decriminalized the recreational use of cannabis, also amended the implied consent statute. In relevant part, the amended implied consent statute said:

“(c) If the driver submits to the test and the test is administered, the driver’s license, permit, or privilege to drive will be suspended, revoked, or denied for at least ninety days if: (i) The driver is age twenty-one or over and the test indicates either that the alcohol concentration of the driver’s breath or blood is 0.08 or more or that the THC concentration of the driver’s blood is 5.00 or more.”

Robison argued that since some of the statutory language was omitted during his DUI investigation, the tests must be suppressed.

However, the WA Supreme Court disagreed:

“We find no case, and none have been called to our attention, that require officers to read an irrelevant statutory warning to a driver suspected of DUI. Instead, as acknowledged by counsel at oral argument, it has long been the reasonable practice of arresting officers to omit warnings related to underage drinking and commercial drivers’ licenses when advising those over 21 or driving on a noncommercial license.”

The Court further reasoned that the Implied Consent warnings did not omit any relevant part of the statute, accurately expressed the relevant parts of the statute, and were not misleading. Accordingly, the warnings substantially complied with the implied consent statute and the test results were properly admitted.

With that, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated Robison’s convictions.

My opinion? Bad decision. Like I said before, DUI investigations involving Implied Consent Warnings must keep up with today’s legislative amendments and other changing laws. The law is the law.

“Common Authority” Vehicle Searches

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In State v. Vanhollebeke, the WA Court of Appeals Division III decided a vehicle owner’s consent to search overrode the driver’s express objections.

On the night of November 10, 2014, Sergeant Garza pulled the truck over that was facing the wrong way on a one-way street. Sergeant Garza got out of his patrol car and approached the truck. The defendant Mr. Vanhollebeke got out of the truck and started walking toward Sergeant Garza. Sergeant Garza ordered Mr. Vanhollebeke to get back in the truck. Mr. Vanhollebeke then said he had locked himself out of the truck. This unusual behavior made Sergeant Garza suspicious.

Dispatch advised that Mr. Vanhollebeke’s license was suspended. Dispatch also advised that Mr. Vanhollebeke was not the registered owner of the truck, and that the truck belonged to a man named Bill Casteel. Sergeant Garza’s plan at this point was to cite Mr. Vanhollebeke for driving with a suspended license and then release him.

However, another police officer noticed a glass pipe with a white crystal substance on it sitting in plain view near the dashboard, which he believed was drug paraphernalia. Also, the truck’s steering column was “punched,” which indicated the truck was stolen. The officers did not release Mr. Vanhollebeke and kept him in their custody.

The officers asked for permission to search the truck. Mr. Vanhollebeke refused. Sergeant Garza contacted Mr. Casteel, the actual owner of the truck, at Casteel’s home. Mr. Casteel told Deputy Barnes that Mr. Vanhollebeke had permission to use the truck. Casteel also gave police permission to search his truck and gave Deputy Barnes a key to it.

Deputy Barnes returned directly to the scene. He used the key to open the truck and began to search it. He looked under the driver’s seat and saw a revolver. The glass pipe tested positive for methamphetamine. The officers confirmed through dispatch that Mr. Vanhollebeke had a prior felony conviction.

The State charged Mr. Vanhollebeke with first degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Mr. Vanhollebeke argued a CrR 3.6 motion to suppress the physical evidence on the grounds that he had refused to give the officers consent to search the truck and also that the stop’s length and scope were unreasonable. However, the trial court admitted the evidence and denied Mr. Vanhollebeke’s motion to suppress. The jury convicted Mr. Vanhollebeke.

Vanhollebeke appealed on the issue of whether Mr. Casteel’s consent overrode Mr. Vanhollebeke’s express objection to search.

The Court of Appeals upheld the search. It reasoned that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees people the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Warrantless searches are generally illegal unless they fall within one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. However, one exception is consent to search by a person with authority over the place or thing to be searched. This exception includes consent given by a third person, other than the defendant.

The court further reasoned that to grant valid consent, the third party must have common authority over the place or thing to be searched. The court explained that common authority does not mean that the third party has a mere property interest in the place or thing being searched. Rather, to establish lawful consent by virtue of common authority, (1) a consenting party must be able to permit the search in his own right, and (2) it must be reasonable to find that the defendant has assumed the risk that a co-occupant might permit a search.

The court decided Mr. Vanhollebeke’s right to use the truck was dependent on the owner’s unrevoked permission:

“Here, Mr. Vanhollebeke had the actual right to exclude all others from the truck except for Mr. Casteel. For this reason, Mr. Vanhollebeke did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy if Mr. Casteel wanted to search his own truck or allow another person to do so.”

With that, the Court concluded Mr. Casteel’s consent to search his truck overrode Mr. Vanhollebeke’s objection. Therefore, the search did not violate Mr. Vanhollebeke’s reasonable expectation of privacy and the trial court did not err in denying Mr. Vanhollebeke’s CrR 3.6 motion to suppress. Vanhollebeke’s conviction was affirmed.

My opinion? Common authority search issues don’t happen very often in criminal defense. But when they do, it’s imperative to hire competent criminal defense who can leverage a strong motion to suppress the evidence and/or divide the “common parties” to the search. Perhaps the greatest lesson to learn is to simply avoid transporting illegal contraband in plain view within borrowed vehicles.

Author of Confidential Informants Book Exposes the Truth

 

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A new book discusses how confidential informants negatively impact the criminal justice system. In “11 Days a Snitch,” author Alexandra Natapoff discusses how removing confidential informants information from investigations bolsters law enforcement authority while reducing the ability of legislatures, the press and the public “to evaluate executive actors and hold them accountable.”

Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, is considered one of the nation’s leading experts in the use of confidential informants. She has testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in 2007 and had a hand in writing legislation in Florida known as Rachel’s Law, which was enacted in the wake of a young drug informant’s death. Natapoff discuses the negative impacts that confidential informants have had upon the justice system:

  1. CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS ARE VIOLATED IN FAVOR OF KEEPING AN INFORMANT SECRET.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful search and seizure. That means, generally, police need a warrant and a judge’s signature for permission to enter a house or listen in on a private conversation. A confidential informant wearing a wire, however, does not have to jump through those hoops (though some states have barred warrantless use of informants in this regard).

The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the right to confront any witnesses against them. With informant witnesses, however, judges have chipped away at this right, in some cases allowing prosecutors to keep informants’ identities a secret. In 2002, for example, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals tried to strike a balance by allowing a confidential informant to wear a “wig-and-mustache disguise” on the stand.

The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees defendants due process, which includes a right to know all the evidence the state has, including evidence that could discredit the state’s witnesses. For snitches, that evidence could include criminal history and any benefit (such as leniency for their own crimes or cash) they receive in exchange for cooperating with law enforcement. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that defendants are not entitled to that information before trial. Specifically, the court was concerned that revealing those details “could ‘disrupt ongoing investigations’ and expose prospective witnesses to serious harm.'”

Natapoff argues this is significant because about 95 percent of criminal cases end in plea deals. That means most defendants are pleading guilty without knowing if the evidence against them is completely legit.

2. THE WAR ON DRUGS IS DRIVING THE USE OF INFORMANTS.

In 1995, decades into the war on drugs, lawyer and journalist Mark Curriden published an in-depth look at law enforcement’s extensive use of informants by analyzing more than 1,000 federal search warrants from 1980 to 1993. In that time frame, warrants that solely relied on information from a confidential source increased by nearly 200 percent — from 24 percent to 71 percent.

Although it’s impossible to get an accurate number of informants in the U.S., a recent audit of the DEA’s CI program cited more than 18,000 active confidential sources from October 2010 to September 2015. However, that same report found that “the DEA did not appropriately track all confidential source activity.”

3. THE RISK FOR ABUSE IS HIGH.

Natapoff discusses the case of four NYPD cops, who for decades have apparently fabricated sworn statements and arrests with the help of fictitious informants. A State Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn called one of the detectives “extremely evasive,” and did not find him “to be credible.” A judge in another federal case remarked: “I believe these officers perjured themselves. In my view, there is a serious possibility that some evidence was fabricated by these officers.”

“Given the reality that informant deals are baked into the criminal justice system, we are obligated to better regulate it,” Natapoff says. “We have fallen down in that regard. We have given such broad discretion to police and prosecutors and failed to create transparency and accountability mechanisms that would give us the confidence that these deals are being made in responsible ways.”

My opinion?
Transparency is essential to a fair and equitable criminal justice system. Knowing how we handle criminal behavior and dole out punishment allows the public to hold law enforcement accountable. The use of confidential informants, however, can pervert that premise in many ways. As a criminal defense attorney, I’ve always believed the use of confidential informants entrap many into committing crimes they would otherwise not commit. Snitches are motivated/biased actors who are not professionally trained in law enforcement and have significant criminal histories. All of these facts decrease their credibility. Kudos to Natapoff for showing the truth.