Monthly Archives: December 2017

Prosecutors Use Body Camera Evidence

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Interesting feature from  a correspondent for NPR who covers law enforcement and privacy issues. In this feature, he discusses how police body cameras are becoming key tools for prosecutors.

This year, police body cameras made the transition from experimental tech to standard equipment. Sales exploded after the 2014 Ferguson protests as police departments scrambled to refute claims of abuse. Now the cameras have become routine, but they’re not making a significant dent in the number of people shot and killed by police.

In this feauture from Weekend Edition Sunday, Kaste described how body cameras have become a standard piece of equipment for the criminal justice system.

“Prosecutors now use them far more often than – for police accountability, prosecutors are using it to make cases against defendants, against members of the public who are charged with crimes,” said Kaste. He also described how a survey last year conducted by George Mason University showed that prosecutors were far more likely to have used video to prosecute a member of the public than to use the video to prosecute a police officer.

“What we have really is technology that quickly became sort of required for prosecution in general,” said Mr. Kaste. “Juries now expect it, and the police in the field kind of feel the pressure to get video of themselves finding evidence.”

Kaste answered questions on whether citizens can use body camera video to support their own claims of police abuse.

“There’s no national standard on that, and that’s becoming more and more of a bone of contention,” he said. “In a lot of places, it’s considered a public record and you can request it. But a lot of cases, you don’t get to see the video because the case is under investigation, and that kind of puts it in limbo. Or, in places like California, Police departments have cited officer privacy. They kind of almost view it as a personnel record or something, and it takes a lot to get the video out,” said Mr. Kaste.

” . . . it’s gotten to the point where at least one academic I talked to this year said we should rethink the whole system and start giving the video to a third party to control, not to the police department.”

My opinion? Ultimately body-worn cameras (BWC’s) are a good thing. They provide non-objective evidence of what really happened instead of forcing us to rely on people’s stories. However, I agree with Mr. Kaste in his argument that obtaining the video is oftentimes difficult. It makes no sense that BWC evidence is released by the very same police departments that it’s made to scrutinize. This is the fox guarding the hen house. Consequently, attorneys must be incredibly careful, diligent and consistent on arguing public disclosure requests and motions to obtain pretrial discovery of this evidence.

Contact my office if you, a friend or family member faces criminal charges involving BWC evidence. Although it might work in a defendant’s favor, the evidence can be suppressed if it’s unfairly prejudicial against defendants under the rules of evidence.

 

I-940 & Police Misconduct

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Wonderful article by  of the Seattle Times  reports that Initiative 940 (I-940) gives an opportunity to prosecute police for deadly shootings in Washington state.

With Thursday’s expected delivery of signatures for Initiative 940, years of debate and stalemate over Washington’s deadly-force law look to be coming to a head. If I-940 qualifies, state lawmakers — and probably ultimately voters — will face big decisions on a charged issue.

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De-Escalate Washington

De-Escalate Washington didn’t just pull together the bare-bones 260,000 signatures for I-940, which would make it easier to prosecute law-enforcement officers for alleged misuse of deadly force. The group hopes to turn in about 360,000 signatures Thursday to the Washington Secretary of State’s office, according to Leslie Cushman, the group’s policy director.

In his article, O’Sullivan reports that community advocates have argued Washington’s law — considered the nation’s most restrictive for holding officers accountable for unjustified use of deadly force — is overdue for a change. Right now, an officer can’t be convicted of a crime for using deadly force if he or she acted in good faith and without malice, or what the law calls “evil intent.” That makes it nearly impossible for prosecutors to bring criminal charges even if they find an officer committed a wrongful killing, according to a 2015 report by The Seattle Times.

I-940 would change the law to a more detailed, multipart threshold that considers what a “reasonable officer” might have done under the circumstances. It would also take into account an officer’s intentions to determine if she or he acted in good faith.

The initiative also requires more de-escalation and mental-health training for law- enforcement officers.

O’Sullivan also writes that the effort comes on the heels of high-profile shootings including the deaths in Seattle of Che Taylor and Charleena Lyles by white officers of African Americans and other minorities in recent years have underscored concerns about law enforcement.

Family members of several victims of police shootings have been involved in the campaign, including Che’s brother Andrè, who chairs De-Escalate Washington.

Law Enforcement Response to I-940

O’Sullivan reports that law-enforcement groups have protested changes to the deadly-force statute. They say the new legal standard could prompt officers to hesitate in ways that could endanger themselves and others.

 “Unfortunately, this initiative will not do anything to reduce violent interactions between law enforcement and the public,” said Teresa Taylor, executive director for the Washington Council of Police & Sheriffs, which represents more than 4,300 law- enforcement officers.
However, success in the legislative session that begins in January appears unlikely. Lawmakers this year couldn’t find a compromise that satisfied both law enforcement and community activists.
My opinion? I-940 is a step in the right direction. And it’s about time. Police misconduct is a hot-button issue. Granted, being a police officer is a very difficult job. Officers make difficult judgment calls in very complex, risky and dangerous situations. That said, officers need training on diffusing situations which don’t necessarily rise to public safety and/or officer safety risks. I-940 is not made to put police in jail for doing their jobs. It’s made to foster public trust, train officers in de-esclating their contacts with citizens and avoid unnecessary shooting deaths.

Domestic Violence & Cell Phone Privacy

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In State v. Smith, the WA Supreme Court held that the accidental recording of a domestic violence confrontation between the defendant and his wife was admissible at trial and did not violate the defendant’s rights under the Washington Privacy Act.

BACKGROUND FACTS

John Garrett Smith and Sheryl Smith were married in 2011. On the evening of June 2, 2013, the Smiths engaged in an argument at their home that turned violent. During the incident, Mr. Smith used the home’s landline cordless phone to dial his cell phone in an attempt to locate the cell phone. The cell phone’s voice mail system recorded the incident because Mr. Smith left the landline open during his attempt to find his cell phone. This voice mail contained sounds of a woman screaming, a male claiming the woman brought the assault on herself, more screams from the female and name calling by the male.

Mr. Smith punched and strangled Mrs. Smith to the point of unconsciousness and then left their home. When Mrs. Smith regained consciousness, her eyes were black and swollen shut, her face was swollen and bleeding, and she had difficulty breathing.’ Mrs. Smith was hospitalized for several days due to the severity of her injuries, which included a facial fracture and a concussion. For months after the assault, she suffered severe head pain, double vision, nausea, and vertigo.

The State charged Mr. Smith with attempted first degree murder, attempted second degree murder, first degree assault, and second degree assault for the incident.

The Motion to Suppress & Trial

Prior to trial, Mr. Smith filed a motion to suppress the audio recording found on his cell phone that captured part of the incident, including him threatening to kill his wife. Mr. Smith argued that Ms. Williams had unlawfully intercepted the recording pursuant to the Washington Privacy Act, when she listened to the voice message left on his phone. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, ruling that Ms. Williams’s conduct did not constitute an interception. The court also ruled that Washington’s Privacy Act, which prohibits the recording of private conversations without consent, did not apply because the information was accidentally recorded.

The case proceeded to a bench trial. The trial court found Mr. Smith guilty of attempted second degree murder, second degree assault, and the related special allegations of domestic violence, but acquitted him of the remaining counts and the aggravator. Mr. Smith was sentenced to a standard range sentence of 144 months.

The Appeal

He appealed, and his appellate argument focused on the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress. Smith continued to assert that the recording was unlawfully admitted because Ms. Williams had unlawfully intercepted it.

The Court of Appeals reversed Mr. Smith’s conviction for attempted second degree murder, holding that the trial court erred in denying the motion to suppress the recording of the incident because (1) the recording was of a “private conversation” and (2) Mr. Smith had unlawfully recorded the “private conversation,” despite the fact that the recording was made inadvertently. The Court of Appeals rejected Mr. Smith’s assertion that Ms. Williams had unlawfully intercepted the conversation, and decided the case on a different issue, that is, whether Mr. Smith’s actions violated the privacy act. The State sought review on the issue of how the privacy act is to be properly applied in this case.

ISSUE

Whether the voice mail recording is admissible in Mr. Smith’s criminal prosecution.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court  reverse the Court of Appeals and reinstated Mr. Smith’s attempted second degree murder conviction.

The Court reasoned that accidental, inadvertent recording on a cell phone voice mail of a domestic violence assault did not contain a “conversation” within the meaning of the privacy act, where the recorded verbal exchange consisted mostly of sounds of a woman screaming, a male claiming the woman brought the assault on herself, more screams from the female, name calling by the male, and the man stating he will kill the woman when she told him to get away. Furthermore, the owner of the cell phone was deemed to have consented to the voice mail recording due to his familiarity with that function.

The lead opinion was authored by Justice Madsen and signed by Justices Wiggins, Johnson and Owens. Justice González concurred in the result on the grounds that the defendant cannot invade his own privacy and cannot object about a recording he made being used against himself. Justice Gordon McCloud authored a separate concurring opinion, which was signed by Justices Stephens, Yu, and Fairhurst, in which she stated that the verbal exchange on the recording constitutes a “private” conversation which was solely admissible pursuant to statute.

Wine Glass Sizes Are Increasing

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An article by of the Guardian reports that scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the capacity of wine glasses has ballooned nearly seven-fold over the past 300 years, rising most sharply in the last two decades in line with a surge in wine consumption.

Wine glasses have swelled in size from an average capacity of 66ml in the early 1700s to 449ml today, the study reveals – a change that may have encouraged us to drink far more than is healthy. Indeed, a typical wine glass 300 years ago would only have held about a half of today’s smallest “official” measure of 125ml.

Smithers reports that the university’s behaviour and health research unit quizzed antique experts and examined 18th-century glasses held at the Ashmolean museum in Oxford, glassware used at Buckingham Palace, and more recent glasses in John Lewis catalogues.

The evidence was clear: the newer glasses were bigger.

The study, published on Wednesday in the BMJ, measured wine glass capacity from 1700 to the present day to help understand whether any changes in their size might have contributed to the rise in wine consumption.

“Wine will no doubt be a feature of some merry Christmas nights, but when it comes to how much we drink, wine glass size probably does matter,” said Prof Theresa Marteau, director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the research.

In 2016, Marteau and her colleagues carried out an experiment at the Pint Shop in Cambridge, altering the size of wine glasses while keeping the serving sizes the same. They found this led to an almost 10% increase in sales.

Smithers reports that for the new study, the researchers obtained measurements of 411 glasses from 1700 to the modern day. They found wine glass capacity increased from 66ml in the 1700s to 417ml in the 2000s, with the mean wine glass size in 2016-17 even higher at 449ml.

“Wine glasses became a common receptacle from which wine was drunk around 1700,” says author Dr. Zorana Zupan. “This followed the development of lead crystal glassware by George Ravenscroft in the late 17th century, which led to the manufacture of less fragile and larger glasses than was previously possible.”

The study points out that alcohol is the fifth largest risk factor for premature mortality and disability in high income countries. In England, the type of alcohol and volume consumed has fluctuated over the last 300 years, in response to economic, legislative and social factors. Significantly, wine consumption increased almost fourfold between 1960 and 1980, and almost doubled again between 1980 and 2004, a trend attributed to better marketing and licensing liberalisation which allowed supermarkets to compete in the lucrative drinks retail business.

“Our findings suggest that the capacity of wine glasses in England increased significantly over the past 300 years,” added Zupan.

“Since the 1990s, the size has increased rapidly. Whether this led to the rise in wine consumption in England, we can’t say for certain, but a wine glass 300 years ago would only have held about a half of today’s small measure.”

The strength of wine sold in the UK has also increased since the 1990s, adding to the amount of pure alcohol being consumed by wine drinkers.

In England, wine is increasingly served in pubs and bars in 250ml servings, with smaller measures of 125ml often absent from wine lists or menus despite a regulatory requirement that licensees make customers aware of them.

The Wine and Spirits Trade Association said sociological trends were probably part of the reason for the growing wine glasses.

“The size of a wine glass reflects the trend and fashions of the time and is often larger for practical reasons” said the WSTA chief executive Miles Beale. “Red wine, for example, is served in a larger glass to allow it to breathe, something which perhaps wasn’t a priority 300 years ago.”

Drink responsibly. If, however, your family or friends are charged with DUI or face any other alcohol-related charges, then contact my law offices and schedule a free consultation. You need effective and competent representation before the judge, prosecutors and the Department of Licensing.

Vacating Convictions

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In State v. Lambert, the WA Court of Appeals held that when an offender has been convicted of an offense that is a crime against a person, the record of that conviction may not be vacated. Third degree statutory rape is a crime against a person.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In 1986, when Lambert was nineteen years old, he was charged with third degree statutory rape. The charge was based on an incident involving a victim fifty-five months younger than Lambert. Lambert pleaded guilty as charged.

Lambert was sentenced in May 1987. The law at that time said that the record of conviction for statutory rape could be vacated, in the trial court’s discretion, after the offender satisfied his sentence and completed five years after discharge without a new conviction.

In July 1987, however, the law concerning vacation of the record of conviction was amended. Under the new law, statutory rape in the third degree was defined as a crime against persons that could not be vacated.

In 1988, the legislature enacted broad changes to the criminal code concerning sex offenses. The sections defining statutory rape in each degree were replaced with provisions defining three degrees of rape of a child. “Rape of a child” replaced “statutory rape” in the list of crimes against persons that could not be vacated.

In 2016, Lambert moved to vacate the record of his conviction. He argued that the 1988 amendments did not apply retroactively and the trial court thus had discretion to vacate the record of conviction for his offense, third degree statutory rape. The trial court ruled that Lambert was “not eligible to have his conviction vacated because rape of a child third degree is a crime against a person.” Lambert appealed.

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether statutory rape in the third degree is a crime against a person that may not be vacated.

ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

“The legislature expressly designated statutory rape in the third degree, and that crime as it ‘may be renamed in the future,’ as a non-vacatable crime against a person,” reasoned the Court. “Rape of a child in the third degree criminalizes the same essential conduct as third degree statutory rape: engaging in sexual intercourse with a person between fourteen and sixteen years of age.”

The court further reasoned that the offenses differ in replacing the requirement that the offender be at least eighteen years old with the requirement that the offender be at least forty eight months older than the victim. Rape of a child is expressly defined as a crime against persons.

“It appears that the 1988 amendments renamed statutory rape and retained the prohibition on vacating the record of conviction for that offense,” said the Court.

“We conclude that where, as here, an offender was convicted of statutory rape, and the facts proved establish each element of that offense as amended and renamed, the prohibition on vacating the record of conviction remains in effect.”

Finally, the Court said Lambert had no vested right to vacate the conviction because he failed to satisfy all statutory conditions for vacating his sentence before the change in law took place.

My opinion? It’s important to seek qualified, competent legal representation when trying to vacate prior criminal convictions. It’s not abundantly clear that prior crimes against others cannot be vacated under the law. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member need advice on vacating criminal convictions.

A Vehicle is a “Premises”

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In State v. Joseph, the WA Supreme Court held that a vehicle is a “premises” for the purpose of the second degree criminal trespass statute because a vehicle is a type of “building” and “premises” includes “any building.”

BACKGROUND FACTS

On October 4, 2014, police responded to a report of vehicle prowling. The responding officer found defendant Anthony Joseph asleep in an unlocked Chevy Blazer on a public street in Ellensburg. The officer recognized Joseph and knew that he was homeless. The officer contacted Joseph and told him to exit the vehicle.

Initially, Joseph said that he had the owner’s permission; however, he then admitted he did not, and was arrested for vehicle prowling. The State filed charges of third degree assault and second degree vehicle prowling.’ The matter proceeded to a jury trial. The State sought jury instructions on first and second degree criminal trespass as lesser included offenses of the vehicle prowling charge. The trial court refused to instruct the jury on first degree trespass, but instructed the jury on second degree trespass, over Joseph’s objection. The State asked the court to define the term “premises” used in the second degree criminal trespass statute, but did not submit a definitional instruction. The trial court did not define “premises,” but allowed the parties to argue whether this term included a motor vehicle.

The jury acquitted Joseph of vehicle prowling, but found him guilty of second degree criminal trespass. Joseph appealed, and the Court of Appeals, Division Three affirmed his conviction, holding that a motor vehicle constitutes premises for purposes of second degree criminal trespass.

ISSUE

Whether second degree criminal trespass is a lesser included offense of second degree vehicle prowling.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

“This case presents a challenging question of statutory interpretation because of the overlapping and intersecting definitions of ‘building’ and ‘premises’ in Title 9A RCW,” said the Court. It reasoned that although no definition of the word “building” is available in the criminal statutes, a definition of “building” is found in RCW 9A.04.110(5), which states the following:

“(5) ‘Building,’ in addition to its ordinary meaning, includes any dwelling, fenced area, vehicle, railway car, cargo container, or any other structure used for lodging of persons or for carrying on business therein, or for the use, sale, or deposit of goods; each unit of a building consisting of two or more units separately secured or occupied is a separate building.”

Next, the Court engaged a lengthy discussion about overlapping definitions of “premises” and “building” as they applied to legislative amendments to the criminal trespass statute and the Washington Pattern Jury Instructions.

Also, the court said that the legislature plainly intended second degree criminal trespass to encompass trespass into any “building” as defined in the criminal code, RCW 9A.04.110(5), save for trespass into a building in its ordinary sense. “This interpretation properly restricts first degree trespass to unlawful entries into ordinary ‘buildings,’ a descriptor that needs no further definition,” said the Court.

The more severe charge (a gross misdemeanor) is justified by the increased likelihood of trespass into a home or business.

“All other trespasses fall under the term “premises” and are treated as simple misdemeanors. RCW 9A.52.080. This includes trespasses into premises that are “buildings” broadly conceived, but are not ordinarily thought of as buildings—as relevant here, vehicles.”

The Court reasoned that under this interpretation, the trial court properly instructed the jury on second degree criminal trespass as a lesser included offense of second degree vehicle prowling. “Because the evidence supports the jury’s verdict, we affirm Joseph’s
conviction.”

My opinion? Clearly, legal definitions can be broadly interpreted; sometimes to the point of absurdity. However, it is not unreasonable to accept the notion that vehicles can actually be a premises. Many impoverished people live and sleep in their vehicles. If a man’s home is his castle, and the castle is a vehicle, then the vehicle is his castle, no?

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges.