All posts by Alexander Ransom

Vehicular Homicide

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In State v. Frahm, the WA Court of Appeals held the defendant was properly convicted of vehicular homicide for the death of a Good Samaritan who was struck by another vehicle while rendering assistance to the occupant of the vehicle that was initially struck by the defendant’s vehicle. The defendant’s rear-ending of the first vehicle proximately caused the death of the Good Samaritan.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Shortly before dawn on December 7, 2014, a Ford F-150 truck driven by Frahm rear-ended a Honda CR-V sport utility vehicle (SUV) driven by Steven Klase. The impact caused the SUV to spin out of control, strike a concrete barrier in the freeway median, and come to rest partially blocking the left and middle lanes of I-205. Klase sustained serious injuries and remained in his vehicle. Frahm fled the scene.

An eyewitness, Richard Irvine, stopped his vehicle on the right shoulder. Irvine activated
his vehicle’s emergency flashers, exited his vehicle, and crossed the freeway on foot. Seeing Klase’s injuries, Irvine called 911. While Irvine spoke with a 911 dispatcher, a Honda Odyssey minivan driven by Fredy Dela Cruz-Moreno approached in the left lane. Cruz-Moreno’s minivan struck Klase’s vehicle and propelled it into Irvine. As a result, Irvine died.

Later that same day, Frahm, the registered owner of the F-150, contacted police to report
his vehicle as stolen. When the police later recovered Frahm’s truck, it had front end damage. The police processed the vehicle, and Frahm’s DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) matched DNA taken from the deployed airbag.

The police interrogated Frahm, and he maintained both that his truck had been stolen and that he had not been driving at the time of the accident. In February 2015, a witness, Dusty Nielsen, contacted the police. Nielsen provided an alibi for Frahm for the time of the accident. Nielsen lied. Frahm had not been with Nielsen the night of the accident. The two men did not know each other until they met in jail, after the accident.

When questioned by police about discrepancies in his story, Nielsen recanted. He insisted that he alone came up with the idea to provide the false alibi. The State charged Frahm with six crimes: vehicular homicide, manslaughter in the first degree, vehicular assault, hit and run, false reporting, and conspiracy to commit perjury in the first degree.

At trial, and without objection, the State played an unredacted recording of Frahm’s
interrogation by the police. During the interrogation, the police repeatedly accused Frahm of lying. Frahm admitted to drinking the night before the accident but iterated that somebody stole his truck, and that he was not the driver at the time of the accident.

The jury convicted Frahm of vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, hit and run, false
reporting, and conspiracy to commit perjury. Frahm appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Court of Appeals held that sufficient evidence supported Frahm’s Vehicular Homicide conviction. It reasoned that a driver is guilty of vehicular homicide when the death of any person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury proximately caused by the driving of any vehicle by any person. Furthermore, “legal causation” involves a determination of whether liability should attach as a matter of law given the existence of cause in fact.

“If the factual elements of the tort are proved, determination of legal liability will be dependent on ‘mixed considerations of logic, common sense, justice, policy, and precedent,” said the Court.

The Court further reasoned that a defendant’s conduct is a proximate cause of harm to another if, in direct sequence, unbroken by any new independent cause, it produces the harm, and without it the harm would not have happened. Here, the issue was whether any rational jury could find the essential elements of the crime of Vehicular Homicide beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Although this specific victim may not have been foreseeable, the general field of danger was clearly foreseeable. And the record as a whole supports that a reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Frahm’s rear-ending Klase’s vehicle proximately caused Irvine’s death.”

Second, the Court of Appeals held that sufficient evidence supports the charge of Conspiracy to Commit Perjury.

The Court said a person is guilty of conspiracy if, with the intent to commit a crime, he or she agrees with one or more persons to engage in or cause the performance of such [criminal] conduct, and any one of them takes a substantial step in pursuance of such agreement. Consequently, making “materially false” statements to police who are conducting investigations is a crime.

“Nielsen and Frahm met in jail,” said the Court of Appeals. “They hatched the plan to provide Frahm with a false alibi.” The Court further explained that Frahm provided Nielsen with the details necessary to make the lie appear more credible, including a description of his truck’s interior on the night of the accident. “When viewing the evidence and its reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the State, sufficient evidence supports Frahm’s conspiracy conviction,” said the Court.

Finally, the Court rejected Frahm’s arguments that his defense counsel was ineffective and his speedy trial rights were violated. With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Frahm’s convictions.

My opinion? First, my sympathies to all parties involved. This case is tragic for all sides. Second, this case presents an interesting blend of criminal and tort law – specifically, negligence – which is not typically seen in everyday court. Issues of duty, breach of duty, proximate cause and damages rarely arise in criminal statutes. Typically, the State need only probe intent and not negligence. However, the specific language of the vehicular homicide statute includes criminal liability for negligent acts.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. Hiring competent counsel is the first step toward achieving a just result in court.

Murder Rates Decline

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Wonderful article by German Lopez of Vox discusses how crime and murder rates generally declined in the U.S.’s 30 largest cities in 2017, following two years of sharp increases in the murder rate nationwide.

According to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice, the overall crime rate fell in the 30 largest cities by 2.1 percent compared to 2016, the violent crime rate by 1 percent, and the murder rate by 3.4 percent.

“Large decreases in Chicago and Houston, as well as small decreases in other cities, contributed to this decline [in the murder rate],” researchers Ames Grawert, James Cullen, and Vienna Thompkins wrote.

One caveat to the findings: Murder rates in some US cities, including Chicago, remain elevated compared to a couple of years ago. “The murder rate in Chicago, which increased significantly in 2015 and 2016, declined by 12.3 percent in 2017, but remains more than 60 percent above 2014 levels,” the report found.

And some cities, including Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Baltimore, did see increases in the murder rate in 2017. This kind of local variance and fluctuation is typical in US crime statistics: Even as national trends head in one direction, that doesn’t mean all cities and states always follow the same path.

According to Lopez, the report updated Brennan’s preliminary findings from December, broadly reaching the same conclusions.

The full official numbers for the entire US, compiled by the FBI, will come out later this year. Lopez reasons that generally, though, the Brennan Center’s reports have done a good job predicting national trends in the past few years. And the news, overall, is good.

Lopez says the past two years’ increases in the murder rate got a lot of attention, with President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions often bringing them up in speeches to justify “tough on crime” policies. But before they’ve been able to implement such policies and let them take root (especially in local and state jurisdictions, where federal policymakers have very limited power), these rates appear to be coming down.

Lopez says criminologists still aren’t sure why murder in particular appeared to spike so much in 2015 and 2016. Some argued that there might have been a “Ferguson effect,” named after the city in Missouri that exploded into protests over the police shooting of Michael Brown: Due to protests against police brutality over the past few years, police were, the theory goes, scared off from doing proactive policing, emboldening criminals.

Other experts argued a different kind of Ferguson effect: Widely reported incidents of police brutality and racial disparities in police use of force led to elevated distrust in law enforcement, which makes it much harder for police to solve and prevent crimes.

Yet many criminologists cautioned that it’s also possible the two years’ increases were blips in the data, not a new long-term trend. This isn’t unprecedented; in 2005 and 2006, the murder rate in the US increased before continuing its long-term decline — to new record lows — in the ensuing years.

“It now looks possible — though we’ll need more years of data to confirm — that 2015 and 2016 were replays of 2005 and 2006. If that holds, then perhaps the US isn’t in the middle of the “American carnage” that Trump warned about.”

Since the murder rate in particular is generally low, it’s prone to big statistical fluctuations. As one example, Brennan found that Las Vegas saw a 23.5 percent spike in its murder rate last year, but that was due to the mass shooting at a country music concert there that killed 58 people. A single event, albeit a very bad one, led to a dramatic shift in the murder rate.

“That’s why criminologists generally demand several years of data before they declare a significant crime trend,” said Lopez.

ACLU Sues Whatcom County Jail

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Excellent article by Denver Pratt of the Bellingham Herald says the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)  filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the Whatcom County Jail and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly denying inmates with opioid use disorder access to medication.

The lawsuit filed in Seattle in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington alleges the jail’s policy of refusing to provide access to medication assisted treatment to treat opioid addiction violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Pratt reports that Opioid Use Disorder is classified as a disability under the ADA, and is also a recognized substance use disorder. A person qualifies as having opioid use disorder if they meet two or more criteria that reflect impaired health function over a 12-month period.

The lawsuit alleges that the jail has a policy for giving medication, such as buprenorphine (Suboxone or Subutex), or methadone, to pregnant women suffering from opioid use disorder, but has no policy for non-pregnant individuals, forcing them to go into withdrawal once they’re booked.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of two inmates who were receiving medication assisted treatment before they became incarcerated. However, the ACLU is seeking class-action status for all non-pregnant people incarcerated who have Opioid Use Disorder.

“Defendants’ policy and practice of denying medications to treat opioid use disorder to non-pregnant individuals is both dangerous and discriminatory,” according to the complaint filed in the case.” It singles out a particularly vulnerable group of disabled people, forces them to suffer unnecessarily from painful opioid withdrawal, and subjects them to an increased risk of relapse and overdose death.”

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said Thursday he believed several other jails in Washington state are under scrutiny by the ACLU for opioid treatment. He said the county had not been served with the lawsuit yet as of Thursday afternoon, but noted the ACLU has 20 days to do so.

Elfo said the 2019 opening of a new 32-bed crisis triage center for people suffering from mental health and substance use disorders will provide an alternative to taking people who use opioids to jail, and give them access to treatment.

“This is something that’s been asked for for 20 years. I’m glad it’s something that’s finally on the horizon,” he said.

The project will expand the current Crisis Triage Center and will be on Division Street in Bellingham. It will cost up to an estimated $9.5 million.

My opinion?

First, kudos to Ms. Pratt for her excellent and timely reporting.

Second, lawsuits like this reveal the pressing need for Whatcom County to construct a new jail. A larger facility with upgraded services would not only better serve the needs of the incarcerated defendants, but also the jail staff and police officers who work there on a daily basis.

I’ve heard the arguments against a new jail. Clearly – and unfortunately – the community has voted down numerous proposals. What most people don’t understand, however, is that the current jail is decrepit, unsafe and virtually inhumane. As a result, we see riots and suicides happen at the jail with unsettling frequency.

Good luck to the ACLU. Hopefully, they’ll be instrumental toward making positive changes happen for the inmates and hardworking jail staff here in Whatcom County.

Search of Rental Cars

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In Byrd v. United States, the United States Supreme Court held that while a car thief does not have right to privacy in a stolen car no matter the degree of possession and control, the driver of a rental car can challenge a warrantless search of the vehicle even if the driver is not listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Latasha Reed rented a car in New Jersey while petitioner Terrence Byrd waited outside the rental facility. Her signed agreement warned that permitting an unauthorized driver to drive the car would violate the agreement. Reed listed no additional drivers on the form, but she gave the keys to Byrd upon leaving the building. He stored personal belongings in the rental car’s trunk and then left alone for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania State Troopers stopped Byrd for a traffic infraction. They learned that the car was rented, that Byrd was not listed as an authorized driver, and that Byrd had prior drug and weapons convictions. Byrd also stated he had a marijuana cigarette in the car.

The troopers proceeded to search the car, discovering body armor and 49 bricks of heroin in the trunk. The evidence was turned over to federal authorities, who charged Byrd with distribution and possession of heroin with the intent to distribute in violation of 21 U. S. C. §841(a)(1) and possession of body armor by a prohibited person in violation of 18 U. S. C. §931(a)(1). The District Court denied Byrd’s motion to suppress the evidence as the fruit of an unlawful search, and the Third Circuit affirmed. Both courts concluded that, because Byrd was not listed on the rental agreement, he lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

In a unanimous decision favoring Byrd, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The mere fact that a driver in lawful possession or control of a rental car is not listed on the rental agreement will not defeat his or her otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The Court added that there can be numerous reasons why a driver unlisted on a rental contract may need to drive the rental car, and that the government had not shown that whether the simple breach of the rental contract would affect the expectation of privacy.

Also, the Court reasoned that one of the main rights attaching to property is the right to exclude others. Also, one who owns or lawfully possesses or controls property will in all likelihood have a legitimate expectation of privacy by virtue of the right to exclude. “This general property-based concept guides resolution of the instant case,” said Justice Kennedy:

“The Government’s contention that drivers who are not listed on rental agreements always lack an expectation of privacy in the car rests on too restrictive a view of the Fourth Amendment’s protections. But Byrd’s proposal that a rental car’s sole occupant always has an expectation of privacy based on mere possession and control would, without qualification, include thieves or others who have no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The Court rejected the Government’s arguments that an unauthorized driver has no privacy interest in the vehicle. Byrd, in contrast, was the rental car’s driver and sole occupant. His situation is similar to the defendant in Jones v. United States, who had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his friend’s apartment because he had complete dominion and control over the apartment and could exclude others from it:

“The expectation of privacy that comes from lawful possession and control and the attendant right to exclude should not differ depending on whether a car is rented or owned by someone other than the person currently possessing it, much as it did not seem to matter whether the defendant’s friend in Jones owned or leased the apartment he permitted the defendant to use in his absence.”

The Court also rejected the Government’s argument that Byrd had no basis for claiming an expectation of privacy in the rental car because his driving of that car was so serious a breach of Reed’s rental agreement that the rental company would have voided the contract once he took the wheel. “But the contract says only that the violation may result in coverage, not the agreement, being void and the renter’s being fully responsible for any loss or damage,” said Justice Kennedy. “And the Government fails to explain what bearing this breach of contract, standing alone, has on expectations of privacy in the car.”

Kennedy’s decision concluded that there remained two issues which the Supreme Court remanded back to the lower courts: (1) whether Officer Long had probable cause to search the car in the first place, and (2) whether Byrd intentionally used a third party as a straw man in a calculated plan to mislead the rental company from the very outset, all to aid him in committing a crime.

With that, the Supreme Court vacated Byrd’s conviction and remanded back to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Gorsuch joined. Justice Alito also filed a concurring opinion.

Inventory Searches of Cars

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In United States v. Johnson, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a suspicionless inventory search is only proper when it is performed to secure and to protect an arrestee’s property and to protect the police department against fraudulent claims of lost or stolen property. Evidence removed from the defendant’s car could not be justified under the inventory-search doctrine where the officers explicitly admitted that they seized the items in an effort to search for evidence of criminal activity.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On April 10, 2014, Multnomah County Sheriff’s deputies located Mr. Johnson—who had an outstanding warrant for his arrest based on a post-prison supervision violation—at the Clackamas Inn, just south of Portland, Oregon. The deputies followed Johnson to a residence in the nearby town of Gladstone and called Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Officers Corona and Ables for assistance in arresting him.

The officers did not approach Johnson at the residence, but instead waited outside. After about 20 minutes, Johnson left, and again the officers followed him. At a nearby intersection, the officers finally stopped Johnson by loosely boxing in his car; one car approached Johnson from behind while another approached from the front, effectively blocking Johnson’s ability to drive away. The cars all came to a stop within a few feet of each other, and although there was enough room for Johnson to pull his car to the side of the road, he instead parked in the lane of traffic, disrupting the flow of passing cars. When approached by the officers, Johnson could not provide proof of insurance for the car, which he was borrowing, nor could he give anything other than the first name of the car’s owner. Johnson did not know how the police could contact the owner.

The officers arrested Johnson on the outstanding warrant. After the arrest, the officers searched Johnson and found a folding knife in his front pocket, $7,100 in cash in $20 and $100 denominations in his rear pants pocket, and $150 in cash in his wallet. Johnson said that he had recently inherited the $7,100 and that he planned to purchase a car with it.

Because Johnson’s car was blocking traffic and because Johnson could not provide contact information for the car’s owner, the officers ordered it to be towed and impounded, pursuant to PPB policy. Prior to the tow, the officers conducted an inventory search of the car, again pursuant to local policy. From the interior of the car, the officers collected a combination stun gun and flashlight, a glass pipe with white residue, a jacket, and two cellphones. From the trunk, the officers collected a backpack and a duffel bag. Officer Corona testified that, when he moved the backpack and duffel in order to search for other items in the trunk, the bags felt heavy and the backpack made a metallic “clink” when he set it down on the pavement. PPB stored each of the seized pieces of property in the County property and evidence warehouse, and the $7,100 was taken into custody by the County Sherriff’s Office. Officer Corona recorded each item seized on an accompanying arrest report; the Sheriff’s Office prepared a property receipt for the $7,100 in seized cash.

A week later, Officer Corona submitted an affidavit to secure a warrant to search the seized backpack, duffel bag, and cell phones. The affidavit referred to a 2009 police report (which Corona read after arresting Johnson) that stated Johnson had previously been found with cash, weapons, and drugs in a safe concealed in his vehicle. Officer Corona’s affidavit stated that, based on the circumstances of Johnson’s recent arrest, he had probable cause to believe the bags seized from the trunk would contain similar lockboxes, and that the phones would contain evidence of drug dealing.

A warrant was duly signed by a local magistrate judge, and a search of the backpack revealed a small safe containing two bags of methamphetamine, drug-packaging materials, syringes, and a digital scale. The duffel bag contained Johnson’s personal items, and one of the cellphones contained text messages regarding drug trafficking.

Johnson was indicted on one charge of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine in an amount of 50 grams or more, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A)(viii).

Before trial, Johnson moved to suppress the evidence found in the car and on his person at arrest. Primarily, Johnson challenged the evidence supporting the warrant to search the backpack and cellphones, arguing that it did not amount to probable cause. Johnson also argued that the officers unlawfully manipulated the bags they seized from the car in order to get a sense for what they might contain and that the inventory search of his car was invalid.

The federal district court denied the motion, concluding that there was probable cause to stop and to arrest Johnson on the outstanding warrant, the officers validly impounded Johnson’s car because it was blocking traffic, the subsequent inventory of the vehicle was “lawful because PPB mandates officers to conduct an inventory of impounded vehicles,” and the search warrant was supported by probable cause.

At trial, the government introduced the evidence found in Johnson’s car and on his person, with a particular focus on the items of evidence found in the backpack, the messages from the cellphone, and the $7,100 in cash. The jury found him guilty.

Approximately four months later, Johnson filed a motion for new trial on the basis of, among other things, two pieces of supposedly newly discovered evidence: (1) evidence showing that Johnson had indeed recently received an inheritance; and (2) a receipt from the private company that towed and impounded his car, which stated that they found various additional items of property in the car that were not listed in Officer Corona’s arrest report. After a hearing, the district court denied the motion for a new trial upon the conclusion that none of the supposedly new evidence would have resulted in a likely acquittal.

Johnson was sentenced to 188 months in prison, and he now timely appeals.

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether the trial court erred in failing to suppress evidence that was seized by City of Portland police officers during their inventory search of a criminal defendant and the car he was driving at the time of his arrest.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Johnson argued that the officers’ inspection of his car exceeded the constitutionally permissible bounds for an inventory search.

The Ninth Circuit reasoned that as an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, police may, without a warrant, impound and search a motor vehicle so long as they do so in conformance with the standardized procedures of the local police department and in furtherance of a community caretaking purpose, such as promoting public safety or the efficient flow of traffic. The purpose of such a search is to produce an inventory of the items in the car, in order to protect an owner’s property while it is in the custody of the police, to insure against claims of lost, stolen, or vandalized property, and to guard the police from danger. Florida v. Wells, 495 U.S. 1, 4 (1990). Thus, the purpose of the search must be non-investigative; it must be conducted on the basis of something other than suspicion of evidence of criminal activity. The search cannot be “a ruse for a general rummaging in order to discover incriminating evidence.” Wells, 495 U.S. at 4.

The Court of Appeals further reasoned that an administrative search may be invalid where the officer’s subjective purpose was to find evidence of crime. However, the mere presence of a criminal investigatory motive or a dual motive—one valid, and one impermissible— does not render an administrative stop or search invalid. Instead, the issue is whether the challenged search or seizure would have occurred in the absence of an impermissible reason.

“We thus must determine whether Johnson has produced evidence that demonstrates the officers would not have searched and seized items from the car he was driving but for an impermissible motive,” said the Court of Appeals.

“Under our circuit’s law, a suspicionless inventory search does not permit officers to search or to seize items simply because they believe the items might be of evidentiary value,” said the Court.  It reasoned that as explained above, the purpose of such a search must be unrelated to criminal investigation; it must function instead to secure and to protect an arrestee’s property, and likewise to protect the police department against fraudulent claims of lost or stolen property.

“Thus, the officers’ statements directly admitting that they searched and seized items from Johnson’s car specifically to gather evidence of a suspected crime are sufficient to conclude that the warrantless search of the car was unreasonable,” said the Court, citing Orozco; a case where the Ninth Circuit found pretext where the police officers admitted that their subjective purpose was to find evidence of crime.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that the officers’ search and seizure of such evidence cannot be justified under the inventory-search doctrine:

“In the face of such evidence, it is clear to us that the officers’ decision to seize the money, bags, and cellphones from Johnson and his car would not have occurred without an improper motivation to gather evidence of crime.”

Furthermore, the Ninth Circuit reasoned that because the government has not offered any justification for the seizure of such property other than the inventory-search doctrine, the district court erred in denying Johnson’s motion to suppress. Therefore, evidence gathered from Johnson and his vehicle was inadmissible.

With that, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the federal district court’s denial of Johnson’s motion to suppress the evidence found on his person and in the car he was driving at the time of his arrest is reversed, his conviction and sentence are vacated, and the case is remanded back to the district court for further proceedings.

My opinion? Good decision. Clearly, the search conducted by police officers in this case went beyond the scope of a lawful inventory search. Please contact my office if you, a friend of family member face criminal charges involving a questionable search. The evidence might be suppressible under a well-argued pretrial motion.

Definition of “Porn” Vague

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In State v. Padilla, the WA Supreme Court held that a defendant’s parole conditions prohibiting him from possessing or accessing pornographic materials was unconstitutionally vague because the accompanying definition of “pornographic materials” is vague and overbroad.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Padilla was convicted for communicating with a minor for immoral purposes. The court sentenced him to 75 days of confinement and 12 months of community custody, imposing multiple conditions.

Padilla challenged the condition prohibiting his possession and access to pornographic materials. The term “pornographic material’ was defined by Padilla’s Community Corrections Officer (CCO) as “images of sexual intercourse, simulated or real, masturbation, or the display of intimate body parts.”

 COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court reasoned that a legal prohibition, such as a community custody condition, is
unconstitutionally vague if (1) it does not sufficiently define the proscribed conduct so an ordinary person can understand the prohibition or (2) it does not provide sufficiently ascertainable standards to protect against arbitrary enforcement.  Furthermore, a vague condition infringing on protected First Amendment speech can chill the exercise of those protected freedoms. A restriction implicating First Amendment rights demands a greater degree of specificity and must be reasonably necessary to accomplish the essential needs of the state and public order.

“Padilla notes that the prohibition against viewing depictions of simulated sex would unnecessarily encompass movies and television shows not created for the sole purpose of sexual gratification,” said the Court. “We agree.”

“Films such as Titanic and television shows such as Game of Thrones depict acts of simulated intercourse, but would not ordinarily be considered ‘pornographic material.’ We agree. The prohibition against viewing depictions of intimate body parts impermissibly extends to a variety of works of arts, books, advertisements, movies, and television shows.” See Jenkins v. Georgia, (the depiction of nudity alone is not enough to make material legally obscene).”

The Court further reasoned that, on its face, the plain language of the pornography condition and its relevant definition is ambiguous. In application, the definition does not provide adequate notice of what behaviors Padilla is prohibited from committing and also encompasses the prohibition of constitutionally protected speech. “But also, delegating the authority to determine the prohibition boundaries to an individual CCO creates a real danger that the prohibition on pornography may ultimately translate to a prohibition on whatever the CCO personally finds titillating,” said the Court.

“In the present case, Padilla’s sentencing condition and its definition similarly fails to adequately put him on notice of which materials are prohibited and leaves him vulnerable to arbitrary enforcement,” said the Court. “Therefore, the condition is unconstitutionally vague.”

With that, the WA Supreme Court reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision upholding the condition and remanded the issue back to the trial court for further definition of the term “pornographic materials” following a determination of whether the restriction is narrowly
tailored based on Padilla’s conviction.

Contact my office if you, a friend or family member is on parole and allegedly violating certain conditions of their community custody responsibilities. An experienced defense attorney could frame legal arguments showing that, similar to this case, the CCO might actually be enforcing rules and conditions which are too vague to be legal.

Expert Witnesses & Meth

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In State v. Richmond, the WA Court of Appeals held that a defense expert witness’s proposed testimony regarding the effects of methamphetamine was properly barred at trial because the expert never met or examined the victim and increased aggression is only one possible effect of methamphetamine ingestion.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Dennis Higginbotham went to Joseph Richmond’s property with two other individuals, Veronica Dresp and Lonnie Zackuse. Ms. Dresp was Mr. Richmond’s estranged girlfriend. Ms. Dresp had asked Mr. Higginbotham and Ms. Zackuse to accompany her to Mr. Richmond’s property so that she could remove some of her belongings.

A verbal argument ensued between Mr. Richmond and Mr. Higginbotham. After the verbal argument, Mr. Richmond went into his house. His return to the house was a relief. It appeared the hostility had come to an end.

Unfortunately, this turned out not to be true. Instead, Mr. Richmond ran out of his house, armed with a two-by-four piece of lumber that was nearly four feet in length. Mr. Richmond and Mr. Higginbotham then started exchanging more words. Mr. Richmond warned Mr. Higginbotham not to come any closer to him. When Mr. Higginbotham took a step forward, Mr. Richmond struck Mr. Higginbotham with the two-by-four. According to Ms. Dresp and Ms. Zackuse, Mr. Richmond held the two-by-four like a baseball bat and swung it at Mr. Higginbotham’s head. After he was hit, Mr. Higginbotham spun around and fell face first on the ground.

When emergency personnel arrived at the scene, it was determined Mr. Higginbotham had suffered severe head trauma. He was unconscious and eventually transported to
Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He died shortly thereafter.

Mr. Richmond was charged with second degree murder.

Mr. Richmond lodged a self-defense theory against the State’s murder charges. In support of this theory, Mr. Richmond sought to introduce testimony from several experts. One of the experts was David Predmore. Mr. Predmore was offered to testify about the general effects of methamphetamine consumption on human behavior. According to the defense, this testimony was relevant because high levels of methamphetamine had been found in Mr. Higginbotham’s system at the time of his death.

Although Mr. Richmond was not aware of Mr. Higginbotham’s methamphetamine consumption at the time of the assault, the defense theorized that Mr. Predmore’s testimony was relevant to corroborate Mr. Richmond’s claim that Mr. Higginbotham was behaving aggressively the night of the attack. However, the trial court excluded Mr. Predmore’s testimony as speculative and irrelevant. The jury convicted Mr. Richmond of second degree murder. He appealed.

ISSUE

On appeal, the issue was whether the trial court violated Mr. Richmond’s constitutional right to present a defense by excluding his expert’s testimony.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

“Mr. Richmond argues the trial court violated his constitutional right to present a
defense by excluding expert testimony,” said the Court of Appeals. “We disagree.”

The Court of Appeals reasoned that Evidence Rule 702 governs the admissibility of expert testimony. “Under this rule, a witness may provide expert opinion testimony to the jury if (1) the witness is qualified as an expert, and (2) the witness’s testimony would help the trier of fact,” said the Court of Appeals.

“Expert testimony is helpful if it concerns matters beyond the common knowledge of the average layperson and does not mislead the jury. A proposed expert’s testimony is not helpful or relevant if it is based on speculation.”

Furthermore, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the trial court properly excluded Mr. Predmore’s proposed testimony regarding the effects of methamphetamine because it was not shown to be potentially helpful to the jury. “Mr. Predmore had never met or examined Mr. Higginbotham. He had no basis to assess how Mr. Higginbotham’s body may have processed methamphetamine,” said the Court of Appeals. It further reasoned that according to Mr. Predmore’s proposed testimony, methamphetamine can have a wide range of effects. Increased aggression is only one possibility. “It is therefore nothing but speculation to connect Mr. Higginbotham’s methamphetamine use with Mr. Richmond’s claim of victim aggression,” said the Court of Appeals. “The evidence was properly excluded, consistent with long standing case law.”

With that, the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime after responding in self-defense. Hiring competent and experienced counsel is the first step toward receiving a just resolution.

How to Delete Your DNA Data From Genetics Companies

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Wonderful article from reporter Erin Brodwin of Business Insider discusses how to delete your DNA data from genetics companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.

The recent arrest in one of California’s most infamous serial-killer cases was based in large part on a DNA sample submitted to a genetics website by a distant relative of the suspect.

Brodwin writes that, naturally, the news may have you concerned about the security of your own genetic material. You may be wondering how to delete it from genetic databases kept by popular genetics testing companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.

Those two databases were not used by investigators to track down Golden State Killer suspect Joseph James DeAngelo. Instead, investigators used a service called GEDmatch, which lets customers upload a raw DNA signature. Investigators created a profile for the suspect using DNA sourced from a long-stored crime scene sample, and found matches between DeAngelo’s crime scene DNA and the DNA of a distant family member.

In her article, Brodwin writes that 23andMe, Ancestry, and Helix (National Geographic’s genetics service) only accept saliva samples for genetics testing — an easy way of obtaining DNA. But a similar company called Family Tree DNA could likely accept hair or blood, according to Joe Fox, an administrator for one of the company’s surname projects.

Whichever way a company gets your DNA, privacy advocates say there’s cause for concern. Although genetic data is ostensibly anonymized, companies can and do sell your data to third parties like pharmaceutical companies. From there, it could find its way elsewhere, advocates say.

The core service provided by most commercial genetic tests is built on the extraction of your DNA from your spit — that’s how you get the results about your health and ancestry information.

Here’s how to delete your data from a few of these services.

Deleting DNA Test Results from 23andMe.

After registering your spit sample online with 23andMe, the company will ask if you’d like your saliva to be stored or discarded. But you are not asked the same question about your raw genetic data — the DNA extracted from your spit.

Based on the wording of a document called the “Biobanking Consent Document,” it’s a bit unclear what happens to that raw DNA once you decide to have the company either store or toss your spit.

Here’s the statement’s exact language:

“By choosing to have 23andMe store either your saliva sample or DNA extracted from your saliva, you are consenting to having 23andMe and its contractors access and analyze your stored sample, using the same or more advanced technologies.”

That leaves a bit of a grey area as far as what 23andMe has the ability to keep, and how they can use your DNA information. If your spit or DNA sample is stored, the company can hold onto it for between one and 10 years, “unless we notify you otherwise,” the Biobanking Consent Document states.

Still, you can request that the company discard your spit. To do so, go to its Customer Care page, navigate to “Accounts and Registration,” scroll to the bottom of the bulleted list of options, and select the last bullet titled “Requesting Account Closure.”

Once there, you must submit a request to have your spit sample destroyed and/or have your account closed.

Deleting DNA Test Results from Ancestry.

If you want to delete your DNA test results with Ancestry, use the navigation bar at the top of the homepage to select “DNA.”

On the page with your name at the top, scroll to the upper right corner, select “Settings,” then go to “Delete Test Results” on the right side column.

According to the company’s latest privacy statement, doing this will result in the company deleting the following within 30 days: “All genetic information, including any derivative genetic information (ethnicity estimates, genetic relative matches, etc.) from our production, development, analytics, and research systems.”

But if you opted into Ancestry’s informed “Consent to Research” when you signed up, the company says it can’t wipe your genetic information from any “active or completed research projects.” It will, however, prevent your DNA from being used for new research.

To have the company discard your spit sample, you must call Member Services and request that it be thrown out.

Deleting DNA Test Results From Helix.

In its most recently updated Privacy Policy, Helix states that it may “store your DNA indefinitely.” It also keeps your saliva sample, but you can request that it be destroyed by contacting Helix’s Customer Care via a request form that looks similar to 23andMe’s.

My opinion? Thankfully, the police conducted lawful and highly intelligent investigations leading up to the capture of the Golden State Killer. They should be congratulated. And these highly remarkable techniques remind us that the information we share with the world can be accessed anywhere, any time, by the authorities. Like Brodwin mentions,  companies can and do sell your data to third parties like pharmaceutical companies. From there, it could find its way elsewhere.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving the authorities accessing DNA. If the search was unlawful, then the evidence can be suppressed. Hiring a competent defense counsel who is familiar with search and seizure  law is the first and best step toward getting criminal charges reduced or dismissed.

Gun Safes Are Searchable

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In State v. Witkowski, the WA Court of Appeals held that a police search warrant for firearms located in a residence allows officers to search a locked gun safe.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On October 27, 2015, Deputy Martin Zurfluh obtained a search warrant to search the Respondents’ property, including their residence, for evidence of possession of stolen property and utility theft. The search warrant was limited to a stolen power meter and its accessories. An arrest warrant for Witkowski was also issued.

On October 29, officers executed the search and arrest warrants. After this search, Deputy Zurfluh requested an addendum to the search warrant. In his affidavit, Deputy Zurfluh explained that after entering the Respondents’ residence, police found drug paraphernalia, ammunition, one locked gun safe, one unlocked gun safe, a rifle case, and surveillance cameras. Deputy Zurfluh knew that the Respondents were felons and were prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition.

The search warrant addendum authorized police to search at the Respondents’ street address for evidence of unlawful possession of a firearm, identity theft, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, and unlawful use of drug paraphernalia. The warrant addendum defined the area to be searched for this evidence as the main residence, a shed, and any vehicles and outbuildings at the street address.

The addendum authorized the seizure of evidence including,

  1. firearms, firearms parts, and accessories, including but not limited to rifles, shotguns, handguns, ammunition, scopes, cases, cleaning kits, and holsters
  2. Surveillance Systems used or intended to be used in the furtherance of any of the above listed crimes.
  3. Any item used as a container for #1.

Notably, the addendum did not identify either of the gun safes as items to be seized.

When executing the warrant addendum, officers opened the locked gun safe. They found 11 loaded rifles and shotguns with their serial numbers filed off, a handgun, a police scanner, a large quantity of cash, ammunition, and cameras.

After the search, the State charged Respondents with numerous counts including first degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Witkowski was additionally charged with seven counts of possession of a stolen firearm.

The superior court suppressed the evidence found inside the gun safes under the Fourth Amendment. It ruled that the addendum to the warrant did not include the gun safes or containers for firearms and that gun safes are not “personal effects,” so that the search of the safes did not fall within the scope of the search warrant.

The superior court later denied the State’s motions for reconsideration. The State filed motions for discretionary review to the Court of Appeals.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court reasoned that a lawful search of fixed premises generally extends to the entire area in which the object of the search may be found and is not limited by the possibility that separate acts of entry or opening may be required to complete the search. Thus, a warrant that authorizes an officer to search a home for illegal weapons also provides authority to open closets, chests, drawers, and containers in which the weapon might be found.

“Here, the warrant addendum listed the objects of the search as including firearms and firearm accessories,” said the Court of Appeals.  “And Deputy Zurfluh testified that he suspected the close-to refrigerator-sized, locked safe contained firearms because he had found ammunition in the home.” The Court emphasized that Deputy Zurfluh also testified that in his experience, a tall, upright safe would be used to store guns. “Under the rule expressed in United State v. Ross, because one object of the search was “firearms,” the premises search warrant addendum authorized the search of the locked gun safe as an area in which the object of the search was likely to be found.”

Additionally, the Court of Appeals emphasized that numerous Washington cases have also expressed the Fourth Amendment rule that a premises warrant authorizes a search of containers in a residence that could reasonably contain the object of the search.

“In sum, federal and state precedent applying the Fourth Amendment show that when police execute a premises warrant, they are authorized to search locked containers where the objects of the search are likely to be found. Thus, the superior court here erred under the Fourth Amendment when it suppressed the evidence in the locked gun safe as exceeding the scope of the warrant addendum.”

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed the Superior Court’s suppression of the evidence and remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving searches of persons, vehicles and property. Hiring competent criminal defense counsel is the first step toward getting charges reduced or dismissed.

Studies Show Immigration Does Not Increase Violent Crimes

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Informative article from John Burnett of NPR discusses four academic studies showing that illegal immigration does not increase the prevalence of violent crime or drug and alcohol problems.

Michael Light, a criminologist at the University of Wisconsin, looked at whether the soaring increase in illegal immigration over the last three decades caused a commensurate jump in violent crimes: murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

“Increased undocumented immigration since 1990 has not increased violent crime over that same time period,” Light said in a phone interview.

Those findings are published in the current edition of the peer-reviewed journal Criminology.

In a separate study, these same researchers previously looked at nonviolent crime. They found that the dramatic influx of undocumented immigrants, similarly, did not drive up rates of drug and alcohol arrests or the number of drug overdoses and DUI deaths.

“We found no evidence that undocumented immigration increases the prevalence of any of those outcomes,” Light said.

third study, by the libertarian Cato Institute, recently looked at criminality among undocumented immigrants just in Texas. The state records the immigration status of arrestees, creating a gold mine for criminologists.

Cato found that in 2015, criminal conviction and arrest rates in Texas for undocumented immigrants were lower than those of native-born Americans for murder, sexual assault and larceny.

Finally, a research paper appearing in the current edition of the U.K. journal Migration Letters shows that youthful undocumented immigrants engage in less crime than do legal immigrants or U.S.-born peers.

According to reporter Burnett, social science has focused on the extent of crime committed by legal immigrants for decades. These new studies are important because they’re among the first to explore the link between crime and illegal immigration.

However, Burnett also indicates that the new research may not move the needle in the immigration debate. Texas Republicans, for instance, have potent opinions about undocumented immigrants. A recent poll showed that 7 out of 10 GOP voters in Texas support the proposition that all undocumented immigrants should be deported immediately regardless of whether they have committed a crime there.

My opinion? Immigration certainly is a hot-button political issue. Hopefully, the research is exposing some critical truths which may shed light on the issues and change the narrative.