Senate Passes Bill to Recriminalize Drug Possession

Washington State Supreme Court Rules Drug Possession Law Unconstitutional In 5-4 Decision

Great article by Sara Gentzler of the News Tribune reports that the Washington State Senate approved a bill Thursday that would make drug possession a gross misdemeanor and require diversion to treatment for a person’s first two offenses.

The measure comes in response to the WA State Supreme Court’s so-called Blake decision in February that made the state’s simple drug possession law unconstitutional.

While the proposal captured enough votes to move over to the House of Representatives for more consideration, it did not amass broad support and laid bare disagreements among lawmakers.

A majority of justices on the state Supreme Court found the state’s law was unconstitutional because it didn’t require prosecutors to prove an accused person knowingly or intentionally had drugs. The decision, known as State v. Blake, was released in the middle of the legislative session to immediate, widespread impact.

The 28-20 Senate vote on Thursday reflected the lack of consensus among legislators in how best to proceed

The original, struck-down law made possession of controlled substances a class C felony. The amended bill that passed out of the Senate would take that down to a gross misdemeanor.

The first two times someone is arrested for possession, the bill would require them to be diverted to a treatment program. If they’re arrested for possession again, treatment would be encouraged but not required.

The bill also would allow court commissioners to help resentence people convicted under the law that was deemed unconstitutional. The bill now moves to the House, where Democrats this week introduced their own proposal to address the Supreme Court decision.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Openly Carrying A Sword

Austin, TX now with open carry swords - Album on Imgur

In Zaitzeff v. City of Seattle, the WA Court of Appeals held that while a sword is  constitutionally protected as an “arm,” the Defendant’s conviction for violating a Seattle’s Ordinance prohibiting the carrying of a dangerous weapon was valid.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In May 2018, Mr. Zaitzeff walked around Green Lake Park with a sheathed sword hanging from his neck. A citizen called 911. The caller said Zaitzeff was wearing a thong, approaching women, and taking photos of them. When police officers arrived, they confirmed he had a sword, which measured about 24 inches long.

Zaitzeff acknowledged he was aware of the ordinance against fixed blade knives and that he was not hunting, fishing, or going to or from a job requiring a sword. The officers took the sword and cited him.

The City charged Zaitzeff with Unlawful Use of Weapons under SMC 12A.14.080(B). Zaitzeff moved to dismiss the charge, challenging the ordinance as unconstitutional as applied to his case. The Seattle Municipal Court denied the motion, concluding that the sword is not a constitutionally protected arm. Zaitzeff went to trial. Despite arguing a Necessity Defense that he carried the sword because he was assaulted in the past, the court found Zaitzeff guilty as charged.

Zaitzeff appealed to King County Superior Court. However, the court concluded that sufficient evidence supported the conviction. Zaitzeff appealed to the WA Court of Appeals on the issues of the constitutionality of the ordinance and his ability to present a defense. The Court of Appeals granted review.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals held that the federal and state constitutions protect Zaitzeff’s sword as an arm:

“Historically, swords have been weapons of offense used to strike at others. And while law-abiding citizens do not typically carry swords for lawful purposes today, as further discussed below, swords were common at the time of founding . . . As law-abiding citizens traditionally used swords for self-defense, we conclude that both constitutions protect Zaitzeff’s sword as an arm.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Nevertheless, the Court also engaged a lengthy constitutional analysis and held that Seattle’s ordinance was reasonably necessary to protect public safety and welfare. Furthermore, the ordinance was substantially related to the goal of preventing sword-related injuries and violence:
“The ordinance does not severely burden his constitutional rights as it allows the defendant to purchase a sword and, in a secure wrapper, carry it home, carry it to be repaired, and carry it to abodes or places of business.” ~ WA Court of Appeals.
Next, the WA Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s rejection of Zaitzeff’s Necessity defense. It reasoned that Zaitzeff’s concession that there was no one imminently threatening him that particular day prevented him from proving his defense.
Woth that, the Court of Appeals upheld Zaitzeff’s conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

COVID-19 Increased Crime

Crime and the Coronavirus: What You Need to Know | SafeWise

Informative article by reporters Emma Tucker and Peter Nickeas of CNN finds that the U.S. saw a significant crime rise across major cities in 2020 during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Worse, it doesn’t appear to be letting up.

Major American cities saw a 33% increase in homicides last year as a pandemic swept across the country, millions of people joined protests against racial injustice and police brutality, and the economy collapsed under the weight of the pandemic — a crime surge that has continued into the first quarter of this year.

Sixty-three of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw increases in at least one category of violent crimes in 2020, which include homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, according to a report produced by the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Raleigh, North Carolina, did not report increases in any of the violent crime categories.
It’s nearly impossible to attribute any year-to-year change in violent crime statistics to any single factor, and homicides and shootings are an intensely local phenomenon that can spike for dozens of reasons. But the increase in homicide rates across the country is both historic and far-reaching, as were the pandemic and social movements that touched every part of society last year.
A PERFECT STORM OF FACTORS
Experts point to a “perfect storm” of factors — economic collapse, social anxiety because of a pandemic, de-policing in major cities after protests that called for abolition of police departments, shifts in police resources from neighborhoods to downtown areas because of those protests, and the release of criminal defendants pretrial or before sentences were completed to reduce risk of Covid-19 spread in jails — all may have contributed to the spike in homicides.
Covid-19 seemed to exacerbate everything — officers sometimes had to quarantine because of exposure or cases in their ranks, reducing the number of officers available for patrol, investigations or protest coverage. It was difficult-to-impossible to keep physical distance during protests.
Through the first three months of 2021, a number of major cities have indicated they are still experiencing high rates of violent crime, according to Laura Cooper, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “Some cities are set to outpace last year’s numbers,” she said.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Lawsuit Seeks COVID-19 Vaccines for Inmates

Opinion | Stop Unnecessary Arrests to Slow Coronavirus Spread - The New York Times

Excellent article by Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times reports that  a legal-aid group in Washington state has sued the state Department of Corrections, demanding that all state prison inmates immediately receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The class-action lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court by Columbia Legal Services also seeks an order banning direct contact with incarcerated people by DOC employees and contractors who refuse vaccines.

The lawsuit claims the state’s refusal to promptly vaccinate about 15,000 inmates violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. It also claims the coronavirus infection rate in prisons is more than eight times higher than in the general population.

According to the article, since the pandemic began in March 2020, more than 6,000 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and 14 people have died, department officials said. More than 1,000 workers have tested positive and two have died.

Department of Corrections spokesperson Jacque Coe said the agency will continue to follow the state Department of Health’s (DOH) published vaccine phase schedule. Coe said the schedule would allow for vaccinations for “all incarcerated individuals and staff in corrections facilities, based upon supply of the vaccine received” as of March 31.

“We will be working with the Office of the Attorney General to assess and respond to the lawsuit by Columbia Legal Services.” ~ Department of Corrections Spokesperson Jacque Coe.

The lawsuit names plaintiffs Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor inmate Candis Rush, Clallam Bay Corrections Center inmate Gregory Steen and Monroe Corrections Center inmate Justin Autrey. They claimed that prison employees do not follow social distancing guidelines and have refused vaccinations.

Columbia Legal attorney Tony Gonzalez said the Department of Corrections should work with “authentic, respected voices in the community to help spread accurate information and build trust around the vaccine.”

My opinion? Excellent. I hope the lawsuit gets somewhere. Incarcerated people are infected by the coronavirus at a rate more than five times higher than the nation’s overall rate, according to research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The death rate of inmates (39 deaths per 100,000) is also higher than the national rate (29 deaths per 100,000).

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Lesser Included Offense

What is LESSER INCLUDED OFFENSE? What does LESSER INCLUDED OFFENSE mean? - YouTube

In State v. Coryell, the WA Supreme Court held that a defendant is entitled to a lesser included offense instruction under the Workman test when a jury could reasonably find, based on evidence submitted and the jury’s decision about whether it is credible or not, that the defendant committed only the lesser offense.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Coryell and his girlfriend Hart’Lnenicka lived together. One morning, the couple argued. Hart’Lnenicka accused Coryell of cheating on her with an ex-girlfriend. While they were talking, Coryell was playing a video game, and Hart’Lnenicka unplugged the game console, threatening to break it. Coryell took the console from Hart’Lnenicka and set it on the coffee table. At some point, Coryell pushed Hart’Lnenicka to the ground. Eventually, police responded and arrested Coryell.

The parties gave different versions of the incident. Ms. Hart’Lnenicka told police that Coryell kicked her out of the apartment, choked her, thrown her to the ground, and slammed her head into the laundry room doors. Coryell confirmed the sequence of events but denied ever grabbing Hart’Lnenicka around the neck. Ultimately, Coryell was charged with Assault Second Degree and Assault Fourth Degree.

At trial Officer Malone also stated that he saw no Petechial Hemorrhaging in the photographs presented at trial and that he observed no signs of it on Hart’Lnenicka on the day of the alleged assault. Nevertheless, the trial court declined to give the requested fourth degree assault instruction.

The jury convicted Coryell on both counts. Coryell appealed his conviction. Although the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision denying a lesser degree instruction, the WA Supreme Court granted review.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court began by saying that RCW 10.61.003 provides that where an offense consists of different degrees, “the jury may find the defendant not guilty of the degree charged in the indictment or information, and guilty of any degree inferior thereto.” Additionally, a defendant “may be found guilty of a lesser included offense, the commission of which is necessarily included within that with which he or she is charged in the indictment or information.”

“The reason lesser included instructions are given is to assist the jury in weighing the evidence, determining witness credibility, and deciding disputed questions of fact,” said the Court. “If the evidence permits a jury to rationally find a defendant guilty of the lesser offense, a lesser included offense instruction should be given.”

Consequently, the Court held that the trial court erred when it denied a lesser degree instruction on fourth degree assault:

“The evidence supported an inference that Coryell assaulted, but did not strangle, his girlfriend, and thus, he was entitled to a lesser degree instruction. This is consistent with the test in Workman and with the legislature’s directive in RCW 9A.04.100(2), which provides, ‘When a crime has been proven against a person, and there exists a reasonable doubt as to which of two or more degrees he or she is guilty, he or she shall be convicted only of the lowest degree.'”

Accordingly, the WA Supreme Court vacated Coryell’s conviction.

My opinion? Great decision. It’s fair to allow the defense to argue different theories of what happened based on the lack of evidence. Here, the lack of Petechial Hemorrhaging suffered by the victim raises reasonable doubt on the issue of whether she was strangled.

However, the lack of evidence does not mean she was not a victim of a lesser offense – here, Assault Fourth Degree. The defense should be allowed to argue this point and request a lesser-included jury instruction accordingly. I’m very pleased the WA Supremes finally put in writing that Assault Fourth Degree is a lesser-included offense to Assault Second Degree.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Assault or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Pot Sales Boomed in Washington During COVID-19 Pandemic

Here comes 'Big Marijuana' and the Republican hypocrites | Higher Ground | Detroit | Detroit Metro Times

A new Leafly report shows that national sales boomed during the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020, including in Washington, leading to growth in revenue and jobs.

Also, Leafly’s more recent Jobs Report shows that nationally, cannabis sales saw a 71% surge between 2019 and 2020. And Americans bought $18.3 billion worth of pot products in 2020, according to the report.

“Despite a year marked by a global pandemic, spiking unemployment, and economic recession, the legal cannabis industry added 77,300 full-time jobs in the United States,” Leafly’s 2021 jobs report says. “That represents 32% year-over-year job growth, an astonishing figure in the worst year for US economic growth since World War II.”

Legalization of marijuana in some form or another is rapidly catching on in most U.S. states. While some states that recently legalized recreational or medicinal use of marijuana added more jobs than Washington in 2020, its industry has continued to grow steadily since 2012, the report says.

Washington’s cannabis sales increased by 17% in 2020, with customers spending $1.42 billion on marijuana products, leading to a boom in employment, the report says. The state has 19,873 cannabis industry jobs, which is 524 more than 2019.

As one of the pioneering states in the sale of recreational marijuana, Washington has the fifth-most cannabis jobs and some of the highest sales number in the U.S., according to the report.

WHY THE SURGE?

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States in March, many in the cannabis industry worried about a massive industry-wide shutdown. Instead, governors in most states declared cannabis an essential product. Dispensaries and retail stores responded by offering online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery as Covid-safe options for their customers.

Customers, in turn, responded by stocking up for those weeks of stay-at-home advisories. After a brief dip in late-March revenue, most stores saw a significant bump in April—and then the bump became a plateau.

My opinion? Whether it or not it ends up being a coping mechanism for COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like cannabis has become how many people are making it through.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face Drug Charges or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

COVID-19 Leads to Backlog of Criminal Cases

Justice delayed is justice denied | The Daily Star

Excellent article by Denver Pratt of the Bellingham Herald discusses how Whatcom Superior Court now faces a considerable backlog of unresolved cases due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

“For prosecuting attorneys and for public defenders, this means higher caseloads and for defendants and victims, it means delayed justice,” reported Pratt.

According to Pratt’s article, we’ve seen a decreased number of cases that would normally resolve at trial by dismissal or plea bargain. Caseloads have risen. According to Pratt – who interviewed Whatcom County  Prosecutor Eric Richey – the eight felony prosecutors had caseloads of roughly 150 open cases prior to the pandemic. They now have around 250 cases each.

Also, according to Stark Follis – the Director of Whatcom County Public Defender’s Office – of the 11 felony attorneys on his staff, each one has a caseload of 100 or more cases. Some attorneys now carry twice their pre-pandemic caseloads.

“There’s an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied and there’s a certain amount of truth to that. Victims don’t want to wait for cases to be resolved, defendants don’t want to wait for cases to be resolved, and the more pending cases you have in front of you, the less time you have to spend on any one particular case. There’s nothing good that comes from a backlog.” ~Whatcom County Public Defender Starck Follis.

My opinion? All of the above is true. Since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, every state has canceled or scaled back in-person criminal court proceedings to stem the spread of the virus. This has resulted in literally thousands of Defendants waiting for trials and other resolutions, while creating a cascade of civil rights issues for the accused.

More defendants – especially those with health problems – are striking plea deals to avoid sitting in jail for an undetermined amount of time. And virtual courts are exposing the disadvantages of the poor, who are less likely to afford Internet access for court dates, as new criminal cases stack up.

We need to resolve these cases.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Prosecutor Opposes Suspending Driver’s Licenses for Failure to Pay Traffic Tickets

Suspended License Georgia | DUI Lawyer | Criminal Defense Attorney

In an Open Letter released by the Bellingham Herald, Whatcom County Prosecutor Eric Richey wants to stop using courts and laws to act as debt collectors.

“I am opposed to the current practice of suspending Washingtonians driver’s licenses for failure to pay traffic tickets,” wrote Eric Richey. “This year, the Washington legislature has an opportunity to eliminate this harmful policy.”

Richey explains how Senate Bill 5226, sponsored by Sen. Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline), will eliminate the practice of suspending licenses for non-public safety reasons while strengthening accountability measures. Currently, the measure has already passed in the Senate with support from both sides of the aisle. The bill rights past wrongs by reinstating individuals’ licenses who were suspended for a reason entirely unrelated to public safety: failing to have the money to pay a court fine.

Richey believes Senate Bill 5226 helps focus the prosecutor’s office – and law enforcement’s resources – on protecting the public’s safety, instead of criminalizing poverty.

“My office and I are committed to continuing to protect the safety of Whatcom County. However, to effectively do so, we must stop using courts and laws to act as debt collectors, and instead use them to protect our residents and hold individuals accountable. Senate Bill 5226 will do that: keeping our roads safe without penalizing residents for an inability to pay court fines and fees. I urge the legislature to pass this bill and continue working in future sessions to decriminalize poverty by eliminating the remaining paths to suspending driver’s licenses, such as missing hearings related to payment plans, that are not covered within SB 5226.” ~ Eric Richey, Whatcom County Prosecutor

Well said. Our current practice of suspending Washingtonians driver’s licenses for failure to pay traffic tickets is outdated. It essentially criminalizes poverty.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Women Are Reportedly Drinking More During COVID Pandemic

Doctors are seeing a rise in alcoholic liver disease in the last year, especially among people under 40 and especially women.

Excellent article by reporter Yuki Noguchi of NPR describes how cases of alcoholic liver disease — which includes milder fatty liver and the permanent scarring of cirrhosis, as well as alcoholic hepatitis — are up 30% over the last year at the University of Michigan’s health system, says Dr. Jessica Mellinger, a liver specialist there.

More startling, the increase disproportionally impacts young women.

Alcoholic liver disease often takes years to manifest. But it can become a threat for women more quickly because their bodies process alcohol somewhat differently than men’s.

So why the increased drinking? The reasons are clear.

Noguchi reports that women have borne the brunt of many new pressures of pandemic life, from virtual school and increased responsibilities at home, even as ads and pop culture have continued to validate the idea of drinking to cope: Mommy Juice, Rosé All Day, Wine Down Wednesdays. On top of that, eating disorders and underlying trauma from physical or sexual violence often add fuel to the fire, fanned by social isolation.

Just the sheer amount of trauma is really, really tragic,” said psychiatrist Dr. Scott Winder, a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan who treats patients with alcoholic liver disease.

As stay-at-home orders began in some US states as a mitigation strategy for COVID-19 transmission, Nielsen IQ reported a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with 1 year before; online sales increased 262% from 2019.1 Three weeks later, the World Health Organization warned that alcohol use during the pandemic may potentially exacerbate health concerns and risk-taking behaviors.

Please contact my office if you a friend or family face alcohol related charges like DUI or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

COVID-19 Impact on Trials

Coronavirus: California suspends jury trials in superior courts for 60 days – Orange County Register

Excellent article in Time magazine by reporter Melissa Chan discusses the Coronavirus Pandemic’s impact on our criminal justice system.

Since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency in March 2020, every state and Washington, D.C., has canceled or scaled back in-person criminal court proceedings to stem the spread of the virus. The snarled justice system has left hundreds of thousands of families waiting for trials and other resolutions, while creating a cascade of civil rights issues for the accused.

According to Chan, more defendants – especially those with health problems – are striking plea deals to avoid sitting in jail for an undetermined amount of time, defense attorneys say. And virtual courts are exposing the disadvantages of the poor, who are less likely to afford Internet access for court dates, as a staggering number of new criminal cases stack up.

The first few courts in the U.S. to stop jury selection and postpone new criminal and civil trials did so around March 2020. At that time, health officials began urging millions of Americans to stay at home and keep 6 ft. away from others when venturing out. Even the U.S. Supreme Court postponed oral arguments for the first time in more than 100 years.

By fall 2020, some criminal jury trials had resumed with restrictions, including in areas of New York State, where each county was allowed to hold one criminal trial at a time in courtrooms outfitted with plexiglass barriers and jury seats spaced several feet apart.

But the reopening was short-lived, reports Chan. A surge in COVID-19 cases around the holidays forced another round of court restrictions. At the end of November, about two dozen U.S. district courts nationwide resuspended jury trials and grand jury proceedings, marking a “significant pause” in efforts by federal courts to resume full operation, court officials said.

Today, even in jurisdictions where in-person proceedings have resumed, limits on how many people can be in a courtroom at the same time for things like jury selection continue to slow the system.

In a pre-pandemic world, state courts typically resolved 18 million felony and misdemeanor cases annually, according to an NCSC study in August 2020, and an estimated 8 million to 10 million U.S. citizens reported for jury duty each year.

“We’re in sort of this holding period.” ~Paula Hannaford-Agor, director of the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts (NCSC).

Apparently, jury trials returning to any semblance of normality until at least 2022.

My opinion? The courts are doing their best to open again, albeit safely. Nobody wants a jury trial to become a super-spreader.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.