Category Archives: Assault

Unlawful Opinion Testimony of Police Officer

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In State v. Winborne, the WA Court of Appeals held that an officer’s use of the word “reckless” or “eluding” while testifying in a Felony Eluding trial was improper opinion testimony.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The State of Washington charged Tishawn Winborne with Theft of a Motor Vehicle, two counts of Attempting to Elude a Police Vehicle, one count of Second Degree Assault, and one count of Third Degree Assault. The assault charges arise from his resisting
of police officers.

At the start of trial, Tishawn Winborne made a motion in limine to prohibit the State’s witnesses from testifying regarding ultimate factual issues such as whether Winborne “eluded” or drove “recklessly.” However, the trial court denied the motion. For those who don’t know, a motion in limine is a pretrial motion asking that certain evidence be found inadmissible, and that it not be referred to or offered at trial.

During trial, State witnesses repeatedly testified to Tishawn Winborne’s driving “recklessly” or “eluding” law enforcement. At the close of the State’s case, the trial court dismissed the Theft of a Motor Vehicle charge because of insufficient evidence.

The jury found Tishawn Winborne guilty of both counts of Attempting to Elude a Police Vehicle, but acquitted Winborne of both assault charges.

Winborne appealed. Among other issues, he challenged the trial court’s denial of his motion in limine to prohibit any witness from testifying that Winborne drove “recklessly” or “eluded” police.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that no witness, lay or expert, may testify to his or her opinion as to the guilt of a defendant, whether by direct statement or inference. Whether testimony provides an improper opinion turns on the circumstances of the case, including (1) the type of witness involved, (2) the specific nature of the testimony, (3) the nature of the charges, (4) the type of defense, and (5) the other evidence before the trier of fact.

Next, the Court held this case was similar to the controlling precedent of State v. Farr-Lenzini:

“The state trooper in State v. Farr-Lenzini did not employ the word “reckless” in his testimony as did officers in Tishawn Winborne’s trial. Nevertheless, the same reasoning behind excluding the testimony applies. An officer can testify to his observations of the driving of the defendant without drawing conclusions assigned to the jury.”

Finally, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion by denying Tishawn Winborne’s motion in limine. It reasoned that the State’s police officer witnesses testified by direct statements to Tishawn Winborne’s guilt. “Whether Tishawn Winborne drove ‘recklessly’ or ‘eluded’ the officer is an element of attempting to elude a police vehicle,” said the Court. “A law enforcement officer’s improper opinion testimony may be particularly prejudicial because it carries a special aura of reliability.”

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Tishawn Winbome’s convictions for Felony Eluding a Police Officer and remanded for a new trial.

My opinion? Good decision. The Court of Appeals is correct in saying that a police officer’s improper opinion testimony may be particularly prejudicial because it carries a special aura of reliability. This is true. Instinctively, most jurors give much weight to the testimony of police officers. And the police officers know that. For those reasons, it is imperative for defense attorneys to argue pretrial motions in limine asking the trial judge to prohibit the police officers from offering their opinions at trial and to take exception to the court’s adverse rulings; thus preserving the issue for appeal. Kudos to the defense attorney in this case.

DV & Cohabitating Parties

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In State v. Shelley, the WA Court of Appeals reversed the the defendant’s domestic violence convictions and held that a man, who is cohabitating with a woman and her child, does not necessarily have a “family or household” relationship to the child.

BACKGROUND FACTS

From late 2013 until April 2015, Defendant Aaron Shelley, his girlfriend Cheri Burgess, and her son from another relationship, A.S., lived with Shelley’s aunt and uncle.

On the evening of April 29, 2015, Shelley became angry and wanted Burgess to leave the house. After attempting to force Burgess out of the house, Shelley placed a knife against Burgess’s throat and stated he was going to kill her because she was not leaving. Shelley’s uncle, Mr. Sovey, intervened and convinced Shelley to give him the knife.

While Burgess and Sovey were talking in the kitchen, Shelley took A.S. out to the car. When Burgess confronted Shelley, Shelley grabbed A.S. by the throat. A.S. made a choking noise, “like he couldn’t breathe.” And when Burgess tried to grab A.S., Shelley said, “If you don’t leave or get away, I’m just gonna squeeze him, keep squeezing him. Get away from me. Leave, leave. Just effing leave. Leave my boy.” After Sovey came outside, Burgess walked away and called the police.

The State charged Shelley with, among other things, two counts of second degree assault as to Burgess, one count of second degree assault of a child as to A.S., and one count of felony harassment for threatening to kill A.S. The State alleged each crime was one of domestic violence.

The jury convicted Shelley of one count of assault as to Burgess. The jury found this was a crime of domestic violence because Shelley and Burgess were members of the same family or household. The jury also convicted Shelley of one count of assault as to A.S. and one count of felony harassment.

Shelley appealed on the issue of whether he was properly convicted of domestic violence acts against A.S.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals reasoned that under RCW 10.99.020(3) and RCW 26.50.010(6), “family or household members” includes the following:

“Spouses, former spouses, persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they have been married or have lived together at any time, adult persons related by blood or marriage, adult persons who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past, persons sixteen years of age or older who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past and who have or have had a dating relationship, persons sixteen years of age or older with whom a person sixteen years of age or older has or has had a dating relationship, and persons who have a biological or legal parent-child relationship, including stepparents and stepchildren and grandparents and grandchildren.”

“The State had the burden of establishing Shelley and A.S. had a biological or
legal parent-child relationship,” said the Court. “It is undisputed that Shelley is not A.S.’s biological father because Shelley and Burgess did not meet until she was six months
pregnant.”

The Court also raised and dismissed the State’s arguments that Shelley’s presumption of parentage was proven under RCW 26.26.116 of the Uniform Parentage Act. “The State did not present the trial court with any evidence of such a judicial determination,” said the Court of Appeals. “On this record, the State’s presumptive parent and de facto parent
theories fail.”

The Court concluded that because A.S. and Shelley are not family or household members, the domestic violence special verdicts on count 3, second-degree assault of a child, and count 4, felony harassment, were invalid as a matter of law.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DV crimes involving the children of unmarried boyfriends/girlfriends or domestic partners.  Like this case shows, the Prosecution may be unlawfully charging defendants with DV crimes when it lacks the authority to do so.

Unlawful Imprisonment Evidence

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In  State v. Scanlan, the WA Court of Appeals upheld the defendant’s conviction for Unlawful Imprisonment because there was evidence that  the victim told his doctor that he had been imprisoned in his home for two days against his will by the Defendant.

BACKGROUND

In 2013, Bagnell, an 82-year-old widower, was living independently in the Federal Way home that he had shared with his wife of more than 50 years. Sometime in 2013, Bagnell met Scanlan, a woman 30 years his junior. They quickly became friends and about two months later, Scanlan moved in with Bagnell.

On October 16, 2014, the Federal Way Police Department responded to Bagnell’s home after receiving a 911 hang-up call. The officers found Bagnell and Scanlan inside the home. Scanlan was uninjured, but Bagnell, who was dressed in a t-shirt and underwear, had wounds on his head, arms, and legs. After questioning Scanlan, the officers arrested her. As a result of the incident, a court order was issued prohibiting Scanlan from contacting Bagnell.

A few weeks later, on November 6, 2014, Bagnell’s adult children grew concerned after Bagnell missed a scheduled meeting with them. After trying and failing to reach him on his cell phone and home phone, Bagnell’s children went to Bagnell’s house to check on him.

When Bagnell’s children arrived at his house, they found it dark. Its blinds were
drawn and all of the interior and exterior lights were out. The children thought this was
odd and moved up to the front porch to try to see inside. From the porch they could see the glow of the television and shadowy movements. They rang the doorbell and
knocked but received no answer. Bagnell’s children were alarmed and opened the door
with an emergency key.

Inside, they found Bagnell’s home in disarray. Trails of blood ran across the carpet and up the stairs, gouges marked the walls, and broken household items and debris lay on the floor. A golf club leaned against a wall, and a hammer lay on a coffee table. A crowbar was on the dining room table, and a broken broom handle stood in a garbage bucket in the middle of the family room’s floor. Bagnell sat alone in a chair in the family room, dazed, bleeding from several wounds, and severely bruised such that “His face was black.” Bagnell at first appeared to be unconscious, but he began to respond to their attempts to rouse him as they called 911.

Roughly 15 minutes later, Federal Way Police Officer Brian Bassage arrived at Bagnell’s home. Just as Officer Bassage arrived, Scanlan was found hiding under a blanket in the front seat of a car in the garage. As Officer Bassage removed her from the car, Bagnell’s daughter yelled out at her that she had “just beat her father half to death, that there was blood everywhere.” Scanlan shouted back, “It’s not that bad.” At the police station, Scanlan claimed to be injured. The police took pictures, but did not detect any significant injuries. Scanlan did not receive medical treatment.

Bagnell was transported to the hospital where he was treated in the emergency room for his injuries which included: extensive bruising all over his body, four large open wounds on his legs, wounds on his arms, and fractures on both hands. Bagnell was treated in the emergency room by emergency room Nurse Catherine Gay and Dr. Robert Britt. Bagnell also met with social worker Jemina Skjonsby.

After treatment, but prior to his release, Bagnell met with Federal Way Police Department Detective Adrienne Purcella from about midnight to 1:00 a.m. Bagnell signed a form medical records waiver at 12:55 a.m.

Bagnell did not testify at trial. However, the trial court admitted statements that Bagnell made to medical providers in the emergency room, as well as subsequent statements made to his primary care physician and wound care medical team.

In November 2015, the State charged Scanlan with assault in the second degree (count 1), felony violation of a court order (count 2), unlawful imprisonment (count 3), and assault in the fourth degree (count 4). All counts contained a domestic violence allegation. The jury found Scanlan guilty of assault in the second degree, felony violation of a court order, and unlawful imprisonment.

Scanlon appealed her convictions She contends that, among other issues, there was insufficient evidence to support the charge of unlawful imprisonment.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals held there is sufficient evidence of unlawful imprisonment.

The Court reasoned that when reviewing a claim for the sufficiency of the evidence, it considers whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Furthermore, all reasonable inferences from the evidence must be drawn in favor of the State and interpreted most strongly against the defendant. A claim of insufficiency admits the truth of the State’s evidence and all inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom. Finally, circumstantial evidence is as reliable as direct evidence. However, inferences based on circumstantial evidence must be reasonable and cannot be based on speculation.

In this case, the State charged Scanlan with unlawful imprisonment under RCW 9A.40.040 which states: “A person is guilty of unlawful imprisonment if he or she knowingly restrains another person.” To prove restraint, the State had to prove that Scanlan restricted Bagnell’s movements (a) without consent and (b) without legal authority, in a manner which interfered substantially with his liberty. Restraint is without consent if it is accomplished by physical force, intimidation, or deception.

The Court reasoned that first, Bagnell told his physician Dr. Britt that he had been in his home for two days, that he had been imprisoned, or at least held in his home, against his will. Also the physician’s assistant testified that Bagnell told her that Scanlan locked him in a room: “He was living with a girlfriend at the time who had locked him in a room and had beat him with a candlestick, a broom and a hammer over multiple areas,” said the physician’s assistant, who also testified at trial.

Second, circumstantial evidence supports the inference that Scanlan used force or the threat of force to restrain Bagnell. Bagnell’s children found the front door locked, their father in a stupor, the house in disarray, and a broken broom, hammer, golf club, and crowbar. Bagnell’s children were also unable to contact their father by phone. Additionally, Bagnell’s cell phone was found broken, a battery was found to have been removed from a cordless phone in the home, and another phone was found to have no dial tone.

“Viewed in the light most favorable to the State, this is sufficient evidence of unlawful imprisonment.”

With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed Scanlan’s conviction for unlawful imprisonment.

Burglary of Inmate’s Cell?

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In State v. Dunleavy, the WA Court of Appeals held that a jail cell is a separate building for purposes of supporting a burglary charge/conviction, and the that the victim’s jail cell need not be secured or occupied at the time of the crime in order to support the charge.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Dunleavy was an inmate at the Walla Walla County jail in Unit E. In Unit E, there are eight cells capable of housing two inmates per cell. The cells open into a day room. In Unit E, the cell doors are open from about 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. An inmate is permitted to close his cell door, but if he does, the door will remain locked until opened the next morning.

Dunleavy was hungry one day, so he asked inmate Kemp LaMunyon for a tortilla. LaMunyon responded that he did not have enough to share, but would buy more later and share with Dunleavy at that time. Dunleavy later bullied LaMunyon and threatened to “smash out.” Soon after, inmate John Owen attacked LaMunyon. During the attack, Dunleavy snuck into LaMunyon’s jail cell and took some of LaMunyon’s food. LaMunyon was seriously injured by Owen. Jail security investigated the fight and the theft, and concluded that the two were related. Security believed that Dunleavy staged the fight between Owen and LaMunyon to give him an opportunity to take LaMunyon’s food.

Because of the seriousness of LaMunyon’s injuries, and because security concluded that the fight and the theft were related, the jail referred charges to the local prosecuting authority. The State charged Dunleavy with second degree burglary, third degree theft, and second degree assault. After the State presented its case, Dunleavy moved to dismiss the second degree burglary charge on the basis that an inmate’s cell is a separate building. The trial court considered the parties’ arguments, denied Dunleavy’s motion to dismiss, and the case continued forward.

Dunleavy called one witness who testified that Dunleavy did not conspire with Owen to assault LaMunyon. After closing arguments, the case was submitted to the jury. The jury began deliberating at 1:30 p.m. At 4:00 p.m., the jury sent a written note to the trial court through the bailiff. The note asked, “Are the Walla Walla county jail policies legally binding? Are they considered law? What if we are not unanimous on a certain count?” The trial court, counsel, and Dunleavy discussed how the trial court should respond. The trial court’s response read, “You are to review the evidence, the exhibits, and the instructions, and continue to deliberate in order to reach a verdict.” No party objected to this response.

Less than one hour later, the jury returned a verdict finding Mr. Dunleavy guilty of second degree burglary and third degree theft but not guilty of second degree assault.

ISSUES

Dunleavy appealed on the issues of whether (1) jail cells are separate buildings for purposes of proving burglary, and (2) whether there is an  implied license for unlawful entry.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

1. Jail cells are separate buildings for purposes of proving burglary.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that under statute, a person is guilty of burglary in the second degree if, with intent to commit a crime against a person or property therein, he or she enters or remains unlawfully in a building other than a vehicle or a dwelling. Furthermore, Washington law defines “building” in relevant part as any structure used for lodging of persons; each unit of a building consisting of two or more units separately secured or occupied is a separate building.

With these legal definitions in mind, the court noted that that a jail is a building used for lodging of persons, specifically inmates. Each cell is secured at night and an inmate can secure his cell from others. Furthermore, each cell is separately occupied by two inmates. “We discern no ambiguity,” said the Court of Appeals. “A jail cell is a separate building for purposes of proving burglary.”

2. No implied license for unlawful entry.

The Court of Appeals raised and dismissed Dunleavy’s arguments that he did not commit burglary when he entered LaMunyon’s cell because his entry was lawful from an implied license to enter the cell.

Contrary to Dunleavy’s argument, the Court explained that under Washington law, a person ‘enters or remains unlawfully’ in or upon premises when he or she is not then licensed, invited, or otherwise privileged to so enter or remain.”

The Court of Appeals explained that the victim, LaMunyon, did not give Dunleavy permission to enter his cell. Furthermore, the Jail Sergeant testified that inmates are told when they are first booked into jail that they may not enter another inmate’s jail cell.

“Inmates are subject to punishment for breaking these rules, including criminal charges,” said the Court of Appeals. “A rational jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Dunleavy entered LaMunyon’s cell unlawfully.”

Consequently, the Court of Appeals affirmed Dunleavy’s conviction, yet remanded for resentencing on the separate issue that his offender score was incorrectly calculated.

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.

Evidence of Self-Defense

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In State v. Lee, the WA Court of Appeals held that the trial court violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to present a defense by excluding evidence of self-defense.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On January 25, 2015, the defendant Chevalier  Lee’s girlfriend, Danielle Spicer, visited the home of Alice Gonzalez and her husband, Louis Gonzalez -ernandez. Spicer went to the Gonzalez’s house and stayed there with Gonzalez and Gonzalez Hernandez’s’ five children while Gonzalez and Gonzalez-Hernandez ran errands. Gonzalez and Gonzalez-Hernandez returned home to find Lee at their house playing cards with their children and Spicer. Although they had not invited him, Lee had been to their home many times and was generally welcome there.

Later that evening, Lee and Spicer began arguing about whether they would spend the night with Gonzalez and Gonzalez-Hernandez or return to their respective individual residences. Lee loudly cursed at Spicer as the argument escalated. Gonzalez-Hernandez told Lee that he did not like “that kind of behavior” in his house and Lee would have to leave. Lee refused and said that he didn’t have to leave. Gonzalez-Hernandez told Lee to leave approximately three-to-five times. According to Lee, he then cursed at Gonzalez-Hernandez who “came right at” him. Gonzalez-Hernandez had his hands up. Lee was scared and hit Gonzalez-Hernandez. The two men then wrestled. Lee left after seeing the scared looks Gonzalez, Spicer, and the children had.

According to Gonzalez-Hernandez, Lee called him a “f**king b***h” and hit him in the
face. Another witness saw Lee approach Gonzalez-Hernandez and get within inches of his face. Gonzalez-Hernandez again told Lee to leave and Lee “swung at him.” After they fought for a few minutes, Gonzalez called 911 and Lee and Spicer left.

Jury Trial

At trial, the defense sought to elicit testimony from Spicer that she and Lee had witnessed
Gonzalez-Hernandez being “physical with his wife” in a separate incident four days prior to the assault. Lee’s attorney argued that this evidence would show that Lee had actual knowledge that Mr. Gonzalez-Hernandez actually had the capacity to be aggressive and/or violent. According to Lee’s defense attorney, this evidence would show Lee’s state of mind regarding his need to defend himself.

The judge sustained the City’s objection, finding the evidence was “more prejudicial than probative” and that allowing such evidence would open the door to evidence about Lee’s prior misconduct. The defense suggested it would then elicit testimony that Lee “had prior information that Mr. Gonzalez-Hernandez had been known to be aggressive.” The trial court sustained the City’s objection to this evidence, finding it “more prejudicial than probative of anything.”

In fact, during Lee’s testimony, Lee stated that he “had reason to be scared of Gonzalez-Hernandez already,” to which the City objected and the court sustained. Neither the City nor the court stated any specific grounds for this objection or ruling.

A jury found Lee guilty of Assault Fourth Degree. He appealed to the Pierce County Superior Court which affirmed the conviction. The WA Court of Appeals granted Lee’s motion for discretionary review.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals held that the trial court violated Lee’s Sixth Amendment right to present a defense by excluding evidence of self-defense.

The Court agreed with Lee that evidence he had witnessed regarding Gonzalez-Hernandez’s recent violent behavior was critical to his defense because it both increased the likelihood he had a subjective fear of Gonzalez-Hernandez and it made his fear more objectively reasonable, thus strengthening his self-defense argument.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that self-defense is a complete defense under RCW 9A.16.020. A defense of self-defense requires proof (1) that the defendant had a subjective fear of imminent danger of bodily harm, (2) that this belief was objectively reasonable, and (3) that the defendant exercised no more force than was reasonably necessary. The City has the burden of proving the absence of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Court further reasoned that evidence of self-defense is evaluated from the standpoint of the reasonably prudent person, knowing all the defendant knows and seeing all the defendant sees. This standard incorporates both objective and subjective elements. The subjective portion requires the jury to stand in the shoes of the defendant and consider all the facts and circumstances known to him or her; the objective portion requires the jury to use this information to determine what a reasonably prudent person similarly situated would have done.

Also, said the Court, a fact finder evaluates self-defense from the defendant’s point of view as conditions appeared to him at the time of the act. For the subjective portion of the self-defense test, jurors must place themselves in the shoes of the defendant and evaluate self-defense in light of all that the defendant knew at the time. All facts and circumstances known to the defendant should be placed before the jury. Thus, reasoned the court, under ER 404(B) and ER 405 (B), where a defendant claims self-defense, a victim’s prior acts of violence known to the defendant are admissible to establish a defendant’s reason for apprehension and his basis for acting in self-defense.

ER 404(B)

To determine whether a specific act should be admissible under rule 404(B), the trial court must (1) find by a preponderance of the evidence that the misconduct occurred, (2) identify the purpose for which the evidence is sought to be introduced, (3) determine whether the evidence is relevant to prove an element of the crime charged, and (4) weigh the probative value against the prejudicial effect. The trial court is required to conduct an ER 404(b) analysis on the record.

“In this case, Lee sought to admit evidence of Gonzalez Hernandez’s prior acts of violence
to prove that Lee had knowledge of those acts, giving him reason to fear Gonzalez-Hernandez,” said the Court.

Furthermore, the Court reasoned that evidence that Lee had witnessed Gonzalez-Hernandez being “physical” with his wife four days before the incident was relevant to Lee’s state of mind. “The evidence would allow the jury to assess Lee’s reason to fear
bodily harm from the victim,” said the Court.

Finally, the Court weighed the probative value of Gonzalez-Hernandez’s history of violence against its prejudicial effect. “Because the evidence in this case was relevant and otherwise admissible, the trial court should only exclude it if the City showed that the evidence was so prejudicial as to disrupt the fairness of the fact-finding process at trial,” said the Court. “Here, the proffered evidence went to Lee’s complete defense. Its probative value is to allow Lee to present a defense.”

Consequently, the Court ruled that the City failed to demonstrate that evidence of Gonzalez-Hernandez’s prior violent conduct known to Lee would be so prejudicial as to outweigh Lee’s Sixth Amendment right to present his defense. “This type of evidence should be heard by a jury so it can assess the reasonableness of Lee’s actions,” said the Court.

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Lee’s conviction.

My opinion? Good decision. Under the Sixth Amendment, citizens have a right to an adequate defense. Under Washington statute, self-defense is a complete defense. Therefore, suppressing evidence which proves self-defense violates the Sixth Amendment.

Is Spanking A Child Legal?

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 Every so often, I have Clients who are parents accused of Criminal Mistreatment, Child Abuse/Neglect, Assault in the Fourth Degree  or other crimes involving the abuse of children.
As a parent, you expect decisions about your own child’s well-being to be up to you.  Can the law interfere with your ability to discipline your child?  Can the law forbid you from spanking your child?

In Washington, parents are entitled to raise and reasonably discipline their children, so long as that discipline does not interfere with the children’s health, welfare, or safety.  Parents may reasonably use corporal punishment (like spanking) to discipline.

But what does the law in Washington really mean by “reasonably discipline”?  Under Washington law, the physical discipline of a child is not against the law when it is “reasonable and moderate.”  But what does “reasonable and moderate” mean?  Couldn’t those broad guidelines mean different things to different people?

To provide further guidance, Washington law elaborates that physical discipline is reasonable and moderate when it is “inflicted by a parent, teacher, or guardian for purposes of restraining or correcting the child.”  Physical punishment should be in direct response to a child’s disobedience or acting-out, rather than a blanket response to general bad behavior.  Any person besides a parent, teacher, or guardian must be authorized in advance by the child’s parent or guardian to use reasonable, moderate force to correct or restrain the child when it is appropriate.

Washington’s law also provides a list of actions that are presumed to be unreasonable methods of disciplining a child, including:

  • throwing, kicking, burning, or cutting
  • striking a child with a closed fist
  • shaking a child under age three
  • choking or otherwise interfering with a child’s breathing
  • threatening a child with a deadly weapon
  • any other act that is likely to cause bodily harm greater than transient pain or minor temporary marks

So if we know what going way too far looks like, but we also know that physical punishment is okay when it’s reasonably tailored to correct a child’s behavior, where is the line between discipline and abuse, and how can parents avoid crossing it?

In Washington, child “abuse” is defined as “injury of a child by any person under circumstances which cause harm to the child’s health, welfare, or safety.”  When potential child abuse cases come before a court, the court will evaluate the child’s age, size, and health condition, as well as the location of the child’s injury and the surrounding circumstances, to help determine whether the acts at issue were reasonable discipline or abuse.

So ultimately, yes, parents, teachers and guardians are legally allowed to spank children for purposes of restraining or correcting the child. However, you must keep in mind (both for your sake as well as your child’s) that physical punishment should always be:

  • reasonable and moderate
  • inflicted by a parent, guardian, teacher, or someone with advance parental permission
  • intended to correct or restrain the child

If you find yourself facing child abuse allegations in response to perceptions about how you discipline your children, please contact attorney Alexander F. Ransom.  He is a compassionate, attentive, and experienced advocate who help parents in these difficult circumstances.

Marijuana and Violent Crime

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports violent crime rate in Washington has declined since voters here legalized recreational marijuana use in November 2012. The FBI numbers are based on crimes reported to law enforcement agencies.

2010: 313.5 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

2011: 294.6 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

2012: 295.6 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

2013: 289.1 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

2014: 285.8 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

2015: 284.4 offenses per 100,000 city inhabitants

The state’s rate of violent crime in 2015, the most recent year of data available, also was substantially lower than the national average, according to the FBI. Nationally, the estimated rate of violent crime was 372.6 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015.

Affidavits of Prejudice

Image result for striking a judge

In State v. Lile, the WA Supreme Court held that a judge’s granting a continuance is a discretionary ruling which effectively negates any affidavits of prejudice which the parties may file against  that judge afterward.

BACKGROUND FACTS

One evening in 2013, two intoxicated groups crossed paths on a Bellingham sidewalk. United States Navy sailor Lile (the Defendant) and his companions were walking in one direction on the sidewalk and another group moved toward them in the opposite direction. Lile’s group had recently left a party in which Lile had admittedly consumed alcohol over a period of about five hours.

Unfortunately, Mr. Lile’s group had negative interactions with the other group of individuals. This resulted in Liles being striking someone in the face, fracturing their jaw, knocking out some teeth, concussing the victim and rendering them briefly unconscious. Lile was pulled away by one of his companions. A nearby police officer witnessed the fracas and approached Lile, who ran away.

A chase ensued. Officer Woodward jumped onto Lile’s back. Lile struggled, striking Officer Woodward in the face. Officer Josh McKissick arrived shortly thereafter and assisted Officer Woodward in finally subduing and arresting Lile. Ultimately, Lile was charged with Assault in the Fourth Degree, Assault in the Third Degree, Assault in the Second Degree and Resisting Arrest under numerous counts.

CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS & AFFIDAVIT OF PREJUDICE

The matter was set for a January 22, 2014 pretrial status hearing. During the hearing, the judge orally granted a 1-week continuance, issuing a written order to that effect February 3, 2014.

On February 4, 2014, Lile’s attorney submitted a motion to sever, asking the court to order separate trials for Lile’s alleged assaults on Millman and Rowles from his assault on Officer Woodward.

During the February 6, 2014 status hearing, before Judge Uhrig ruled on the motion to sever, Lile’s attorney informed Judge Uhrig that Lile had filed an affidavit of prejudice against him.

Affidavit of Prejudice

For those who don’t know, an affidavit of prejudice (AOP) is a statutory pleading/device which gives either the Prosecutor of the Defense Attorney opportunity to dismiss/excuse a particular judge from deciding any issues on a pending criminal case. The AOP must be filed as soon as possible; preferably before the particular judge decides any issues on the case. Typically, AOP’s are not honored if they are filed after the judge has already made discretionary rulings on the case.

The Prosecutor asserted the affidavit was not timely because the judge’s ruling on the January 22, 2014 continuance motion preceded the affidavit and was discretionary. The judge agreed with the Prosecutor, indicating that the continuance ruling was indeed discretionary; as he had denied such requests in the past. As a result, he ruled the AOP untimely. He then denied Lile’s motion to sever. Lile did not later renew the motion to sever, an option provided by CrR 4.4(a)(2).

Months later, Lile’s case proceeded to jury trial, where a different judge handled the proceedings. Lile was convicted on all charges. Lile appealed to the WA Court of Appeals on a number of issues, however, the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction. Afterward, Lile appealed to the WA Supreme Court.

ISSUE

For purposes of this blog entry, we focus on the issue of whether the joint continuance motion  was discretionary, making Lile’ s affidavit of prejudice untimely and leaving the original judge qualified to hear the motion to sever.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court decided that a ruling to continue a case is, in fact, a discretionary ruling. For those who don’t know, a discretionary ruling is an official, substantive decision from the judge using reason and judgment to choose from among acceptable alternatives.

The court reasoned that under an AOP, a party has the right to disqualify a trial judge for prejudice, without substantiating the claim, if the requirements of the statute are met. The statute says, “no Judge of a superior court … shall sit to hear or try any action or proceeding when it shall be established … that said judge is prejudiced against any party or attorney.”

To establish prejudice, a party can file a motion supported by an affidavit indicating
that the party cannot, or believes that it cannot, have a fair and impartial trial before
such judge. In order to be timely, however, an AOP must be made ‘before the judge presiding has made any order or ruling involving discretion. The statute also provides that the arrangement of the calendar, the setting of an action, motion or proceeding down for hearing or trial, the arraignment of the accused in a criminal action or the fixing of bail shall not be construed as a ruling or order involving discretion.

The Court reasoned that a trial court’s ruling on an opposed continuance is discretionary because the court must consider various factors; such as diligence, materiality, due process, a need for orderly procedure, and the possible impact of the result on the trial.

Furthermore, the WA Supreme Court held that the judge’s continuance ruling was discretionary. It reasoned that continuances, even when unopposed, have a significant impact on the efficient operation of our courts and the rights of the parties, particularly in criminal proceedings. Correspondingly, CrR 3 .3(h) gives trial courts discretion in granting them. Here, the continuance ruling here impacted the “duties and functions of the court, and therefore involved discretion.

In conclusion, the WA Supreme Court held that the judge’s continuance ruling was discretionary; which made him qualified to rule on Lile’ s severance motion.

JUDGE MADSEN’S CONCURRING OPINION

Although Judge Madsen concurred with the opinion, her reasoning differed. She did, in fact, find that the judge did not make a discretionary ruling when granting the continuance.

She reasoned that whether an order is discretionary is not about the form of the motion, but about whether there was something substantive related to the case underlying the motion.

“In the present case, I would find that the continuance ruling was not discretionary for purposes of RCW 4.12.050 because the court’s ruling indicated no predisposition on the issues in the case,” she said. She elaborated that, admittedly, granting or denying a motion necessarily involves some type of discretion, but the same is true of the other preliminary matters that the majority distinguishes. “Arranging the calendar, setting a matter for hearing or trial, arraigning an accused, and setting an amount for bail are all discretionary acts in the sense that the judge has the general freedom to make those decisions,” she said. However, the legislature has dictated that these acts will not be construed as rulings involving discretion within the meaning of RCW 4.12.050(1).

“The same is true of the agreed continuance in this case. The motion occurred pretrial and was unopposed. It was a calendaring matter, not a substantive ruling on an issue in the case.”

With that, Judge Madsen held that the judge erred in denying Lile’ s affidavit of prejudice.

My opinion? I must agree with Judge Madsen’s concurrence. Like her, I believe that arranging the calendar, setting a matter for hearing or trial, arraigning an accused, and setting an amount for bail can be seen as discretionary, however, the legislature has dictated that these acts will not be construed as rulings involving discretion within the meaning of the statute.

At any rate, the Court’s decision in this case highlights the fact that AOP’s must be filed by Defense Counsel as soon as possible.

 

DV Protection Orders

Image result for domestic violence no contact order

In Rodriquez v. Zavala, the WA Supreme Court held that a person does not have to be a victim of domestic violence (DV) in order to be included in a DV protection order.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Esmeralda Rodriguez and Luis Zavala shared a history of domestic violence. Over the course of their relationship, Zavala repeatedly physically and emotionally assaulted Rodriguez. He shoved Rodriguez to the ground while she was pregnant with their infant child L.Z., attempted to smother her with a pillow, blamed her for his failings in life, pulled a knife on her and promised to cut her into tiny pieces, threatened to kidnap L.Z., and said he would do something so horrible to Rodriguez’s daughters from a prior relationship that she would want to kill herself. He threatened to kill her, her children, and himself. Zavala tried to control Rodriguez. He restricted her communication with friends and family members, and he appeared uninvited wherever she was when she failed to return his phone calls.

Zavala’s history of violence against Rodriguez reached its peak one day in June 2015 after the couple had separated. At 2:00 a.m. that morning and in violation of a previous restraining order, Zavala pounded on Rodriguez’s door, threatening to break windows unless she let him in. Rodriguez went to the door and opened it enough to tell Zavala to leave. Zavala pushed past Rodriguez, cornered her, and began choking her. He told Rodriguez he was going to “end what he started.” The police arrived and arrested Zavala.

A few days later, Rodriguez went to the court and petitioned for a domestic violence protection order for herself and her children, including L.Z. In her petition, Rodriguez described the assault and Zavala’s history of violence. The court issued a temporary order pending a full hearing. The temporary order restrained Zavala from contacting Rodriguez and all four children.

At the later protection order hearing, Zavala appeared. Rodriguez discussed the choking incident and told the court that L.Z. had been asleep in another room during the most recent attack. She feared Zavala would take their son based on previous threats. Zavala admitted to coming to the house because he wanted to see L.Z., but denied Rodriguez’s allegations of abuse.

The trial court issued a protective order for Rodriguez and her daughters, but excluded L.Z., explaining that the boy was not “present” during the assault or threatened at all. According to the trial judge, “L.Z. wasn’t involved in any of this.” The order was effective for one year, expiring on June 26, 2016.

Rodriguez appealed. Among other things, she argued that her son should have been included in the final protection order based on her fear that Zavala would hurt L.Z. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that a petitioner may seek relief based only on her fear of imminent harm to herself. The WA Supreme Court granted review.

ISSUE

Whether the definition of “domestic violence” in chapter 26.50 RCW contemplates a parent’s fear of harm for a child at the hands of another parent.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION

The Court reasoned that in order to commence a domestic violence protection order action, a person must file a petition “alleging that the person has been the victim of domestic violence committed by the respondent. Under the statute, “Domestic violence” is defined as the following:

“(a) physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, between family or household members; (b) sexual assault of one family or household member by another; or (c) stalking as defined in RCW 9A.46.110 of one family or household member by another family or household member.”

The Court further explained that The Court of Appeals’s interpretation of the statute was unnecessarily narrow. “By relating the fear of harm back to the petitioner, it ignores the final prepositional phrase ‘between family or household members.'” Consequently, because domestic violence includes the infliction of fear of harm between family members generally, the definition includes a mother’s fear of harm to her child by that child’s father.

Also, the context of the statute, related provisions, and statutory scheme as a whole also indicate that “domestic violence” was intended to cover more than merely a petitioner and a perpetrator:

“This definition reflects the legislative recognition that violence in the home encompasses many different familial and household roles; violence does not distinguish on the basis of relationship.”

Moreover, the Court reasoned that a person does not have to be a victim of domestic violence to be included in a protection order. RCW 26.50.060 gives trial courts substantial discretion to protect victims and their loved ones. The provision explains that a trial court may bar a respondent from going to the “day care or school of a child” or having “any contact with the victim of domestic violence or the victim’s children or members of the victim’s household” and that, notably, the court may order “other relief as it deems necessary for the protection of the petitioner and other family or household members sought to be protected.”

Additionally, the Court said that the legislative intent of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) further supports that “domestic violence” includes a petitioner’s fear of harm between family members.

Finally, the Court explained that the plain language of RCW 26.50.010(3), related DV statutes, and the statutory scheme show that the definition of “domestic violence” allows a petitioner to seek relief based on a general fear of harm between family members. It said that deciding that “domestic violence” means the fear possessed only by the one seeking protection not only conflicts with the statute’s plain language, it would leave children unprotected:

“Even more acutely, such an interpretation would fail to protect infants and developmentally delayed children. These are the most vulnerable of our vulnerable populations. Excluding these children from protection orders because they fail to or cannot show fear of a harm they may not understand subjects them to violence the legislature expressly intended to prevent.”

Accordingly, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals because Zavala’s violent threats against L.Z. were “domestic violence” under the plain language of the statute, and Rodriguez properly petitioned for a protection order on L.Z.’s behalf based on her reasonable fear for him.