Category Archives: Bellingham

Shackled in Court

Image result for 5-point restraint shackles

In State v. Lundstrom, the WA Court of Appeals held that a trial court’s failure to state why a jailed defendant must wear shackles, handcuffs and other restraints to court violates a defendant’s due process rights.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The State charged Lundstrom with two counts of unlawful possession of a controlled
substance. At a pretrial hearing, Lundstrom appeared in restraints. Before the proceeding ended, defense counsel took exception to Mr. Lundstrom appearing in court with 5-point restraint shackles.

The trial court did not respond to defense counsel’s statement or concerns.

Lundstrom subsequently filed a motion objecting to the restraints and requesting removal of the shackles. The motion included a certified statement from defense counsel, which stated that he had made a public disclosure request with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) for their policies and discovered that CCSO policy 15.106.1 required all inmates to be brought to court in full restraints (waist chain, cuffs, and leg irons) for their first appearance. There is no record showing whether Lundstrom noted the motion for hearing before the trial court, whether the trial court held a hearing on the motion, or whether the trial court ruled on the motion. Ultimately, however, Lundstrom pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

On appeal, Lundstrom argued that his pretrial restraint violated his due process rights because the trial court failed to make an individualized determination on the necessity of the restraints.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals agreed with Mr. Lundstrom.

It reasoned that under the  WA Constitution, the accused shall have the right to appear and defend in person. That right includes the use of not only his mental but his physical faculties unfettered, and unless some impelling necessity demands the restraint of a prisoner to secure the safety of others and his own custody, the binding of the prisoner in irons is a plain violation of the constitutional guaranty.

Additionally, under State v. Damon, the Washington Supreme Court has long recognized that a prisoner is entitled to be brought into the presence of the court free from restraints.

“Restraints are disfavored because they may interfere with important constitutional rights, including the presumption of innocence, privilege of testifying in one’s own behalf, and right to consult with counsel during trial.”

“But a defendant’s right to be in court free from restraints is not limitless,” said the Court of Appeals. “The right may yield to courtroom safety, security, and decorum. A defendant may be restrained if necessary to prevent injury, disorderly conduct, or escape.”

Furthermore, the trial court abused its discretion and committed constitutional error when it failed to address the issue of Lundstrom’s pretrial restraint. By failing to do so and allowing Lundstrom to be restrained, the trial court failed to exercise its discretion and effectively deferred the decision to the jail’s policy. As a result, the trial court abused its discretion and committed constitutional error by failing to make an individualized inquiry into the necessity for pretrial restraints when Lundstrom took exception to the use of pretrial restraints. Therefore, Lundstrom’s due process rights were violated by his pretrial restraints.

Interestingly, Lundstrom was not trying to overturn his conviction or seek any other remedy due to the violation of his due process rights. He only wanted the Court of Appeals to address his claim as a matter of continuing and substantial public interest.

“Generally, we do not consider claims that are moot or present only abstract questions,” said the Court of Appeals. However, we have the discretion to decide an issue if the question is one of continuing and substantial public interest.”

My opinion? Good decision. It’s harsh to see defendants in handcuffs and chains. Indeed, it’s unconstitutional. And for the most part, shackling defendants at court hearings is unnecessary unless there’s reason to believe the defendant may escape or harm others.

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

5 Types of Alcoholics

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Apparently, there are several types of alcoholics.

Scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) conducted a survey of 43,093 individuals, screening them for alcohol dependence as well as a wide range of other factors. The NIAAA researchers found that there were five distinct patterns of alcohol dependence.

YOUNG ADULT SUBTYPE

This is the most prevalent subtype, making up 31.5 percent of people who are alcohol dependent. The average age of dependent young adults is 25 years, and they first became dependent at an average of age 20. They tend to drink less frequently than people of other types (an average of 143 days a year). However, most of their drinking is binge drinking – they drink five or more drinks on an average of 104 (73 percent) of those days. On drinking days, the average maximum number of drinks is 14. This pattern of alcohol use is more likely to be hazardous than non-binging patterns.

Young adult alcohol dependents are 2.5 times more likely to be male than female. About 75 percent have never been married, 36.5 percent are still in school, and 54 percent work full time. Approximately 22 percent have a first- or second-degree family member who is also dependent on alcohol. Compared to other types of alcoholics, young adults are less likely to have psychiatric disorders or legal problems. Fewer than 1 percent of them have antisocial personality disorder. About 32 percent also smoke cigarettes, and 25 percent also use cannabis.

Only 8.7 percent of young adult alcohol dependents have ever sought treatment for their drinking problem. If they do choose to seek help, they tend to prefer 12-step programs over specialty treatment clinics or private professional practices.

The NIAAA reports that four out of five college students drink alcohol and half of those who do binge drink. They also note that each year, among college students between the ages of 18 and 24:

  • At least 1,825 students die from alcohol-related accidental injuries.
  • Over 690,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • More than 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related date rape or sexual assault.
  • About 599,000 students are unintentionally injured while they are under the influence of alcohol.
  • Over 150,000 students develop alcohol-related health problems.
  • About 25 percent of students experience school-related consequences from their alcohol consumption, such as being late to or missing classes, falling behind on coursework, doing poorly on homework, exams or papers, and receiving overall lower grades.

YOUNG ANTISOCIAL SUBTYPE

Young antisocial alcohol dependents make up 21.1 percent of alcoholics – 54 percent of them have antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). ASPD is characterized by at least three of the following:

  • Recurring criminal activities
  • Regular fights or assaults
  • Lack of regard for the safety of others
  • Lack of remorse
  • Impulsiveness
  • Deceitfulness
  • Irresponsibility

They are also young (average age 26 years), and they have the earliest age of onset of drinking (average 16 years) and the earliest age of alcohol dependence (average 18 years). Young antisocial alcoholics drank an average of 201 days in the last year, binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks) on an average of 161 (80 percent) of those days. When they drink, their maximum number of drinks is 17, the highest of any subtype of alcoholic.

About 76 percent of this type of alcoholic are male. Only 7.6 percent have received a college degree, although another 13.4 percent are still in school. Approximately 47 percent are employed full time. Family incomes average around $32,000, the lowest among the subtypes (alongside the chronic severe subtype).

Over half of young antisocial alcoholics (52.5 percent) have a close family member who is also alcohol dependent. In addition, they also have high rates of psychiatric disorders:

They also have high rates of substance abuse:

Almost 35 percent of young antisocial alcoholics have sought help for their alcohol-dependence problems. They tend to go to self-help groups, detoxification programs, and specialty treatment programs, and they have high rates of participation in treatments offered by individual private health care providers.

The NIAAA reports that alcohol and ASPD make for a dangerous combination. People with ASPD are 21 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence in their lifetimes. Meanwhile, alcohol is more likely to increase aggressive behaviors in people with ASPD than in people without. This may be because alcohol interferes with executive functioning in the brain, which regulates and inhibits aggressive behavior. People with ASPD also show impaired executive functioning, which may make them particularly vulnerable to this effect.

FUNCTIONAL SUBTYPE

Functional alcoholics make up 19.4 percent of alcohol-dependent individuals. This group tends to be older (average age 41 years), has a later age of first drinking (average 19 years), and a later onset of alcohol dependence (average age of 37 years). They tend to drink alcohol every other day (an average of 181 days per year), and they consume five or more drinks on an average of 98 (54 percent) of those days. On drinking days, they tend to consume a maximum of 10 drinks.

About 62 percent of functional alcoholics work fulltime, 3.6 percent are in school fulltime, and 5 percent are retired. Nearly 26 percent have a college degree or higher, and average household income is almost $60,000, the highest among any of the subtypes. Approximately 40 percent are female, and nearly 50 percent are married.

About 31 percent of functional alcoholics have a close family member who also has alcohol dependence. They have moderate rates of major depression(24 percent) and smoking cigarettes (43 percent), and low rates of anxiety disorders, other substance use disorders, and the lowest rates of having legal problems (fewer than 1 percent). Fewer than 1 percent of these individuals have antisocial personality disorder.

Only 17 percent of functional alcoholics have ever sought help for their alcohol dependence. Those who do tend to make use of 12-step programs and private health care professionals. Functional alcoholics make up 19.4 percent of alcohol-dependent individuals. This group tends to be older (average age 41 years), has a later age of first drinking (average 19 years), and a later onset of alcohol dependence (average age of 37 years). They tend to drink alcohol every other day (an average of 181 days per year), and they consume five or more drinks on an average of 98 (54 percent) of those days. On drinking days, they tend to consume a maximum of 10 drinks.

INTERMEDIATE FAMILIAL ALCOHOLICS

Intermediate familial alcoholics make up 18.8 percent of all alcoholics. Nearly half (47 percent) of them have a close family member who is also an alcoholic. They have an average age of 38 years, began drinking at almost age 17, and developed alcohol dependence at an average age of 32 years. Intermediate familial alcoholics drink on an average of 172 days a year, consuming five or more drinks on 93 (54 percent) of those days, with a maximum of 10 drinks.

They have the highest rates of employment among alcoholics, with 68 percent working full time and with an average family income of nearly $50,000 a year. Nearly 20 percent have a college degree. About 64 percent are male, while about 38 percent are married and 21 percent are divorced.

Intermediate familial alcoholics have elevated rates of mental illness:

They also have higher rates of substance use/abuse:

  • 57 percent smoke cigarettes
  • 25 percent have cannabis use disorder
  • 20 percent have cocaine use disorder

Almost 27 percent of intermediate familial alcohol dependents have sought help for their drinking problem. They tend to prefer self-help groups, detoxification programs, specialty treatment programs, and individual private health care providers.

CHRONIC SEVERE SUBTYPE

This is the rarest and most dangerous type of alcoholism, making up 9.2 percent of alcoholics. Chronic severe alcoholics average 38 years of age. They begin drinking early (at 16 years) and develop alcohol dependence later (around 29 years of age). This group has the highest rates of drinking, consuming alcohol on an average of 247.5 days a year and binge drinking on 172 (69 percent) of them, with a maximum of 15 drinks.

The majority of chronic severe alcoholics are male (65 percent). They also have the highest divorce rates, with 25.1 percent divorced and 8.6 percent separated, and only 28.7 percent married. Only 9 percent have a college degree, and they also have the lowest employment rate, with only 43 percent of chronic severe alcoholics employed full time and 7.6 percent both unemployed and permanently disabled.

Chronic severe alcoholics have the highest rate of family members who also experience alcohol dependence, at 77 percent. They are most likely to have mental illnesses:

  • 55 percent have depression
  • 47 percent have antisocial personality disorder (the second-highest rate, after young antisocial alcoholics)
  • 34 percent have bipolar disorder
  • 26 percent have social phobia
  • 25 percent have dysthymia
  • 24 percent have generalized anxiety disorder
  • 17 percent have panic disorder

Substance abuse is also common:

  • 75 percent smoke cigarettes
  • 58 percent have cannabis use disorder
  • 39 percent have cocaine use disorder
  • 24 percent have opioid use disorder

Chronic severe alcoholics experience the most pervasive symptoms:

  • Highest rate of emergency room visits related to drinking of any subtype
  • 94 percent drink larger/longer amounts than intended
  • 92 percent drink despite experiencing problems from drinking, such as at work, school, in relationships, or while driving
  • 88 percent experience withdrawal symptoms
  • 83 percent have repeatedly tried to reduce their drinking
  • 64 percent spend significant time recovering from drinking
  • 48 percent reduced meaningful activities, like hobbies or family time, because of alcohol

Almost 66 percent of chronic severe alcoholics have sought help for their alcoholism. They have the highest rates of attendance at self-help groups, detoxification programs, and specialty rehabilitation programs, and the highest rates of treatment in inpatient programs. When seeking treatment, they tend to turn to social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and private physicians.

Alcoholism is a debilitating disease. Making matters worse, it can lead people to commit crimes they otherwise would not commit. DUI is the perfect example of a crime which necessarily involves alcohol or drug abuse. Fortunately, there are defenses. Voluntary Intoxication and/or Diminished Capacity might apply. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member suffer from alcoholism and are charged with a crime. Perhaps good defenses combined with hard work and strong dedication to a alcohol treatment program might persuade the Prosecutor to reduce or dismiss the charges.

Vehicle Prowl Prior Convictions

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In State v. LaPointe, the WA Court of Appeals held that when a defendant pleads guilty on the same day in a single proceeding to multiple counts of misdemeanor vehicle prowling, the crime of vehicle prowling in the second degree is not elevated to a felony.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On December 9, 2013, Clifford Paul LaPointe Jr. pleaded guilty as charged by amended information to two counts of misdemeanor vehicle prowling in the second degree in July 2013 and in September 2013. LaPointe also pleaded guilty as charged by amended information to vehicle prowling in the second degree in May 2013 under a different cause number. On January 3, 2014, the court sentenced LaPointe on the convictions. The court imposed a concurrent 364-day suspended sentence.

On January 6, 2016, the State charged LaPointe with felony vehicle prowling in the second degree. The information alleged LaPointe had “previously been convicted on at least two separate occasions of the crime of vehicle prowling in the second degree, each occurring on a separate date and not having been charged in the same charging document.”

LaPointe filed a Knapstad motion to dismiss the charge of felony vehicle prowling in the second degree. He argued that under the plain and unambiguous language of RCW 9A.52.100(3), he had not been previously convicted on “two separate occasions.” LaPointe argued the record established he pleaded guilty in 2013 by amended information to the misdemeanor vehicle prowling in the second degree charges on the same day and in the same proceeding.

However, the State counter-argued the court should deny the motion to dismiss under RCW 9A.52.100(4). The State reasoned that because LaPointe pleaded guilty as charged in two amended informations to offenses that occurred on different dates, his 2013 convictions elevated the current offense to a felony.

The trial court denied LaPointe’s Knapstad motion. It reasoned that LaPointe was previously convicted on at least two separate occasions because he pleaded guilty in 2013 to misdemeanor vehicle prowling in the second degree based on separate dates of occurrence as charged in separate charging documents.

LaPointe agreed to a trial on stipulated facts (bench trial). The court convicted LaPointe of felony vehicle prowling in the second degree. The court ruled the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that LaPointe had been previously convicted on two separate occasions of the crime of misdemeanor vehicle prowling in the second degree.

On appeal, LaPointe contends the court erred in denying his Knapstad motion to dismiss the felony charge of vehicle prowling in the second degree.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

On review, the Court of Appeals gave some necessary background. It explained that in 2013, the Washington State Senate proposed an amendment to RCW 9A.52.100 to elevate the crime of misdemeanor vehicle prowling in the second degree to a felony upon a third or subsequent conviction. Afterward, the Washington State House of Representatives amended Senate Bill 5053 to define when a third or subsequent conviction elevates vehicle prowling in the second degree to a felony.

Next, the Court turned to LaPointe’s arguments regarding statutory interpretation. “LaPointe argues that under the plain and unambiguous language of RCW 9A.52.100(3), the court erred in denying his Knapstad motion to dismiss the felony charge because he had not been previously convicted on two separate occasions,” said the Court. “The State asserts that under RCW 9A.52.100(4), LaPointe was previously convicted on two separate occasions because he was not charged in the same information and the crimes occurred on different dates.”

The Court of Appeals reasoned that when interpreting a statute, the fundamental goal is to ascertain and carry out the intent of the legislature:

“We seek to determine legislative intent solely from the plain language of the statute. The plain meaning of a statutory provision is to be discerned from the ordinary meaning of the language at issue.”

The court further explained that it derives legislative intent from the plain language of the statute by considering the text of the provision in question, the context of the statute in which the provision is found, related provisions, and the statutory scheme as a whole.

“We do not analyze individual subsections in isolation from the other sections of the statute when doing so would undermine the overall statutory purpose,” said the Court. “We must also interpret and construe a statute to harmonize and give effect to the language used in the statute with no portion rendered meaningless or superfluous and assume the legislature means exactly what it says.”

It reasoned that in this case, the defendant was convicted of two counts of vehicle prowling in the second degree under King County Cause No. 13-1-13980-1, and one count of vehicle prowling in the second degree under King County Cause No. 13-1-12822-1. These convictions are each based on separate dates of occurrence. The convictions under 13-1-13980-1 were charged in a charging document that is separate from the charging document in 13-1-12822-1. The two cause numbers were sentenced on the same date to give the defendant the benefit of presumptively concurrent sentences.

“The State’s argument that by identifying two situations that do not count as convictions for purposes of charging a felony in RCW 9A.52.100(4), the legislature has defined “separate occasions” that elevate the crime to a felony, is the inverse of what the language actually says,” said the Court. “RCW 9A.52.100(4) states that multiple counts of vehicle prowling either charged in the same information or ‘based on the same date of occurrence’ do not count as separate offenses for the purposes of charging as a felony:

“Multiple counts of vehicle prowling (a) charged in the same charging document do not count as separate offenses for the purposes of charging as a felony based on previous convictions for vehicle prowling in the second degree and (b) based on the same date of occurrence do not count as separate offenses for the purposes of charging as a felony based on previous convictions for vehicle prowling in the second degree.”

“The State’s argument also relies on a logical fallacy,” said the Court. “The proposition that ‘A implies B’ is not the equivalent of ‘non-A implies non-B,’ and neither proposition follows logically from the other.”  In other words, said the Court, identifying two situations that do not count as separate offenses does not mean the inverse—that pleading guilty on the same day in the same proceeding to multiple charges that occurred on different days in two different cause numbers elevates the crime to a felony.

The Court reasoned that because neither a plain reading of the statutory scheme as a whole nor legislative history clearly resolves the ambiguity, under the rule of lenity, it interpreted the statute to mean that when a defendant pleads guilty on the same day in a single proceeding to multiple counts of misdemeanor vehicle prowling as charged by amended information in two different cause numbers, the crime of vehicle prowling in the second degree is not elevated to a felony.

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s denial of LaPointe’s Knapstad motion to dismiss and also reversed his conviction of felony vehicle prowling in the second degree.

State Senate Passes Bill Making Fourth DUI a Felony.

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The WA State Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would make driving under the influence (DUI) a felony if the driver has three or more prior offenses on their criminal record within 10 years.

Senate Bill 5037 passed Thursday and now heads to the House, where it has stalled in previous years. The bill’s sponsors are as follows: Padden, Frockt, O’Ban, Darneille, Miloscia, Kuderer, Zeiger, Carlyle, Pearson, Conway, Rolfes, Palumbo, Angel, and Wellman.

Under the measure, a person who is charged with a fourth DUI, and has no other criminal history, would be subject to a standard sentencing range of 13 to 17 months in jail.

However, this bill allows first-time felony offenders to spend up to six months in jail, instead of nine, and finish out the rest of their sentence under supervision, such as attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other programs.

My opinion? We shouldn’t be surprised. Over the past 20 years, Americans have seen a significant increase in the harsh penalties for intoxicated drivers. Perhaps this is necessary move given the thousands of lives lost to drunk drivers. Speaking as a criminal defense attorney, there’s serious question as to whether people commit these violations purely out of willful disregard for the law and for the safety of others or because of an untreated mental illness or alcohol addiction. Nevertheless, public outcry has led to increased sentences.

Many attorneys in Whatcom County and Skagit County claim to represent clients in DUI cases, but not all attorneys have the experience and successes of attorney Alexander F. Ransom.  To learn more about DUI laws or if you have been charged with a driving offense, make your first call count. Call the Law Office of Alexander F. Ransom today.

Diminished Capacity Defense Denied

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In a deeply divided decision of 5-4, = the WA Supreme Court held in State v. Clark that the defendant’s Diminished Capacity defense was properly excluded at trial, even though lay witnesses could testify that the defendant was “slow,” participated in special education, and received Social Security disability benefits.

The defendant Anthony Clark killed the victim, D.D., with a single gunshot to the back of his head. D.D.’s body was found in a garbage can behind the triplex apartment building where Clark lived. There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting other than Clark himself. The State theorized that Clark killed D.D. with premeditation in order to steal D.D.’s gun and cocaine. Clark contended the shooting was an accident. The primary disputed issue was thus Clark’s level of intent.

CHARGES

Clark was charged with premeditated first degree murder, first degree felony murder, first degree robbery, unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and second degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Clark pleaded not guilty on all counts.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Before trial, the defense moved to suppress statements Clark made to police after the shooting, contending that he did not validly waive his Miranda rights before speaking to police. To support its motion, the defense offered an expert evaluation from a doctor. At the suppression hearing, Dr. Oneal testified that Clark scored in the bottom first to third percentile in standardized intelligence tests. The court found that Dr. Oneal was a credible witness but denied Clark’s motion to suppress.

The State then moved to exclude testimony about Clark’s “intellectual deficits” for trial purposes. However, Clark argued that the doctor’s testimony was admissible for three purposes: (1) to help the jury understand Clark’s affect during testimony, (2) to explain why Clark does not work, and (3) to contest the State’s evidence of intent.

The court granted the State’s motion in part and excluded the doctor’s expert testimony because, in light of the fact that Clark specifically disavowed any intention to argue diminished capacity, expert testimony on Clark’s intellectual deficits would be irrelevant and confusing to the jury. It did, however, allow for relevant observation testimony bearing on Clark’s intellectual deficits, including his participation in special education, his receipt of Social Security disability benefits, and “that people who knew him considered him slow or tended to discount his testimony.”

JURY TRIAL

At trial, the defense renewed its request to admit the doctor’s expert testimony; arguing that the testimony was necessary to rebut the State’s evidence of intent and to explain Clark’s affect when he testified. Nevertheless, the defense consistently maintained that it was not asserting diminished capacity. The court adhered to its ruling excluding the doctor’s testimony and reminded counsel that relevant observation testimony by lay witnesses was admissible.

The defense brought testimony that Clark had been in special education, had an individualized education plan, and received Social Security disability benefits. It relied on this evidence in its closing argument, emphasizing that Clark was “not your average 20 year old” and arguing that in light of Clark’s actual intellectual abilities, the State had not proved intent to commit murder.

Clark was convicted of premeditated first degree murder as charged, as well as all the other charged counts.

ISSUES ON APPEAL

  1. Did the trial court properly exclude expert testimony regarding Clark’s intellectual deficits?
  2. Was trial counsel ineffective for failing to object when the State informed prospective jurors that it was not seeking the death penalty?
  3. Did cumulative error deprive Clark of his right to a fair trial?

ANALYSIS

1. The Court Properly Excluded Expert Testimony of Diminished Capacity Evidence.

The Court gave background that under ER 702, expert testimony is admissible “if scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” It also reasoned that diminished capacity “allows a defendant to undermine a specific element of the offense, a culpable mental state, by showing that a given mental disorder had a specific effect by which his ability to entertain that mental state was diminished.” Also, the intent to assert diminished capacity must be declared before trial. Pretrial disclosure is required because when asserting diminished capacity, the defense must obtain a corroborating expert opinion and disclose that evidence to the prosecution pretrial, giving the State a reasonable opportunity to decide whether to obtain its own evaluation depending on the strength of the defense’s showing,” citing CrR 4.7(b).

Ultimately, the Court rejected Clark’s arguments that his doctor’s expert testimony should have been admitted for the purpose of rebutting the State’s evidence of intent.

“However, expert opinion testimony that a defendant has a mental disorder that impaired the defendant’s ability to form a culpable mental state is, by definition, evidence of diminished capacity. And where, as here, the defense does not plead diminished capacity, such testimony is properly excluded.”

Additionally, the Court rejected Clark’s arguments that his doctor’s testimony should have been admitted for the purpose of explaining Clark’s unusually flat affect while testifying:

“The jury had the ability to evaluate Clark’s affect to the same extent it had the ability to evaluate the affect of every testifying witness, and Clark has not shown that Dr. Oneal’s expert testimony would have been helpful for that purpose.”

2. Defense Counsel Was Not Ineffective for Failing to Object When the State Informed Prospective Jurors It Was Not Seeking the Death Penalty.

The Court gave background that in order to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show that trial counsel’s performance was “deficient,” and that, “but for counsel’s deficient performance, there is a ‘reasonable probability’ that the outcome would have been different.”

Here, the Court reasoned there was no indication that the jury disregarded its instructions or paid less attention to the evidence presented throughout Clark’s trial because it was told that the death penalty was not at issue.  Additionally, there was also no reason to believe that a contemporaneous objection by defense counsel would have reduced any potential for prejudice more than the court’s proper, written instructions did. “We thus hold that Clark has not carried his burden of showing prejudice and therefore has not established ineffective assistance of counsel.”

3. Cumulative Error Did Not Deprive Clark of His Right to a Fair Trial.

The Court reasoned Clark does not show any error, so the cumulative error doctrine does not apply.

CONCLUSION.

The Court concluded that Clark’s defense consisted of diminished capacity evidence. With that, the trial court properly excluded expert testimony from Clark’s doctor because Clark did not assert or plead diminished capacity or show that his doctor’s testimony was otherwise relevant. Moreover, the court properly allowed relevant observation testimony, which the defense relied on in its attempt to rebut the State’s evidence of intent. The Court affirmed his conviction.

THE DISSENT.

The dissenting judges reasoned that the trial court admitted certain lay observation testimony supporting the defense, but excluded the more neutral and more persuasive medical expert testimony supporting the same defense theory.  It also reasoned that the majority judges wrongfully equated all expert testimony about intellectual deficits with a diminished capacity defense. Additionally, the dissenting judges reasoned that by excluding defense evidence that could rebut the State’s evidence of intent, the trial court violated Clark’s constitutional right to present a defense. Finally, the dissenters reasoned that the exclusion of expert testimony on Clark’s mild mental retardation was not harmless error:

“To rebut the State’s evidence that he was a cold, calculated killer, Clark offered lay and expert testimony about how he was slow and did not process information the way other people his age did. But the trial court excluded most of it. It barred all testimony from Dr. Oneal about Clark’s substantial intellectual deficits. 6 Dr. Oneal would have testified, based on his personal testing and evaluation of Clark, that Clark was born prematurely and with significant developmental delays, was highly suggestible and therefore prone to change his story when pressured, and had a very low IQ score indicating that he had extremely poor perceptional reasoning, working memory, and verbal comprehension skills compared to others his age.”

With that, the dissenting judges held that the trial court improperly excluded evidence of Clark’s intellectual deficits in violation of the Evidence Rules and Clark’s constitutional right to present a defense; and that this error was not harmless.

My opinion? Diminished Capacity is a worthwhile – and difficult – defense to bring forward. Prosecutors consistently try to preclude defense counsel from bringing the defense. Here, it’s too difficult to determine why defense counsel did not assert the defense from the beginning. We’ll never know.

Unfortunately for Mr. Clark, it the majority court believed Mr. Clark did not properly assert the defense. Instead, it allowed Clark to get some evidence of his mental deficits through law witnesses. This is lawful, albeit not enough. A defendant can assert a roundabout defense of diminished capacity through law witness observations. What’s problematic, however, is that law witnesses won’t bring the requisite level of insight that experts bring.

Interesting opinion.

 

Bellingham Police Department Body Cameras Now Mandatory

A news article by Samantha Wohlfiel from of the Bellingham Herald reports that starting this July, Bellingham Police Department (BPD) will require all uniformed patrol officers to wear and use body cameras.

In 2014, the BPD started a voluntary program, allowing officers to use a body camera if they were willing. Now, Police Chief Cliff Cook has decided all uniformed patrol officers will need to wear the cameras while on duty:

“I think the original pilot and then the past year and a half … has shown us that having the videos is not only beneficial in cases of prosecution of individuals for crimes, as evidence of the actions of our officers, especially when they’re appropriate . . .  It also generally helps us resolve disputes or disagreements about what may have transpired between an officer and a citizen much more quickly and in a more definitive way.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

Initially, 18 officers volunteered for Bellingham’s program, and currently 34 officers are using the cameras, Cook said. He also mentioned that his police officers have noted that people often change their behavior for the better when they’re told they’re being filmed.

One of the main concerns for officers and community members has been privacy, Cook said:

“One of the concerns we talked about was the overriding concern about creating video of individuals in pretty personally trying situations that involve personal privacy, such as mental illness, or a domestic violence call in a private residence, or interviewing the victim of a crime. So there are provisions within the policy where officers are given discretion on whether they want to turn that camera on or not.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

Basically, the “policy” requires that officers turn on the cameras for any enforcement activity, an arrest, use of force or where they believe there will be the need to use force.

The department has a mix of cameras, some that are clipped on a lapel, others that are worn on glasses, but both have easily been knocked off in situations where officers were restraining someone, Cook said, so the department may shift toward other models.

Between 2014 and 2016, the total program cost has been $315,250, which includes things such as all hardware (the cameras, clips, glasses they sit on, etc.), software and docking stations, Cook told the council.

According to the article, the projected costs moving forward are about $35,000 to $56,000 per year each of the next two years for renewed data storage management.

Another concern was, of course, privacy:

“One of the concerns we talked about was the overriding concern about creating video of individuals in pretty personally trying situations that involve personal privacy, such as mental illness, or a domestic violence call in a private residence, or interviewing the victim of a crime. So there are provisions within the policy where officers are given discretion on whether they want to turn that camera on or not.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

The current policy requires that officers turn on the cameras for any enforcement activity, an arrest, use of force or where they believe there will be the need to use force.

My opinion? This is a step in the right direction. Body cameras make everyone behave better. They also catch evidence of what really transpired. Good move, BPD.

Some Bellingham Inmates Transported Out Of County

Today, the Bellingham Herald reported that the City of Bellingham shall transport inmates to a King County jail if the Whatcom and Yakima County jail don’t have room available.

Recently, council members approved a contract with the South Correctional Entity regional jail (SCORE) located in King County.
It was reported that because the City did not promise to send a certain number of inmates to the facility per year, the cost to house someone there would be charged at higher rate of $157 per day.

The City has moved inmates to Yakima County Jail on a weekly basis since mid-January, in response to Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo’s policy shift in the new year to keep the population in the main Whatcom County Jail at or below about 212 inmates. The daily cost to house inmates in Yakima is about $54.

Under the agreement, the City shall transfer inmates who only have misdemeanor charges in Bellingham. The county is still responsible for all people being held on felony charges, regardless of which agency books them into jail.

It was reported that since the beginning of the year, there have been on average about seven inmates with Bellingham-only charges in the main jail on any given day. Consequently, the City’s inmates are a relatively small percentage of the total jail population.

As of Friday, March 18, the City had eight people in the main jail, 13 in the work center on Division Street, and seven people on electronic home monitoring through the City’s contract with Friendship Diversion Services.

 

Jury Acquits Mr. Ransom’s Client of Assault Fourth Degree (DV) & Malicious Mischief Third Degree (DV)

Client was charged with Assault Fourth Degree Domestic Violence (DV) under RCW 9A.36.041 and Malicious Mischief Third Degree (DV) under RCW 9A.48.090. Here, Client allegedly destroyed her ex-boyfriend’s laptop and struck him in the face while they argued. Both crimes are gross misdemeanors punishable up to 1 year jail and a $5,000 fine each. Making matters worse, a conviction for DV crimes brings enhanced jail penalties, mandatory DV evaluations and treatment, mandatory probation, a court-imposed No-Contact Order with the alleged victim and loss of firearms rights.

The Prosecutor refused to negotiate or resolve the charges in light of client’s prior criminal history. Also, the alleged victim insisted he was victimized throughout his relationship with Client. Nevertheless, and at trial, Mr. Ransom successfully suppressed evidence of Client’s prior bad acts and criminal convictions under Evidence Rule (ER) 404(b) and ER 609. Although the judge denied Mr. Ransom’s self-defense jury instruction, Mr. Ransom successfully prevailed at trial by raising reasonable doubt to the State’s lack of evidence and the alleged victim’s lack of credibility. The jury acquitted Client under 1 hour.

State v. Martines: WA Supreme Court Finds Defendant Guilty of DUI on Blood Test Case

Bad news.

In State v. Martines, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the WA Court of Appeals Division I. I blogged about this case last year in State v. Martines: More Good Caselaw on Blood tests Taken After DUI Arrests. There, the WA Court of Appeals version of State v. Martines held that the blood test performed on Martines was an unlawful warrantless search. The Court of Appeals also reasoned that drawing blood and testing blood constitute separate searches, each of which requires particular authorization, and that the warrant here authorized only a blood draw.

The original Martines opinion appeared strong. It was rooted in the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Missouri v. McNeely; which requires police officers to obtain search warrants for blood draws in DUI cases when exigent circumstances do not otherwise exist. It also followed Washington State legalizing marijuana, thus necessitating stronger regulations and monitoring of blood tests performed during DUI investigations.

The WA Supreme Court decided differently in a short, scathing opinion signed by all justices.

First, the Court held that a warrant authorizing the testing of a blood sample for intoxicants does not require separate findings of probable cause to suspect drug and alcohol use so long as there is probable cause to suspect intoxication that may be caused by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.

Second, the Court  further held that the search warrant lawfully authorized testing Martines’s blood sample for intoxicants because it authorized a blood draw to obtain evidence of DUI. In other words, the search of Martines’s blood did not exceed the bounds of the search warrant when a sample of Martines’s blood was extracted and tested for intoxicants anyway.

My opinion?

Bad decision. I’m amazed the WA Supremes didn’t discuss Missouri v. McNeely at all. Not once. McNeely profoundly and significantly evolved search and seizure law concerning blood draws in DUI investigations. Indeed, McNeely was the underpinnings for Division One Court of Appeals case State v. Martinez. Yet the WA Supremes ignore McNeely as if it didn’t exist. Ignoring case precedents violates stare decisis, plain and simple.

Hopefully, this case gets appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for further review.

 

State v. Gauthier: The “Washout” Rule for Felony Convictions

 

Many clients approach me on the question of when prior felony convictions “Washout” from a Defendant’s offender scores. The recent case of State v. Gauthier is a good place to answer that question.

In Gauthier, the WA Court of Appeals Division I decided (1) the prosecutor’s closing arguments were fair,  (2) Gauthier received effective assistance of counsel, and (3) trial court properly calculated Gauthier’s offender score.

At trial, Mr. Gauthier was found guilty of Rape in the Second Degree. On appeal, he argued that the trial court improperly calculated his offender score by failing to recognize that his prior convictions “washed out” pursuant to RCW 9.94A.525(2)(c).

Some background is necessary. Under the “washout” provision, RCW 9.94A.535(2)(c), prior “Class C” felony convictions are excluded in a defendant’s offender score if, since the last date of release from confinement pursuant to a felony conviction or entry of the judgment and sentence, the offender spent five consecutive years “in the community” without committing any crime that subsequently results in a conviction.

In Gauthier’s case, he had five prior class C felony convictions. His last release date happened in June 2007. However, he did not remain crime free for five years. He was charged with the Rape Second Degree on March 13, 2009, and taken into custody to the King County Correctional Facility on July 23, 2010. There, he remained through his first trial on May 2011 which resulted in a conviction. He was subsequently sentenced on July 8, 2011. Consequently, the sentencing court properly calculated his offender score as a five (5) based on his five prior class C felony convictions.

Furthermore, at his sentencing on February 14, 2014, Gauthier argued that his five prior class C felonies should not be included in his offender score because he spent 43 months in custody before he was convicted again on the present offense. He claimed that under the “washout” statute, the “in the community” phrase includes the 43 months he spent in custody on this offense, thus his offender score is zero not five. The sentencing court rejected this argument, calculated his offender score as five, and sentenced him to 120 months with credit for all time served back to July 2010, the date he was first arrested.

Here, and similar to the trial court, the WA Court of Appeals rejected Gauthier’s arguments and also rejected Gauthier’s reliance on State v. Ervin, a somewhat recent case where the WA Supreme Court decided in favor of the defendant James Erwin’s arguments  that his 17 days of custody did not interrupt the requisite  5-year washout period:

“We have found no case, and Gauthier cites to none, where Ervin’s limited holding was applied to time spent in confinement while awaiting resolution of a felony charge. That is the precise circumstance present here. As the State correctly points out, Gauthier’s interpretation creates an absurd scenario—a defendant’s offender score will actually go down while he is in custody pending trial or pending sentencing. Indeed, that is an absurd result and a result we are confident the legislature did not intend.”

Simply put, if Gauthier had remained in the community for five years after June 2007 and remained crime free for those five years, his prior class C felony convictions would not count in his offender score after June 2012. It would have “washed out” under RCW 9.94A.535(2)(c). However, Gauthier’s 43 months in custody rendered hopeless any arguments that his priors would wash out.

The Court of Appeals upheld affirmed the trial court’s Judgment & Sentence and sentenced him to 120 months of prison.