Category Archives: Burglary

“Rough Estimates” Can’t Support a Conviction for Property Crimes.

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In State v. Williams, the WA Court of Appeals decided that a victim’s “rough estimate” regarding the value of stolen property of “roughly $800” will not support a conviction for possession of property in the second degree. While the owner of a chattel may testify to its market value without being qualified as an expert on valuation, the owner must testify to an adequate basis of his opinion of value to support a conviction.

FACTS & BACKGROUND

In May 2014, the Spokane Police Department received calls complaining of a man stalking through backyards in a west Spokane neighborhood. On May 6, 2014, one caller, Brad Dawson, observed the man carrying two sports duffel bags and possibly a screwdriver. Also on May 6, 2014, someone burglarized the home of David and Joan Nelson.

Joan Nelson’s brother, John Johnston, drove through the neighborhood in an attempt to apprehend the burglar. After inspecting five homes, Johnston espied a kneeling gentleman, with two duffels bags astride, employing a screwdriver to pry open a lock on a storage facility. The man fled when Johnston yelled.

Johnston called 911 and tracked the fleer as the fleer scattered from yard to yard and hid in changing locations. Johnston kept contact on his cellphone with Spokane police. Spokane police officers arrived and apprehended the burglar, Leibert Williams. Law enforcement officers found a duffel bag, a Bluetooth speaker, a laptop, running shoes, a jacket, and two rings belonging to Adam Macomber in the possession of Williams. Days earlier, Macomber had discovered the property missing from his apartment.

The State of Washington charged Leibert Williams with five crimes: (1) residential burglary, (2) second degree burglary, (3) attempted second degree burglary, (4) attempted theft of a motor vehicle, and (5) possession of stolen property in the second degree. The State added the final charge near the date of trial.

During trial, Macomber identified those items missing from his apartment. However, he only gave “rough estimates” of $800 for the value of his items.

The State presented no other testimony of the value of stolen goods. And the trial court denied a request by Leibert Williams for a lesser included offense instruction with regard to second degree possession of stolen property.

The jury found Williams guilty of first degree criminal trespass, attempted second degree burglary, vehicle prowling, and second degree possession of stolen property. The jury acquitted Williams of residential burglary.

Williams’ appeal concerns the possession of stolen property conviction.

ANALYSIS & CONCLUSION

The Court reasoned that Macomber’s testimony failed to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the value of his stolen property exceeded $750 when Macomber said, “I could give a rough estimate . . .  I would say roughly $800.”

It further reasoned that “value” for the purposes of theft means the market value of the property at the time and in the approximate area of the theft. “Market value” is the price which a well-informed buyer would pay to a well-informed seller, when neither is obliged to enter into the transaction. In a prosecution, value need not be proved by direct evidence. Rather, the jury may draw reasonable inferences from the evidence, including changes in the condition of the property that affect its value.

Here, Adam Macomber testified to a “rough estimate” value of the stolen goods to be $800, a figure close to the minimum amount required to convict of $750. He listed the property taken from him, but did not describe the condition of the property when stolen. He also failed to disclose the purchase date or the purchase price of each item.

“Macomber did not testify to the basis of his opinion of value. For all we know, he used the purchase price of the goods, the replacement cost of the goods, or some intrinsic value to himself.”

With that, the Court decided that the proper remedy for the insufficiency of evidence was to dismiss the charge for possession of stolen property in the second degree. This somewhat extreme measure was partially based on the trial court’s refused to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of third degree possession: “This court lacks authority to direct the entry of judgment of the lesser included offense if the jury was not instructed on that offense.”

My opinion? Good decision. My heart goes out to the victim, however, courts need more than mere “rough estimates” when it comes to assigning a value to property. Indeed, property crimes are assigned a seriousness level – from simple misdemeanors through Class A felonies – by identifying the value of the property which was stolen or destroyed. These are not small matters. There’s a big difference between felonies and misdemeanors. Therefore, it’s extremely important to be specific and correct on these matters.

 

State v. I.B.: Shaking Your Head Means “No” Under Miranda.

In State v. I.B., the WA Court of Appeals decided a juvenile suspect’s shaking of his head in the negative after police asked him, post Miranda, if he was willing to talk was an unequivocal assertion of his Fifth Amendment rights.

Here, 15-year-old defendant I.B. was taken into custody as a suspect in a Residential Burglary crime. While being interrogated, I.B. shook his head in the negative after police asked him if he was willing to talk. Nevertheless, police continued their questioning and I.B. made inculpatory statements against his best interests. The trial court suppressed I.B.’s statements at his 3.5 Hearing and concluded that I.B’s shake of the head signaled an assertion of his right to remain silent. Later, I’B’s case was dismissed. The State appealed the trial court’s suppression.

The issue before the Court of Appeals was whether I.B.’s shaking his head in the negative after being asked if he was willing to talk was an unequivocal assertion of the right to remain silent. The court decided it was.

The court reasoned that the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “[n]o person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” To counteract the inherent compulsion of custodial interrogation, police must administer Miranda warnings. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 479. Miranda requires that the defendant “be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.” Once a suspect invokes his right to remain silent, police may not continue the interrogation or make repeated efforts to wear down the suspect.

Furthermore, the court reasoned a suspect need not verbally invoke his right to remain silent. In fact, Miranda sets a low bar for invocation of the right: “If the individual indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease.” Miranda, 384 U.S. at 473-74 (emphasis added). However, suspects must “unambiguously” express their desire to be silent. The test as to whether a suspect’s invocation of his right to remain silent was unequivocal is an objective one, asking whether'” a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand the statement'” to be an invocation of Miranda rights. Once a suspect has clearly invoked the right to remain silent, police questioning must immediately cease.

Here, I.B. unequivocally invoked his right to remain silent. Nothing in the circumstances leading up to I.B.’s invocation rendered his head movement ambiguous. The police officers read I.B. his Miranda rights and I.B. understood his rights. Both officers testified they understand shaking the head side to side to communicate the word ‘No.’ This affirmative conduct unambiguously signaled LB.’s desire for the questioning to cease. Consequently, the trial court properly suppressed LB.’s custodial statements.

My opinion? Good decision. In the context of interrogations, shaking one’s head side to side means no. There’s no other reasonable interpretation.

State v. Irby: A Juror’s Bias Reverses Conviction

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In State v. Irby, The WA Court of Appeals reversed the murder conviction of a defendant because a juror’s remarks during jury selection indicated her express bias against the defendant.

In reaching their decision, the court reasoned that when a juror makes an unqualified statement expressing actual bias, seating the juror is a manifest constitutional error that may be raised on appeal. Also, a juror’s statement during voir dire that she “would like to say he’s guilty” requires a new trial because no inquiry was made from the Prosecution that would have neutralized the statement.

In 2005, James Rock was murdered at his home in rural Skagit County. The investigations led to Terrance Irby, a known associate of Rock. Rock’s neighbors had seen Irby in the neighborhood on March 8. Irby was soon located in custody in Marysville. He had been arrested there on March 8, after running a red light and attempting to elude police. In Irby’s truck, officers found Rock’s weapons and boots splashed with Rock’s blood.

Irby was arrested and charged with Aggravated Murder in the First Degree, Burglary in the First Degree, and Felony Murder.

Oddly enough, in 2011, the WA Supreme Court had already reversed Irby’s convictions because of a violation of his right to a public trial. The violation occurred when the court and the attorneys agreed by e-mail, without Irby’s participation, to dismiss some of the potential jurors before voir dire began.

The State recharged the case. He awaited trial.  Irby had three different standby counselors while his case was pending. Irby fired all of them before the second trial began. As a consequence, the trial court granted Irby’s request to proceed pro se; or in other words, by himself without defense counsel.

On March 5, 2013—the first day scheduled for jury selection —Irby voluntarily absented himself from the proceedings. Irby said he did not believe he could get a fair trial in Skagit County. Trial became somewhat of a circus. By Irby’s choice, the trial proceeded before a jury that had been picked without any participation by Irby. Every day before trial resumed, the trial court had Irby brought from the jail into the courtroom so that the court could verify that he still wanted to remain absent.

The jury convicted Irby as charged on March 12, 2013.

The primary issue on appeal was whether juror bias – specifically, the bias of the juror who said she “would like to say he’s guilty” – violated Irby’s right to a fair and impartial jury.

In reaching its decision the Court of Appeals reasoned that under RAP 2.5(a)(3), a party may raise for the first time on appeal a “manifest error affecting a constitutional right.” Here, criminal defendants have a federal and state constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. Criminal defendants have a federal and state constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. The error alleged here, seating a biased juror, violates this right.

Furthermore, the court reasoned that seating that particular juror manifested actual bias. Under RCW 4.44.170(2) actual bias is “the existence of a state of mind on the part of the juror in reference to the action, or to either party, which satisfies the court that the challenged person cannot try the issue impartially and without prejudice to the substantial rights of the party challenging.” The Court of Appeals said both thetrial judge and the Prosecutor failed to elicit any assurances from that juror that she had an open mind on the issue of guilt. This was wrong.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the juror at question demonstrated actual bias and that seating her was manifest constitutional error requiring reversal of all convictions and remand for a new trial.

My opinion? It’s awful and tragic that Mr. Rock died a violent and painful death. My condolences go to his family and everyone who cared for him. Anyone in their circumstance would want the murderer brought to justice and convicted for these horrible crimes.

However, gaining convictions is meaningless if the courts and prosecutors violate a defendant’s rights in the process. It devalues the entire criminal justice system. It loses credibility and coherence.

Perhaps the Judge and Prosecutor failed to make a record of “rehabilitating” that particular juror of her biases – a process which happens at EVERY jury trial I’ve conducted – because neither Mr. Irby nor a criminal defense attorney was at jury selection to attempt to strike that particular juror for cause. Neverthless, all of us now have a greater understanding of why it’s necessary for attorneys to engage the colloquy of ensuring that jurors are NOT biased – even when they most certainly are.

Eliminating biased jurors from trial not only ensures a fair trial for the defendant. It also creates a court record for ensuring that jury verdicts are not overturned on appeal. As this one was.

Good decision.

State v. Manlove: “Deliberate Cruelty” Enhancements Apply to Property Crimes.

In State v. Manlove, the Division III Court of Appeals held that a upward sentencing enhancement applies to Residential Burglary and other property crimes if a jury finds the defendant’s conduct during the commission of crime manifested deliberate cruelty to the victim.

In 2005, Paula Parker and her then-husband purchased a remote cabin on forty acres in Stevens County, Washington. The couple became acquainted with their neighbor, David Manlove, whose home lay a half mile from Parker’s cabin.

Paula Parker divorced in 2011, and she retained sole custody of the cabin. Parker and Manlove occasionally joined one another at each other’s homes for dinner. The two enjoyed a pastoral, idyllic, and platonic relationship, until . . .

Paula Parker went on vacation from June 19 to July 2, 2013 and returned to her cabin the morning of July 3. Once inside her home, Parker discovered her cabin was ransacked. Property was destroyed. The intruder left a hand-rolled cigarette. Paula realized her neighbor, David Manlove, smoked similar cigarettes.

Parker contacted police and informed them she believed the culprit was Manlove. She avoided her home for a few days.

On July 7, she returned home. Again, her house was ransacked. The damage was even more extensive this time. The intruder shredded Paula Parker’s medical records, high school diploma, and college degree. Parker kept her mother’s ashes in an urn, and the prowler dumped the ashes onto the floor.

After surveying the damage at Paula Parker’s cabin on July 8, 2013, Stevens County sheriff deputies traveled to David Manlove’s home. When asked why he damaged Paula Parker’s home, Manlove responded, “It’s my mountain.” When arrested, Manlove repeated several times: “It’s my mountain so there’s no crime.”

Law enforcement obtained two search warrants for David Manlove’s home. Officers seized many items that belonged to Paula Parker, including a hatchet, a chainsaw, a veil for a belly dancing costume, a mortar and pestle, journals, and jewelry. Officers also found marijuana plants and a rifle.

David Manlove was charged with Residential Burglary, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the Second Degree, Possession of more than Forty Grams of Marijuana, Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree, and Malicious Mischief in the First Degree. The State further alleged that Manlove committed Residential Burglary with deliberate cruelty in violation of RCW 9.94A.535(3)(a). The trial court found Manlove competent to stand trial after an evaluation by Eastern State Hospital. At the close of trial, the trial court instructed the jury that: “Deliberate cruelty” means gratuitous violence ,or other conduct which inflicts physical, psychological, or emotional pain as an end in itself, and which goes beyond what is inherent in the elements of the crime or is normally associated with the commission of the crime. Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 177. The jury found David Manlove guilty as charged.

On appeal, the issue was whether the aggravating factor of deliberate cruelty under RCW 9.94A.535(3)(a) applies to Residential Burglary.

The Court of Appeals decided, “Yes.” They gave two reasons why, under appropriate circumstances, the deliberate cruelty aggravating factor may apply to a property crimes. First, when the legislature desired to limit the application of an aggravating factor to certain offenses, it expressly provided that limitation in the statute. Second, the statute allows a sentence enhancement when the current offense is a burglary and the victim ofthe burglary was present in the building or residence when the crime was committed.

The Court affirmed Manlove’s convictions and sentence, including the enhancement for deliberate cruelty.

 

State v. McPherson: Residential Burglary Involving A Dwelling/Business.

In State v. McPherson, the Court of Appeals Division II decided the legal issue of whether a jewelry store and attached apartment is a “dwelling” under the definition of Residential Burglary. In short, the Court decided this was an issue of fact for a jury to decide; and that there was sufficient evidence for the conviction.

On the morning of March 20, 2013, someone broke into Frederick William Salewsky’ s jewelry store by entering the unoccupied store next door and making a hole in the adjoining wall. Frederick Salewsky, who worked in the jewelry store and lived in an apartment above the store, was awoken by a noise, went downstairs to investigate, and interrupted the burglary. He shot the intruder, who fled. The police later identified McPherson as a suspect after he checked into a Tacoma hospital with a gunshot wound.

The State charged McPherson with Burglary Second Degree of the vacant store ( count I), Residential Burglary of the jewelry store (count II), Malicious Mischief Second Degree. The jury found McPherson guilty as charged and found that he had committed the Residential Burglary while the victim was present in the building or residence.

Under RCW 9A.52.025(1), a person is guilty of Residential Burglary if, with intent to commit a crime against a person or proerty therein, the person enters or remains unlawfully in a dwelling other than a vehicle. “Dwelling” means any building or structure, or a portion thereof, which is used or ordinarily used by a person for lodging.

The Court reasoned that whether a building is a “dwelling” cannot always be determined as a matter of law. Because the specific living arrangements in houses and businesses are so different, this issue was more appropriately a question of fact for the jury to decide. Here, the evidence support’s the jury’s determination that the building was a “dwelling” as the apartment was directly above the jewelry store because the apartment and jewelry store were within a single structure, the only access to the apartment was through the jewelry store, and the doors that separated the store from the apartment could not be locked or secured.

The court concluded that altogether, this evidence was sufficient for the jury to find that the apartment was not separable from the jewelry store and, therefore, there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’ s finding that the jewelry constituted a dwelling.

State v. Lawson: Burglary & Voyeurism

Interesting opinion.

In State v. Lawson, the WA Court of Appeals supported the defendant’s convictions for both Voyeurism and Burglary. Here, the defendant was prosecuted for sneaking inside the women’s restrooms at Harrison Medical Center and Barnes & Noble and spying on different females from bathroom stalls as they entered and used the restroom facilities.

The Prosecution charged the defendant with one count of Burglary First Degree, two counts of Burglary Second Degree, one count of Assault Second Degree, one count of Voyeurism, and two counts of Criminal Attempt of Voyeurism. The jury returned guilty verdicts on each charge except for Assault Second Degree. The defendant appealed the jury verdicts on the argument that the State failed to introduce sufficient evidence to prove the Barnes and Noble voyeurism charge and each of the Burglary charges.

However, the Court of Appeals disagreed. Under statute, a person commits the crime of Voyeurism if he knowingly views another person in a place where that person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Here, a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy inside a restroom. The Court reasoned it is undisputed that the defendant viewed women by peeking over the restroom stall door in a place that was clearly delineated for use by women only. It stated, “Although the women’ s restroom was inside an otherwise public building and while a person might not usually disrobe inside the common area, one expects privacy in a restroom.”

 The Court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence is insufficient to support Burglary convictions because voyeurism is not “a crime against person or property,” which is a prerequisite to a Burglary conviction. Instead, the Court reasoned that voyeurism is a crime against a person and, therefore, can serve as the predicate crime for Burglary Second Degree. The Court further reasoned there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the defendant was guilty of the Burglaries because he entered the women’ s restroom with the intent to commit a crime against a person or property.

With that, the Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions.

State v. Espey: Prosecutor’s Improper Comments During Trial Reverses Defendant’s Convictions

Good opinion. The Court of Appeals ruled that a Prosecutor’s improper comments during a jury trial required reversal of the defendant’s convictions.

State v. Espey: https://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/D2%2043737-6-II%20Part%20Published%20Opinion.pdf

 

Mr. Espey was charged with Robbery First Degree, Burglary First Degree, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm First Degree, Possession of a Stolen Firearm and Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance. He had three separate jury trials. During closing argument at the second trial, the prosecutor argued the jury should consider Espey’s statement to police in light of the time he had spent consulting with attorneys prior to making the statement. The prosecutor said the following:

“Where I suggest you start is, start with his own recorded statement that he gave to the police. Keep in mind that he had been on the run for approximately six weeks. Keep in mind that he had already consulted with two attorneys, Chip Mosley and Gary Clower. He had lots of time to figure out what story he was going to tell the police.

If you have ever dealt with somebody who is a good liar, they have a pattern. What they do is this: admit everything you can’t admit without getting into trouble and only deny the stuff that you have to . . . You heard Tom Espey’s story in there. ‘I’m not guilty of robbery because i personally didn’t take anything. I’m free. Okay, I did everything else, but guess what? You can’t touch me.’ And he is wrong. He is wrong because he doesn’t understand what it means to be an accomplice. He doesn’t understand what accomplice liability means.”

Defense counsel did not object to these highly inflammatory and prejudicial statements. The jury convicted Espey of 3 of the 5 felonies.

In overturning the convictions, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the Prosecutor’s comments were so flagrant and ill-intentioned that no curative instruction could have stopped their prejudicial effect from swaying the jury. Therefore, defense counsel’s failure to object at trial did not waive the issue.

The court further reasoned that a defendant has a right to counsel under the state and federal constitutions under the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and article 1, subsection 22 of the Washington Constitution. Under these laws, several courts have held that a prosecutor violates these rights by using “an accused’s decision to meet with counsel, even shortly after the incident giving rise to a criminal indictment,” to imply guilt or suggest that the defendant hired an attorney to concoct an alibi. No prosecutor may employ language which denigrates the right of a criminal defendant to retain counsel of his choice, or otherwise limits the fundamentaldue process right of an accused to present a vigorous defense.

Finally, the court reasoned that the Prosecutor strikes at the core of the 6th Amendment right to counsel when it seeks to create an inference of guilt out of a defendant’s decision to meet with defense counsel. “That is precisely what the state did here and reversal is required as a result. The State thereby improperly commented on and penalized Espey’ s exercise of the right to counsel, a right guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions.”

The Court of Appeals reversed the convictions.

My opinion? Great decision.

State v. Foster: When Detainments for “Officer Safety” Violate People’s Rights.

Can a law enforcement officer seize someone for “officer safety” reasons and keep them handcuffed indefinitely? “NO,” said the WA Court of Appeals. Here, the police officer’s decision to keep the defendant handcuffed indefinitely instead of checking for weapons turned an otherwise lawful seizure into an unlawful one.

https://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/322947.unp.pdf

The facts were such that defendant Samuel Foster was accused of Burglary; more specifically, stealing a tent from the home of the alleged victim. In an effort to gain more information about the stolen tent, Officer Anderson made contact with Mr. Foster. The officer became concerned for her safety because Mr. Foster refused to take his hand out of his pocket. Officer Anderson grabbed Mr. Foster’s hand and placed him in handcuffs as a safety precaution. Sergeant Renschler happened upon the scene. He questioned Mr. Foster – who was still in handcuffs – about drugs. Sergeant Renschler searched Mr. Foster and found a small bag of meth inside a cigaratte container in Mr. Foster’s pocket. Naturally, Mr. Foster was charged with Unlawful Possession of Meth.

At trial, the judge denied Mr. Foster’s Motion to Suppress based on an unlawful search and seizure. In short, Mr. Foster argued the seizure under Terry v. Ohio was unlawful because the officer exceeded what was supposed to be a brief seizure for officer safety. The judge found Mr. Foster guilty of Possession of Meth. The case went up on appeal to Division III of the WA Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that police can conduct a Terry investigative stop if they don’t have a warrant. A Terry stop allows officers to briefly seize a person in specific and articulable facts, in light of the officer’s training and experience, if the facts give rise to a reasonable suspicion that the person was engaged in unlawful activity. In evaluating the lawfulness of a Terry stop, the court must inquire whether the temporary seizure was justified at its inception, and whether the stop was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the initial interference.

Here, the basis for the stop was insufficient. Simply because a person is in a high crime area does not establish a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the person is engaging in criminal activity. Also, the simple fact that Mr. Foster had his hand in his pocket when approached by Officer Anderson does not support a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Mr. Foster was engaged in criminal activity. Consequently, the Court of Appeals ruled the seizure of Mr. Foster under these circumstances was not a valid Terry stop.

The court reasoned that the true nature of the stop was for officer safety. Still, however, Officer Anderson did NOT frisk Mr. Foster for weapons. The court said, ” . . . because the only legal basis to seize Mr. Foster was for officer safety, we are constrained to hold that the officer’s decision to forego frisking Mr. Foster amounts to continued detainment without a legal basis.”

The court concluded that Mr. Foster’s consent to search was obtained by expolitation of his prior illegal seizure, and as a result, the evidence obtained as a result of his consent to search must be suppressed.

Good decision.

State v. Lindsay: When Attorneys Act Unprofessionally

VERY interesting opinion from the WA Supreme Court discusses the issue of attorneys having bad manners in court.

In short, the WA Supremes reversed a defendant’s conviction because the lawyers “engaged in unprofessional behavior, trading verbal jabs and snide remarks throughout the proceedings in this case.”

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/884374.pdf

The defendants were charged with Robbery, Burglary, Kidnapping, Assault and Theft of a Firearm. The jury convicted them of some, but not all counts. The WA Supreme Court reasoned that although the trial court attempted to maintain civility, the magnitude of the problem, which spilled into the prosecutor’s closing argument, requires reversal. In short, a prosecutorial misconduct involves a two-part inquiry: (1) whether the prosecutor’s comments were improper, and (2) whether tjhe improper comments caused prejudice.

The court noted that although the conflict from both the Prosecutor and Defense Counsel seemed mutual and both attorneys were at fault, Prosecutors are held to a higher standard of conduct. Additionally, some of the Prosecutor’s hijinks at Closing Argument required reversal of the conviction. For example, the Court noted that Prosecutors may not refer to defense counsel’s closing argument as a “crock.” These comments impugn Defense Counsel, and imply deception and dishonesty. The Prosecutor also said that the defendant Holmes’s testimony was “funny,” “disgusting,” “comical,” and “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

Additionally, the Prosecutor’s attempts at coupling the jigsaw puzzle analogy with a percentage of missing pieces in the defense attorney’s case was also reversible error. Moreover, comparing the reasonable doubt standard to the decision made at a cross-walk is error. In addition, telling the jury that its job is to ‘speak the truth,’ or some variation thereof, misstates the burden of proof and is also improper. A prosecutor’s stating that a witnesses’ testimony is “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard” is an improper expression of personal opinion as to credibility. Finally, a prosecutor’s behavior in whispering to the jury is improper, highly unprofessional and potentially damaging to the fairness of the proceedings.

My opinion? The WA Supremes made a good decision. Practicing law is hard. Conducting jury trials is very hard. Now imagine dealing with another attorney’s unprofessional conduct during trial. Unbelievable! Yes, these instances of misconduct happen. I speak from experience when I say it’s easy to get sucked into malicious and negative behavior, especially when attorney’s advocate in the heat of battle. Nevertheless, section 3.2 of Washington’s Rules of Professional Conduct require that attorneys be civil toward one another and the tribunal. It’s incredibly difficult for judges to analyze the legal issues over the furor of shouting attorneys. And it hurts the credibility of the entire legal institution when our citizens see us behaving badly. My heart goes out to the lawyers involved in the case. Hopefully, they worked out their differences.

State v. Grier: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Interesting.

WA Supremes held that a defense attorney’s “all or nothing” approach, in which “lesser included” jury instructions were rejected, was a legitimate trial tactic and did not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) under the state or federal constitutions. Trial courts are not required to provide lesser included instructions in the absence of a request for such instructions.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=834521MAJ

Defendant Kristina Grier was charged with Murder in the 2nd degree following a fight she had with the victim Gregory Owen.  earlier, they were drinking with a group of people at Grier’s home.  Owen was alleged to have stolen several items from Grier, during the course of the evening.  Some of these items included three guns.  Grier and her son confronted Owen.  A fight broke out.  Unfortunately, a gun went off, killing Owen.

At trial, Grier’s defense attorney withdrew his earlier request for a jury instruction on the lesser offense of Assault.  As a result, the jury was not instructed on those offenses.  The jury convicted Grier of murder.  The case went up for appeal on the issue of whether Grier’s defense attorney was ineffective.  The Court of Appeals reversed Grier’s conviction.  They believed Grier’s attorney was ineffective because he failed to request instructions on the lesser included offenses.

For those unfamiliar with criminal law practice, a “lesser included” offense shares some, but not all, of the elements of a greater criminal offense. Therefore, the greater offense cannot be committed without also committing the lesser offense. For example, Manslaughter is a lesser included offense of murder, assault is a lesser included offense of rape, and unlawful entry is a lesser included offense of Burglary.

The WA Supremes ruled Grier’s attorney’s decision to withdraw the lesser included offense instructions did not prevent her from raising an ineffective assistance claim.  The court also held that defense counsel’s “all or nothing” approach was a legitimate trial tactic and was not IAC.  The court vacated the Court of Appeals decision.

My opinion?  Interesting decision.  It’s difficult to play “Monday Morning Quarterback” and call a defense attorney’s trial tactics ineffective simply because the defendant lost at trial.  What if the defense attorney wanted the jury instruction and Grier was convicted?  Would she appeal the case anyway, and call her attorney ineffective because she was convicted on the lesser charge?  Good decision, WA Supremes.