Category Archives: Domestic Violence

Felony Harassment (DV)

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In State v. Horn, the WA Court of Appeals held that the trial court’s refusal to admit evidence of the defendant’s and the victim’s engagement and trip taken after the date of a domestic violence offense did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Horn and Ms. Oubre became romantically involved while Oubre was estranged from another man with whom she had had a relationship. Horn and Oubre began openly dating in January 2015.

In January 2015, Horn and Oubre were at Oubre’s residence drinking alcoholic beverages. While Oubre was using her cellphone, Horn grew angry and accused her of texting the man with whom she had been involved. According to Oubre, she had never seen him have “an episode like this before.” Horn grabbed Oubre’s night shirt and ripped it open, hitting her on the chest in the process.

Scared that the downstairs neighbor would hear the scuffle, Oubre and Horn went to Horn’s home. Once they arrived and got out of the car, Oubre told Horn that she was going to leave, but Horn grabbed her. They began wrestling when Horn pushed her against a wall and down into a flower bed. He bit her multiple times. Oubre did not call the police.

On August 7, 2015, Horn and Oubre were together at her home. Oubre was on her cell phone playing a game. Horn grew aggressive, believing that Oubre was texting an ex-boyfriend. A violent exchange occurred between Horn and Oubre. Horn straddled Oubre on the bed, pointed a gun at himself and Oubre, and gave numerous threats against her life.

Later, Oubre went to the hospital. She spoke with the police while at the hospital, and Horn was then arrested. Among other offenses, Horn was charged with domestic violence felony harassment based on the August incident. Horn posted bail on August 20, 2015.

Oubre and Horn got engaged on September 5 and took a trip together.

Horn was later charged with violating a no-contact order, to which he pled guilty. As part of the events related to that charge, videotape evidence showed Horn naked while jumping on top of Oubre’s car.

Before trial on the felony harassment charge, the State sought to introduce evidence of
the January 2015 incident under ER 404(b) to show that Horn’s threat to kill Oubre in August 2015 placed her in reasonable fear that the threat would be carried out. One of the elements of felony harassment is that the victim be placed in reasonable fear that a threat will be carried out.

Before trial, both the State and defense counsel argued over whether the evidence of the January 2015 incident should be admitted. The defense objected and in the alternative argued that if the State was permitted to introduce this evidence, the defense should be able to introduce evidence of Oubre and Horn’s engagement and trip after August 2015. In the defense’s view, this evidence showed that Oubre did not have a reasonable fear that Horn would carry out his threat to kill her on August 7.

The State opposed the admission of evidence of their engagement and trip because “it triggers a bunch of things,” including Horn’s later violation of a no-contact order where he was naked and jumping on top of Oubre’s vehicle. The State also did not believe the evidence was relevant to whether Oubre was fearful in August 2015.

The jury found Horn guilty of two counts of fourth degree assault, unlawful possession of
a firearm, and domestic violence felony harassment. Horn appealed. He argued that his Sixth Amendment right to present his defense was violated because the trial court did not admit evidence of Oubre and Horn’s engagement and trip taken after the August 2015 incident.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

“We review a Sixth Amendment right to present a defense claim under a three-step test,” said the Court of Appeals. First, the evidence that a defendant desires to introduce must be of at least minimal relevance. A defendant only has a right to present evidence that is relevant. Second, if relevant, the burden shifts to the State to show that the relevant evidence is so prejudicial as to disrupt the fairness of the fact-finding process at trial. Third, the State’s interest in excluding prejudicial evidence must also be balanced against the defendant’s need for the information sought, and relevant information can be withheld only if the State’s interest outweighs the defendant’s need.

The Court reasoned that to show a violation of the right to present a defense, the excluded evidence, that of Horn and Oubre’s engagement and trip, must first be of at least minimal relevance. Evidence is relevant if it has any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. The threshold to admit relevant evidence is very low.

Impeachment evidence is relevant if: (1) it tends to cast doubt on the credibility of the person being impeached and (2) the credibility of the person being impeached is a fact of consequence to the action.

The court reasoned that here, Oubre’s subsequent engagement and trip with Horn thus would be relevant, if at all, to impeach her testimony that she feared Horn at the time he threatened to kill her.

“With the frightening nature of the threats and violence against Oubre on August 7 and the passage of nearly a month until their engagement, Oubre’s change of heart casts little doubt on her testimony that on August 7, in the face of repeated violence and death threats, she feared for her life.”

The court said that for these reasons, especially in combination with the cycles of violence and reconciliation in domestic violence relationahips, the evidence of Oubre’s engagement to and trip with Horn was not relevant.

“The trial court’s exclusion of that evidence was neither manifestly unreasonable, based on untenable grounds, nor based on untenable reasons,” said the Court of Appeals. “Thus, under the abuse of discretion standard, the exclusion of this evidence did not deprive Horn of his right to present a defense.” Furthermore, because Horn does not meet the first requirement of the three-step test, his claim that the trial court deprived him of the right to present a defense fails.

With that, the Court of Appeals ruled that Horn’s right to present a defense was not violated. Therefore, his convictions were affirmed.

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

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.

Forced & Warrantless Entry

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In Bonivert v. City of Clarkston, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that police officers responding to a “physical domestic” call violated the Fourth Amendment by entering the locked house without a warrant after the suspect, who was the lone occupant of the home by the time the police arrived, refused repeated requests to come to the door. Under the facts of the case, the forced entry could not be upheld under consent, emergency doctrine or exigent circumstances.

BACKGROUND FACTS

This case starts with a domestic dispute call to the police from the home of Ryan Bonivert. During an evening gathering with friends, Bonivert reportedly argued with his girlfriend, Jessie Ausman, when she attempted to leave with the couple’s nine-month old daughter. By the time police arrived, the disturbance was over: Ausman, the baby, and the guests had safely departed the home, leaving Bonivert alone inside. At that point, there was no indication that Bonivert had a weapon or posed a danger to himself or others. Nor does the record suggest that Ausman intended to reenter the house or otherwise asked police to accompany her inside. When Bonivert failed to respond to repeated requests to come to the door, the officers decided they needed to enter the house. No attempt was made to obtain a search warrant.

Though Bonivert locked the door to his house and refused police entreaties to talk with them, the police broke a window to unlock and partially enter the back door. Even then, Bonivert tried to shut the door, albeit unsuccessfully. Although Ausman consented to the officers entering the house, Bonivert’s actions were express—stay out.

Nevertheless, the officers forced their way in, throwing Bonivert to the ground, and then drive-stunned him with a taser several times, handcuffed him, and arrested him. Bonivert was arrested for assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and domestic violence assault in the fourth degree.

Bonivert brought civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City, the County, Combs, Purcell, Gary Synder, and Joseph Synder, alleging warrantless entry and excessive force in violation of Bonivert’s constitutional rights. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the basis of qualified immunity.

For those who don’t know, qualified immunity protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights. It only allows suits where officials violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right. When determining whether or not a right was “clearly established,” courts consider whether a hypothetical reasonable official would have known that the defendant’s conduct violated the plaintiff’s rights.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

In short, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the warrantless entry into Bonivert’s home violated the Fourth Amendment as none of the lawful exceptions to the warrant requirement applied. The officers are not entitled to qualified immunity.

The Police Officers Were Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity.

The Court reasoned that police officers are not entitled to qualified immunity if (1) the facts taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury show that the defendants’ conduct violated a constitutional right and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.

In other words, the question is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.

Fourth Amendment

The Court of Appeals explained that the Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“It has long been recognized that the physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed,” reasoned the Court. “This special protection of the home as the center of the private lives of our people reflects an ardent belief in the ancient adage that a man’s house is his castle to the point that the poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown.” Consequently, the Court reasoned it is a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law that warrantless searches of the home or the curtilage surrounding the home are presumptively unreasonable.

“Taken in the light most favorable to Bonivert,  . . . the facts demonstrate that the officers violated Bonivert’s constitutional right because no exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement justified the officers’ entry into Bonivert’s home.”

Warrantless Entry: Officer are Not Entitled to Entry Under the “Consent” Exception.

The Court explained that although the consent exception ordinarily permits warrantless entry where officers have obtained consent to enter from a third party who has common authority over the premises, Georgia v. Randolph held that an occupant’s consent to a warrantless search of a residence is unreasonable as to a co-occupant who is physically present and objects to the search.

“Such is the situation here,” said the Court of Appeals. “Even though the officers secured
Ausman’s (his girlfriend’s) consent, Bonivert was physically present inside and expressly refused to permit the officers to enter on two different occasions.”

The court explained that Bonivert expressly refused entry when he locked the side door to his house. During the initial “knock and talk,” Combs and Purcell knocked and attempted to open the front and back doors to the house, but found them to be locked. As the officers circled the house to approach the side door, Bonivert realized it was unlocked and locked it as Combs was approaching. Combs heard the door lock and informed Purcell.

Bonivert also expressly refused entry when he attempted to close the back door on the officers after Combs broke in. Once the officers decided to enter the home by force, Combs used his flashlight to shatter a window pane in the back door, reached through the opening, and unlocked the door. At that point, Bonivert partially opened the door and confronted the officers, which prompted the officers to fire their tasers in dart mode. All parties agree that after the darts failed to make contact, Bonivert tried to shut the door, placing it between himself and the officers, but ultimately was prevented from doing so when Officer Combs rushed through with such force that he threw Bonivert to the other side of the room.

“Based on the foregoing, we hold that the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity under the consent exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Simply put, a reasonable officer would have understood that no means no.”

Warrantless Entry: Officers Are Not Entitled to Entry Under the “Emergency” Exception.

The Court reasoned that the emergency aid exception permits law enforcement officers to enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.  An entry pursuant to the emergency aid exception is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, regardless of the individual officer’s state of mind, as long as the circumstances, viewed objectively, justify the action. However, the police bear a heavy burden when attempting to demonstrate an urgent need that might justify warrantless searches or arrests, because the emergency exception is narrow and rigorously guarded.

“Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Bonivert, there were simply no circumstances pointing to an actual or imminent injury inside the home,” said the Court. By the time the officers arrived, both Ausman and the child were safely outside, surrounded by four other adults intent on protecting them from harm. During the entire time that the officers spoke to the witnesses, circled and attempted to enter the home from various points, and called on Deputies Gary and Joseph Snyder for backup, the house was silent. Ausman further assured the officers that there were no weapons in the house and that Bonivert did not pose a danger to himself. Consequently, the Court rejected arguments that an emergency existed which allowed warrantless entry into the house.

Warrantless Entry: Officers Are Not Entitled to Entry Under the “Exigent Circumstances” Exception.

The Court explained that the exigency exception permits warrantless entry where officers have both probable cause to believe that a crime has been or is being committed and a reasonable belief that their entry is necessary to prevent the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of the suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts.

Here, the Court reasoned that Bonivert, who was inside his home when the alleged domestic assault occurred and remained there even after the officers broke into his back door, was never a “fleeing suspect.” The officers never articulated any other legitimate law enforcement justification for entry under the exigency exception.

The Lower Court Improperly Denied Bonivart’s Excessive Force Claims.

Taken in the light most favorable to Bonivert, the evidence reflects that Bonivert remained inside the home at all times; that Bonivert did not threaten or advance toward the officers; that Bonivert posed no immediate threat to the officers; that Combs threw Bonivert across the back room; that Bonivert did not resist arrest; and that Combs tasered Bonivert several times in drive-stun mode notwithstanding Bonivert’s compliance. The evidence does not justify the district court’s conclusion that “no reasonable jury could find the use of force within the home excessive.

With that, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds on the Fourth Amendment claims for unlawful entry
and excessive force.

Excellent decision.

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.

No-Contact Order Lengths

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In State v. Granath, the WA Court of Appeals held that the lower court erred by refusing to lift a post-conviction No-Contact Order when the defendant fulfilled all the conditions of her sentence.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Defendant Wendy Granath was charged with sending a series of harassing
e-mails to her estranged husband. She was convicted in King County District
Court on one count of Cyberstalking and one count of Violation of a No-Contact
Order. Both offenses were designated as crimes of domestic violence.

On November 8, 2012, the court imposed a 24-month suspended sentence. The court ordered 24 months of supervised probation and imposed fines and fees totaling $1,808.

Also on November 8, 2012, the court issued a No-Contact Order. The
order form was captioned as a post conviction domestic violence No-Contact Order authorized by RCW 10.99.050. The order directed Granath not to threaten, stalk, harass, or contact her estranged husband or keep him under surveillance, and not to knowingly come within 500 feet of him, his residence, his school, or his workplace. The order warned, “Violation of this order is a criminal offense under chapter 26.50 RCW and will subject a violator to arrest.”

Notably, the order form includes a blank space for the expiration date:

4. This no-contact order expires on: __________. Five years from today if no date is entered.

In Granath’s case, the district court did not enter a date in the blank, so by
default, the order was set to expire on November 8, 2017.

At any rate, the district court “closed the case” in December 2014 after Granath paid the fines. At this point, the no-contact condition of her sentence no longer remained in effect.

Granath moved to have the No-Contact Order vacated on the ground that it expired when she completed her sentence. However, the district court denied the motion. The court characterized a No-Contact Order issued under RCW 10.99.050 as a “stand-alone” order and found that such an order can “survive on its own” for a full five years even if the underlying sentence is completed earlier.

Granath appealed to King County Superior Court. The superior court
affirmed the lower court’s decision. The Court of Appeals granted Granath’s motion for review.

ISSUE

The legal issue was whether the legislature Intended to criminalize violation of a post conviction No-Contact Order entered as a condition of sentence if the violation is committed after that sentence has been served.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court summarized the parties’ arguments. It acknowledged that Granath contends that under RCW 10.99.050(1), the no-contact order expires at the same time as the sentence containing the no-contact condition. In her case, that was in December 2014. The State, however, argues the No-Contact Order expires five years after the sentence was imposed.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals took issue with the State’s argument. It said that the State’s idea that a No-Contact order may remain in effect for a ‘statutory maximum’ of some kind is not expressed in RCW 10.99.050; it is derived from State v. Armendariz. In that case, though, the maximum duration of the No-Contact order was derived from felony sentencing statutes, not from RCW 10.99.050.

“The State fails to come to grips with the plain language of RCW 10.99.050(1),” said the Court. It also criticized the State’s arguments as wrongfully interpreted policy arguments under LAWS OF 1979, 1st Ex. Sess., ch. 105, § 1; RCW 10.99.010.

The Court found that Granath was found guilty of a crime, she was sentenced, and a condition of the sentence restricted her contact with the victim. The district court was required by the statute to record the condition of the sentence as a no-contact order. However, once Granath completed her sentence and her case was closed, the No-Contact condition of sentence expired. The separate no-contact order expired at the same time. The district court erred by denying Granath’s motion to vacate the No-Contact Order.

“We conclude a no-contact order authorized by RCW 10.99.050(1) must reflect a no-contact condition of the sentence actually imposed. The No-contact order terminates when the no-contact condition of sentence terminates.”

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s ruling that the No-Contact Order in this case be preserved for 5 years.

My opinion? Good decision.

 

DV Protection Orders

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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.

the “Do’s & Dont’s” of Washington’s Distracted Driving Law

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Great article by reporter Mike Lindblom of the Seattle Times discusses Washington’s Driving Under the Influence of Electronics (DUIE) Act set to be enforced in July.  The law forbids virtually all use of handheld gadgets such as phones, tablets, laptop computers and gaming devices while driving.

According to Lindblom, nearly one-tenth of motorists are holding a device at any given moment, state observation teams have found. That far outnumbers traffic police on the road and raises questions about the law’s chances of success. On the other hand, the state has a history of reducing drunken driving and posting a 95 percent compliance with seat-belt requirements. Linblom gave helpful insights to the law:

Q. When does the law take effect?

A. Approximately July 23, which is 90 days after the Legislature’s regular session adjourned, the governor’s staff say.

“Public safety is better served by implementing this bill this year,” Inslee wrote in his partial-veto message. Bill sponsor Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, had initially proposed a Jan. 1, 2018, start, and then agreed to a year delay, in negotiations with the House, to give police and drivers more time to prepare.

Q. What will be banned?

A. Texting is already illegal, as is holding a cellphone at the ear. Drivers constantly flout those rules, or evade them by holding a phone between the legs, or just below the chin.

The new bill forbids handheld uses, including composing or reading any kind of message, picture or data. Photography while driving is illegal. Drivers also cannot use handheld devices while at a stop sign or red-light signal.

Q. What is still legal?

A. Drivers may still use a smartphone mounted in a dashboard cradle, for instance to use a navigation app, but not to watch video. The new law permits “minimal use of a finger” to activate an app or device.

Built-in electronic systems, such as hands-free calling and maps, remain legal. Calls to 911 or other emergency services are legal, as are urgent calls between transit employees and dispatchers. Amateur radio equipment and citizens-band radio, remain legal. Handheld devices may be used if the driver has pulled off the roadway or traffic lanes, where the vehicle “can safely remain stationary.”

Q. What are the penalties?

A. The standard traffic fine of $136 would nearly double to $235 on the second distracted-driving citation.

Q. Is DUIE a primary offense?

A. Yes. A police officer can pull someone over just for using a handheld device.

Q. Will a ticket raise my insurance rates?

A. Probably. Distracted-driving citations will be reported on a motorist’s record for use by the insurance industry, which testified in favor of the law. There was considerable debate about that, as some lawmakers sought to keep DUIE offenses off the record, the way texting violations are currently. But the safety hawks managed to make them reportable — a penalty that House sponsor Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, gained in exchange for allowing that now-vetoed 1½ year implementation time.

The cost of a citation on personal insurance bills will depend on what the data show, about a correlation between someone’s violations and crash history, said Nicole Ganley, public-affairs director for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of AmericaArkansas, North Dakota, and Colorado lawmakers passed stronger distraction bills this year, she said, but insurers especially like the Washington law’s broader sweep.

“It’s modernizing the driving code, so that all the behaviors are included,” she said. “This new law will serve as a deterrent and draws a line in the sand that this behavior is not safe for anyone.”

Q. What about other kinds of distraction?

A. Miscellaneous distractions such as grooming or eating will be a secondary offense, meaning a ticket may be issued if a law-enforcement officer pulls you over for some other offense, such as speeding or a dangerous lane change. The penalty will be an extra $30.

Q. Who will enforce this?

A. Lack of staffing is a potential weakness. Earlier this year, there were as few as a half-dozen State Patrol troopers some shifts in the whole Bellevue detachment, patrolling Interstate 405 and Interstate 90. Those teams should grow somewhat. The Legislature voted to raise trooper pay 16 percent this year, based on a governor’s agreement with the troopers’ labor union, in hopes of winning recruits and stopping attrition.

A new class of 49 people just graduated from the academy May 1, of which 16 will work in King County, said Trooper Rick Johnson, a spokesman in Bellevue. Another class is due in September. “We’re moving in the right direction, definitely,” he said.

In early April, the state’s law-enforcement agencies spent $400,000 in federal grants to add 6,000 patrol hours aimed at driver distraction. The same program in April 2016 produced 5,412 citations statewide, double the usual monthly pace, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Statistics show 171 of 568 road deaths in the state in 2015 were blamed on some form of driver distraction, not necessarily electronics.

Officials haven’t issued plans for any extra patrols, to break in the new law this summer. To date, only $19,000 has been budgeted to support the distraction law. Lawmakers weren’t intending to fund a big education blitz until next year.

So the safety commission will do what it can, to possibly include informational cards for police to hand drivers, before the tougher law begins July 23, according to spokeswoman Erica Stineman.

Gina Bagnariol-Benavides, who also testified for tougher laws, said the governor’s sudden change was “a pretty exciting thing.”

“Common sense tells you (that) you shouldn’t use your phone behind the wheel of a car,” Bagnariol-Benavides said. “I don’t think there’s a huge amount of education that should have to go along with that.”

State v. Armstrong: Prosecutor Not Obligated to Bring Video Evidence

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Some Clients are concerned why can’t make the Prosecution obtain video surveillance evidence from crime scenes. This recent case explains why.

In State v. Armstrong, the WA Supreme Court held that the Prosecutor’s failure to obtain a copy of the AM/PM store’s surveillance video prior to the store’s destruction of the video pursuant to the store’s policy, did not violate the defendant’s due process rights.

FACTS & BACKGROUND

A no-contact order existed prohibiting Defendant Dennis Armstrong from contacting his former partner, Nadia Karavan. Nonetheless, on April 20, 2014, they agreed to meet at a bus stop in violation of the No-Contact Order. As the two talked, Armstrong became angry. He yelled and hit the wall of the bus stop shelter. Armstrong then hit Karavan twice in the face with an open fist.

After a brief struggle, Karavan ran to a nearby AM/PM gas station, and Armstrong followed her. According to the store clerk, Todd Hawkins, the two exchanged words. Armstrong followed Karavan around the store for several minutes, and Karavan asked Hawkins to call the police several times. When Hawkins finally called the police, Armstrong left the store.

Officers responded to the 911 call. Officer Martin noticed that Karavan had a slightly swollen, red abrasion on the side of her face.

Armstrong denied spending time inside the AM/PM. In response, the officers told Armstrong that surveillance video from the AM/PM would show what really happened. The officers repeatedly emphasized the video and told Armstrong that he should “tell the truth” because they had the “whole thing on video.”

The State charged Armstrong with a domestic violence felony violation of a court order.

Before trial and again during trial, Armstrong moved to discharge his counsel. One of his reasons was that counsel failed to give him the surveillance video as he requested. The prosecutor told the court that the State had never possessed the video. The court denied Armstrong’s motions.

At trial, Hawkins (the AM/PM employee) testified that there were about 16 cameras around the store: a few of which covered the gas pumps and one that may have shown a slight, low view shot of the bus stop. Although Hawkins testified that police had requested surveillance video from AM/PM in the past, no officer requested footage from the night of this incident. Hawkins had previously reviewed the video from that night and testified that it showed what he described in his testimony, but per AM/PM policy, the video had since been destroyed.

At trial, the officers gave various reasons why they never collected the video. Officer Martin testified that she heard Officer Elliot ask about the video, but she assumed it was the responsibility of someone else at the scene to investigate the video. Officer Rodriguez testified that he never viewed the video. He simply followed Officer Elliot’s lead when the two were questioning Armstrong. Officer Elliot was unavailable to testify at trial. Detective Rande Christiansen, who had been assigned to do the follow-up investigation on the case, testified that he did not investigate any video from the AM/PM because he did not know such video existed.

The jury returned a general guilty verdict despite the lack of surveillance video evidence.

On appeal – and with other arguments, Armstrong claimed that the police violated his right to due process because they failed to collect video surveillance from the AM/PM after using that video as a tool when interviewing Armstrong at the scene.

ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS.

Ultimately, the Court held that Armstrong failed to show that the police acted in bad faith when they did not collect video surveillance that was only potentially useful evidence.

The Court reasoned that under the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal constitution, criminal prosecutions must conform with prevailing notions of fundamental fairness, and criminal defendants must have a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense. Consequently, the prosecution has a duty to disclose material exculpatory evidence to the defense and a related duty to preserve such evidence for use by the defense.

The court also reasoned that although the State is required to preserve all potentially material and favorable evidence, this rule does not require police to search for exculpatory evidence. And in order to be material exculpatory evidence – that is, evidence which has value to the defense of which can alter or shift a fact-finder’s decision on guilt or innocence – the evidence must both possess an exculpatory value that was apparent before it was destroyed and be of such a nature that the defendant would be unable to obtain comparable evidence by other reasonably available means.

Finally, the court reasoned that the police’s failure to preserve “potentially useful evidence” was not a denial of due process unless the suspect can show bad faith by the State. The presence or absence of bad faith turns on the police’s knowledge of the exculpatory value of the evidence at the time it was lost or destroyed. Also, acting in compliance with its established policy regarding the evidence at issue is determinative of the State’s good faith.

“Armstrong asserts that the video surveillance was potentially useful evidence,” said the Court. “Therefore, he must show that the police acted in bad faith.” According to Armstrong, the police acted in bad faith because they told him during the interview that they were going to collect the video but they never actually collected it. Armstrong describes this as the police acting with an “extreme cavalier attitude” toward preserving potentially useful evidence. The Court further reasoned that beyond this failure to collect the video, Armstrong offers no evidence of bad faith, such as improper motive.

“Armstrong has failed to show that the police acted in bad faith when they failed to collect the surveillance video from the AM/PM. The testimony of the officers indicates that the video went uncollected due to mere oversight. Armstrong has presented no evidence that the police had an improper motive. At most, Armstrong has shown that the investigation was incomplete or perhaps negligently conducted, but that is not enough to show bad faith.”

With that, the Court upheld his conviction.

My opinion? I understand the Court’s opinion insofar as the Prosecution should not be burdened with providing exculpatory evidence, especially if that evidence is unimportant – or not material – to the larger issues of guilt.

However, I would object to the AM/PM employee  discussing the  video as facts that are not admitted into evidence. Under this objection when the attorney claims that “the question assumes facts not in evidence,” what he is really saying is that the facts that are being presented to the witness are presumably not yet in evidence and therefore, how can this witness properly answer the question if those facts have not been put before this jury? These kinds of questions

Holiday Drinking In The U.S.

Interesting article by Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post discusses how data on total monthly alcohol sales in the United States carries a time-tested seasonal trend: the spikes in December of each year.

Clearly, the holidays are traditionally a time for boozing it up.

For example, the Department of Health and Human Services recently updated the official federal statistics on the percent of state residents ages 12 and older who drink at least once a month. Also, Ingraham’s article discusses how various direct and indirect measures of alcohol consumption, including breathalyzer data, Web searches for hangover relief and alcohol-related traffic deaths all suggest that peak American drinking happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

THE NORTHEAST

New England is home to the nation’s heaviest drinkers – New Hampshire, where about 64 percent of residents age of 12 or older drink monthly, is tops in the country. Vermont, Maine and Connecticut also come in at drinking rates above 60 percent. Hard-drinking cheeseheads in Wisconsin see to it that their home is the only Midwestern state in the top tier of American drinkers.

THE NORTHWEST

Ingraham discusses how the next tier of heavy drinking states are all in the northern part of the country. Some researchers posit that there may be a relationship between heavy drinking and latitude. At the country level, alcohol consumption tends to increase the farther you get away from the equator. This could be a function of the potential for boredom and depression during winter months when the nights are long and the days are short. For a prime example of this, see recent stories involving alcohol and misconduct among people who live in Antarctica.

RELIGIOUS STATES

Ingraham discusses other cultural factors affect some States’ attitudes about drinking. On the map above, take a look at Utah and particularly Idaho. They’re in the bottom tier of the states for drinking frequency. Utah, where only 31 percent of adults drink in a given month, comes in dead last. This is almost certainly because of the large Mormon populations in those states — 58 percent of Utahans are Mormon, as are 24 percent of people in Idaho. Mormonism generally prohibits the use of alcohol and other drugs.

There’s likely a similar religious influence in places Alabama, Mississippi and the other Southern states where drinking is low. Those states have large evangelical Christian populations, many of whom are abstainers.

HOLIDAY DUI PATROLS IN WASHINGTON STATE

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Coincidentally, the Washington State Patrol announced its increased Holiday DUI Patrol campaign of “Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over.” Our State Troopers are extremely proactive in reaching their Target Zero goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2030.

Also, our local police and sheriff’s offices are working very hard responding to incidents of domestic violence, burglary, assault and other criminal incidents associated with holiday celebrations.

SEEK COMPETENT LEGAL REPRESENTATION IF YOU FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES THIS HOLIDAY SEASON.

For many, the holiday season is a joyous time when family and friends get together and celebrate. Naturally, our holiday merriment could involve the libations of alcohol and/or legal (and illegal) drugs.

We must enjoy the holidays safely and responsibly. Unfortunately, incidents of domestic violence, DUI, and other criminal behaviors – intentional or otherwise – can dampen our holiday festivities.

It’s never desirable to face criminal charges which could negatively affect your life for years to come. However, if you, friends or family find themselves in situations involving law enforcement, jail and/or criminal charges then contact the Law Office of Alexander Ransom as soon as possible.  I staunchly defends my clients’ constitutional rights to a fair trial, just proceedings and the suppression of evidence involving unlawful searches, seizures and self-incrimination. My practice involves saving people’s careers and reuniting families by seeking reductions and dismissals of criminal charges when appropriate.

Happy holidays!

-Alex Ransom, Esq.