Category Archives: Legislation

“Revenge Porn” Outlawed by the Feds?

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Excellent article by Brian Murphy and Andrea Drusch of mcclatchydc.com discusses how congressional lawmakers are pushing to make “revenge porn” or “sextortion” a federal crime.

Tuesday, Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said they’d sponsor the new legislation to make “revenge porn” a federal crime by passing a bill very similar to a bill introduced last year by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. Speier introduced the bill in the House again Tuesday.

According to the article, Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said he shared a sexually explicit video and text messages with a woman he was seeing after he separated from his second wife. An image from that video of a naked Barton, now 68, appeared on the internet last week, becoming the talk of his hometown and spurring debate over criminal intent.

Barton apologized last week for the leaked video, saying he should have used better judgment. He also suggested he’d been the victim of the crime of revenge porn, which is illegal under Texas’s law, but not federal law.

Barton sent the video to a woman who he saw over the span of several years. In a recorded phone conversation that the woman gave to the Washington Post, Barton asked her not to use the video to hurt his career. She said she had no intention of doing so, but the video surfaced last week from an anonymous Twitter account.

Barton took the incident to the U.S. Capitol Police, but said last week he’d heard no word that an investigation had been opened.

According to Murphy and Drusch’s article, thirty-eight states and D.C. have laws against distributing “revenge porn.” The new federal legislation would make it “unlawful to knowingly distribute a private, visual depiction of an individual’s intimate parts or of an individual engaging in sexually explicit conduct, with reckless disregard for the individual’s lack of consent to the distribution, and for other purposes.”

Murphy and Drusch wrote that North Carolina passed legislation outlawing “revenge porn” in 2015 and updated the provision in 2017. The state law makes it illegal to post nude photos online without the consent of the victim.

The FBI defines “sextortion” as “when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.”

In short, the proposed federal legislation would establish federal criminal liability for people who share private, explicit images without consent. In order to prosecute someone under the proposed law, officials would have to prove the defendant was aware of a substantial risk that the victim expected the image would remain private and that sharing could cause harm to the victim.

“Perpetrators of exploitation who seek to humiliate and shame their victims must be held accountable,” said Harris, the former attorney general of California who prosecuted operators of “revenge porn” sites. “It is long past time for the federal government to take action to give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on these crimes.”

The bill provides up to five years in prison and/or unspecified fines.

My opinion? Washington State has already outlawed “revenge porn” as a Class C Felony under the “Disclosing Intimate Images” statute RCW 9A.86.010. Other states have also followed suit. It appears the feds are simply catching up.

Immediately contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges for distributing suggestive content online. It’s imperative to find a competent criminal defense attorney who can possibly suppress the evidence and/or convince prosecutors and judges to reduce or dismiss these egregious charges.

Dealing in Depictions

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In State v. Gray, the WA Supreme Court decided that the Dealing in Depictions of a Minor Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct statute allows the State to prosecute a minor for taking and distributing a sexually explicit photo of himself.
BACKGROUND FACTS
When he was 17 years old, Eric D. Gray electronically sent an unsolicited picture of his erect penis to an adult woman. The woman contacted the police, and Gray was charged with and convicted of one count of Second Degree Dealing in Depictions of a Minor Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct under ROW 9.68A.050. It also charged him with one count of Telephone Harassment under RCW 9.61.230. Gray moved to dismiss both charges for insufficient evidence, which the trial court denied.
In a stipulated facts trial, the court found Gray guilty of the second degree dealing in depictions of a minor charge. The State agreed to dismiss the telephone harassment charge and chose not to charge him with two counts of misdemeanor indecent exposure stemming from an unrelated incident. He was sentenced to 150 hours of community service, 30 days of confinement, and fees, before being released with credit for time served. He was ordered to register as a sex offender.
Mr. Gray appealed to Division Three of the Court of Appeals, which affirmed his adjudication. He appealed again, this time to the Washington Supreme Court, claiming the plain language of the statute does not anticipate minors who take and transmit sexually explicit images of themselves. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, the Juvenile Law Center, Columbia Legal Services, and TeamChild subsequently filed a joint brief as amicus curiae, or “friend of the court”.
ISSUES
1. Does RCW 9.68A.050 allow the State to prosecute a minor for taking and distributing a sexually explicit photo of himself?
2. Is RCW 9.68A.050 impermissibly overbroad or vague in violation of the federal or state constitutions?
COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS
The WA Supreme Court reasoned that the plain language of the statute prohibits transmitting sexually explicit images of a minor even if the minor himself sent it:
“Under this statute, the State properly charged Gray for his actions. When he was 17, Gray took a photo of his erect penis and sent it, unsolicited, to another person. Gray is a “natural person” and therefore a person for purposes of the statute. He was also under the age of 18, making him a minor under the statute as well. He stated he was attracted to T.R., and when he sent the picture he included the phrase “Do u like it, babe?,” indicating an attempt to arouse the recipient. The picture he transmitted was, therefore, a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct because it was a picture of a minor’s genitals designed to sexually stimulate the viewer. This falls squarely within the statute’s plain meaning.”
The Court also reasoned that the statute here is unambiguous. A “person” is any person, including a minor. “Images of a ‘minor’ are images of any minor,” reasoned the Court. It elaborated that nothing in the statute indicates that the “person” and the “minor” are necessarily different entities. Therefore, the photographer or distributor may also be the minor in the photograph. “Because of this, Gray was properly charged with taking and disseminating sexually explicit images of a minor,” said the Court.
Furthermore, the Court reasoned that the Legislature’s findings support the Court’s plain reading of the statute. “The legislature intended to destroy the blight of child pornography everywhere, from production of the images to commercial gain,” said the Court. “Because the statute was intended to curtail production of child pornography at all levels in the distribution chain, the statute prohibits Gray’s actions.”
Finally, the Court reasoned that the statute is neither unconstitutionally overbroad nor unconstitutionally vague. First, it does not invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Despite Gray’s arguments, the Court reasoned that the State is vested with great discretion in determining how and when to file criminal charges. Here, Gray presents no evidence the State made the choice to charge Gray for an arbitrary or discriminatory purpose.
Second, the wording of the statute allows a reasonable person to understand what conduct is prohibited. “It states that ‘a person’ will be guilty if they transmit sexually explicit images of ‘a minor,’ said the Court. “On its face, this includes any person, even a minor taking a picture of himself. Our responsibility is to interpret the law, not to write it, and here the law is clear.”
With that, the WA Supreme Court voted 6-3 to affirm the Court of Appeals and upheld Gray’s conviction.
THE DISSENT
Justice McCloud authored the dissenting opinion. He reasoned that RCW 9.68A.050 is designed to tackle a significant problem: trafficking in sexual depictions of children. Furthermore, the statute tackles that problem with severe criminal penalties for the traffickers but protection for the depicted children.

“There is a long-standing and well-accepted rule that when a legislature enacts a criminal law to protect such a specific class, we cannot interpret that law to permit prosecution (and potential revictimization) of members of that protected class for their own exploitation—unless the legislature explicitly says so. The legislature did not say so here. Hence, the general rule applies,” said Justice McCloud. “Gray, the depicted minor, cannot be prosecuted under this statute for disseminating pictures of himself.”

Sessions on WA Marijuana

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Border Patrol Backs Trump

Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, told "Fox and Friends" on July 17, 2017, that morale is the highest he's seen throughout his 20 years within the agency. (Fox News Channel screenshot)

According to a news article by reporter Douglass Ernst of the Washington Times, President Trump received a glowing performance review Monday from the head of the National Border Patrol Council.

Brandon Judd, who is the President of the National Border Patrol Council, appeared on “Fox and Friends” on Monday to discuss illegal immigration, Mr. Trump’s plan to build a border wall with Mexico, and morale within the agency. The union president said that agents have a new “energy” to them due to a concrete commitment to enforcing existing federal laws.

“There’s a vibe, there’s an energy in the Border Patrol that’s never been there before,” Mr. Judd told host Steve Doocy. “In the 20 years I’ve been in the patrol, we haven’t seen this type of energy, and we’re excited because we signed up to do a job and this president is allowing us to do that job.”

Mr. Judd said that having a giant contiguous wall along the southern border was not as important as having barricades at “strategic locations” such as El Paso and San Diego.

“The president has done a great job of actually enforcing the law — something we didn’t see in the last eight years,” Mr. Judd said, Fox News Channel reported. “And if we continue to do that, then a clear message will be sent throughout the world that if you cross our borders illegally, you will be detained and you will be sent back.

“If you look at the rhetoric that the president sent out, we’ve had a drop that we’ve never seen before with any president,” he continued. “If you’re in the left, right or middle, you have to say this president has done exactly what he promised to do and we do have border security like what we expect to see.”

My opinion? Let’s observe how these ongoing immigration issues develop. Last month,  the U.S. Supreme Court Supreme Court had a ruling which allowed parts of President Donald Trump’s travel ban to go into effect and will hear oral arguments on the case this fall. In its decision, the court is allowing the ban to go into effect for foreign nationals who lack any “bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States.” The court, in an unsigned opinion, left the travel ban against citizens of six majority-Muslim on hold as applied to non-citizens with relationships with persons or entities in the United States, which includes most of the plaintiffs in both cases.

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.”

Seattle Allows Filming Cops

 

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Great article in the Seattle Times by Daniel Beekman discusses how Seattle’s City Council voted Monday to enshrine in the Seattle Municipal Code the rights of the public to observe, record and criticize police activity without fear of retaliation.

 The only exceptions are when an observer hinders, delays or compromises legitimate police activity, threatens someone’s safety or attempts to incite other people to violence, according to the ordinance sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Herbold.

The First Amendment can offer protections to members of the public when they watch and record police. And a Seattle Police Department policy adopted in 2008 says bystanders may remain nearby and record the incident as long as they don’t interfere.

So, people already were allowed to watch and record police in Seattle. But the council’s vote means the rights of police observers are now recognized in city law.

According to Beekman, the ordinance says officers should assume members of the public are observing and possibly recording their work at all times. Councilmember Herbold initially proposed the change last year, pointing to high-profile shootings that was recorded by bystanders.

 “The value of video and audio recordings by the public is keenly evident from the recordings in 2016 of the deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge … and law-enforcement officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge,” the ordinance says.

Across the country, smartphones are helping regular people hold their police departments accountable. But people watching, recording and criticizing officers have in some instances been arrested, according to a council memo.

Though Seattle police are recorded by patrol-car cameras and are being outfitted with body-worn cameras, civilian recordings are still important, Herbold said Monday.

My opinion? Wonderful! I’ve had many Clients complain that their attempts to record interactions with police result in their cameras being confiscated and being slapped with charges of Obstructing and Resisting police.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: recording interactions between police and citizens makes everyone behave better and shows proof of what really happened. Kudos to the Seattle City Council.

Proposed Law Evicts Suspected Meth Users From Hotels

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Interesting article by Marilyn Napier of the Skagit Valley Herald reported that a new state law proposed by the Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney will allow local governments to evict residents from certain buildings contaminated by methamphetamine, even without evidence of manufacturing. The new law takes effect on July 23, 2017.

State House Bill 1757 was created by the problems that arose at Burlington’s Sterling Motor Inn. Apparently, the hotel was found to have widespread high levels of methamphetamine contamination. As a result, the City of Burlington wanted residents of the motel to evacuate because the level of contamination was considered unsafe. Although the residents, some of whom had lived at the motel for years, left voluntarily, the city and Skagit County did not have the legal authority to evict them.

Because of the Clandestine Drug Lab law, the Skagit County Public Health Department was unable to evict the residents because the law required that there be evidence of drug manufacturing.

THE PROPONENTS.

Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich and the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys wrote the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, and was passed by both the state House and state Senate in mid-April.

“This takes away the idea that you have to have evidence of manufacturing meth. Now you just have to show that there is meth residue present,” Weyrich said. Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill April 25.

Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton said he doesn’t think the Sterling Motor Inn incident is going to be the last time the city deals with a contaminated property.

“I think that (the law) is what it takes for Skagit County to do the job they should do in situations like that,” he said. “This is what the county said they needed.”

A BLIGHT IN THE COMMUNITY.

Apparently, the state health department reported that about 60 percent of the rooms did not have fire safety measures, such as working smoke detectors. Violations also included rodent infestation in the laundry room, storage shed and the electrical panel room.

Beyond the failed health inspection, the motel had been the center of about 200 calls to police in 2015, a number that had continued to increase since 2009. According to police, officers had been called for weapon offenses, domestic violence, drug deals, prostitution, burglary and assault. Harrison added the law is good news for the public.

My opinion? This law is questionably unconstitutional. Although governments can pass laws for public safety reasons, they cannot make laws which violate people’s constitutional rights. Here, an “automatic eviction” lacking due process – or based on evidence which was obtained through unlawful search and seizure – might end up patently violating people’s individual rights. We’ll see what happens.

For more information on Search and Seizure, please refer to my Legal Guide titled, Search & Seizure: Basic Issues Regarding Their Search for Weapons, Drugs, Firearms and Other Contraband.

“Incentivized” Informants

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Very interesting op-ed piece from Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project discusses how Senate Bill 5038 rightfully confronts and addresses the issue of false testimony by “incentivized” confidential informants in criminal cases.

State Senate Bill 5038 adds to key advances that Washington has already made over the years to improve the administration of justice. “Incentivized” informants are people who are often used by the government in criminal prosecutions to provide information or evidence against defendants in exchange for an explicit promise or expectation of a personal benefit.

“Benefits include anything from reduced or eliminated jail time to improved living conditions behind bars to monetary rewards,” says Scheck. “Recognizing both the value of this testimony to the state and the risk that a witness will be tempted to give false testimony in order to benefit personally, this bill outlines specific information that must be learned and turned over to the defense in the discovery process before trial.” This, says Scheck, will ensure that all parties have an opportunity to properly scrutinize the informant.

“The reality is, some informants lie,” said Scheck. “When they do, they undermine the integrity and the truth-seeking function of our justice system.” In support of his argument, Scheck cited these facts:

• False testimony by incentivized witnesses is a leading cause of wrongful conviction in capital cases nationally, a contributing factor in nearly half of such exonerations.

Of 349 DNA-based exonerations, 17 percent involved an incentivized witness.

• In Tulia, Texas, 46 innocent people were convicted of drug charges based on the testimony of a single, lying informant.

• Ten Washington state wrongful conviction cases listed on the National Registry of Exonerations involved the use of incentivized testimony.

Scheck believes these numbers demonstrate that this is a national problem, requiring all states to look closely at the safeguards needed to regulate this system. SB 5038 addresses an information gap in the system that will improve accuracy and protect constitutional rights. Prosecutors have a responsibility to know and disclose this information.

In this year alone, in addition to Washington, four states are considering proposals to strengthen or establish new frameworks for assessing informant testimony. Notably, while some proposals go further than others, all of these proposed reforms impose new disclosure requirements around incentivized informants.”

My opinion? For far too long, the world of incentivized informants has been an evidentiary black hole. The testimony of jailhouse snitches, confidential informants and co-defendants should immediately be treated as suspect. Every year that passes without these reforms puts more innocent people at risk and strikes at the heart of the credibility of our justice system. A healthy justice system demands that we ensure that the strongest protections are in place for the innocent.

Elder Abuse Bill Goes to Vote

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Washington State may pass new legislation protecting elderly, vulnerable adults against financial exploitation and neglect.

House Bill 1153 unanimously passed in the Senate earlier this month and was approved in the House in February. A date has not yet been set for the bill to be signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, though it will happen within the next few weeks.

The legislation, requested by the attorney general, would (1) lower the requisite mental state for the crimes of Criminal Mistreatment in the first and second degree from recklessness to criminal negligence, and (2) creates the crimes of Theft from a Vulnerable Adult in the first degree and second degree. A “vulnerable adult” is defined as any person 18 years or older who is clearly mentally or physically unable to care for himself or herself or suffers from a cognitive impairment.

Currently, for a standard theft offense, a person could serve zero to 90 days in a county jail if they have no prior criminal history. The new statute, however, would rank the crime at a higher seriousness level of theft by forcing an offender who has no priors to serve up to 12 to 14 months in prison. Additionally, if defendants were convicted of several crimes in the past, prosecutors say they could face up to 8 ½ years in prison compared to the existing maximum penalty, which is closer to five years.

Some people opposed this part of the bill during public hearings held earlier this year saying it goes from zero to prison too quickly, but the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Roger Goodman of Kirkland, says financial abuse of elderly and vulnerable adults is reaching epidemic proportions and the penalties are not strong enough to deter anyone.

“We need to send a strong message that abusing the elderly, financially or physically, is serious enough that you’re going to have a felony on your record and you’re going to go to prison and be supervised afterward,” Goodman said.

Last year, the state’s adult protective services received more than 35,000 complaints. Of those, nearly 8,700 were related to financial abuse of an elderly or vulnerable adult and more than 5,600 were complaints of neglect.

Also under the statute, the standard of proof for criminal mistreatment cases would change from “recklessness” to “criminal negligence,” something prosecutors say was needed to make it easier to prove cases.

“This is a major change that will allow us to hold more people accountable who cause vulnerable people serious injury or death,” said Page Ulrey, a King County senior deputy prosecuting attorney, who has prosecuted elder abuse cases since 2001.

Ulrey said the new statute seems like a more appropriate penalty for the degree of harm that is often done in these cases, which she says is committed most often by someone the person trusts or loves such as a family member or close friend.

Mike Webb, the legislative affairs director at the attorney general’s office, said he’s seen jurors fail to find recklessness beyond a reasonable doubt in cases when an offender didn’t remove a catheter leading to death or somebody didn’t turn a vulnerable person over for so long it led to bed sores to the bone.

“The existing law made it very challenging to bring about a felony criminal mistreatment charge because jurors struggled to find reckless behavior,” he said. “Most saw it as a failure to act rather than recklessness.”

Ulrey pointed out another significant change the bill would do is extend the statute of limitations as financial exploitation of vulnerable adults can take years to be uncovered. She said it gives law enforcement, prosecutors and other adult protection services six years instead of three to investigate and gather information surrounding the case.

Thirty-seven states have criminal penalties for financial exploitation of the elderly and vulnerable adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Thirty-four states currently have pending legislation.

My opinion? Elder abuse is awful. Still, lowering the standard of proof for criminal mistreatment cases from “recklessness” to “criminal negligence” may inadvertently create problems for jurors trying these cases. There are many components to “Negligence.” For example, was there actual negligence? Was there a duty of care? Was there a breach of duty? If so, was the breach foreseeable under the circumstances? Were there damages? Not every case is cut and dried.



Alexander F. Ransom

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense Lawyer

119 North Commercial St.
Suite #1420
Bellingham, WA 98225

117 North 1st Street
Suite #27
Mount Vernon, WA 98273

Phone: (360) 746-2642
Fax: (360) 746-2949

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