Category Archives: Methamphetamine

Racial Bias in Media Coverage of the Opioid Crisis vs. Crack Epidemics

Excellent, informative article by Michael Shaw of in the Columbia Journalism Review discusses the clear double standard in the visual framing of the opioid crisis in comparison to the crack cocaine crisis of the 1980’s.

Shaw claims that media coverage of the opioid epidemic—which largely affects suburban and rural whites—portrays it as an outside threat and focuses on treatment and recovery, while stories of heroin in the 1970s, crack-cocaine in the 1980s, and other drug problems that impact urban people of color today have focused on the drug user’s morality.

Photos of the opioid crisis depict well-lit spaces, stress domesticity, and emphasize close-knit communities. In contrast, pictures of urban drug problems have depicted nighttime scenes on seedy streets or portrayed individuals interacting with the police, courts, or jails—often using starker black and white photography. In sum, Shaw argues, “Elected officials, the criminal justice system, and the American media have adopted a ‘kinder and gentler’ tone around the opioid crisis.”

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“A sub-theme of opioid crisis coverage: Many stories showcase children who have been saved by loving grandparents.” Photo from The New York Times, 2016.

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Drug stories about black families in cities present a “narrative of broken homes, addicted babies, mothers depicted as unfit, the engagement of state agencies, and children routinely placed into foster care.” Photo from The Washington Post, 1989.

The racial bias is inescapable. A drug crisis that is largely affecting suburban and rural whites is being treated with a drastically different attitude and approach in words and imagery than those used to characterize heroin use in the 1970s, crack cocaine in the late 1980s, and the drug problem plaguing America’s people of color and urban poor today.

Shaw claims that elected officials, the criminal justice system, and the American media have adopted a “kinder and gentler” tone around the opioid crisis. The attitude and phrasing of a recent New York Times article—titled: “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs”—is both an example and an illustration. As is Time’s just-published photo story “A caring lens on the opioid crisis.” The visual language is just as illuminating. The opioid crisis has been framed as a threat from outside, with drug users facing an “illness or a “disease” rather than a personal moral shortcoming.

 

“You can see in this photo how demonstrators cast addicts who have died from drugs as victims, and in the inset photo, literally as an angel,” says Shaw. “In another photograph, you can see how the same group, FedUp!, has co-opted the quilt as a protest symbol reminiscent of the AIDS crisis.”

Shaw also argues that the largely white drug “epidemic” we’re facing now bears little resemblance to the scenes of squalor, sociopathy, and criminality depicted in this 33-photo Getty package shot in the Bronx and published in June. And photos from the urban “war on drugs” don’t look much different today than they did 30 years ago.

A US Marshal, far left, keeps his pistol trained on suspects as other marshals raid a crackhouse. (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite)

 The photo above by Scott Applewhite, also shot in the Bronx, appeared in 1989. It was published to illustrate an eight-week federal anti-drug initiative characterized by armed police raids on inner city crack houses. Suffice it to say police in general have taken a different approach to white opioid drug users (more on that later).

Over the years, photographers have produced many landmark photo stories and bodies of work about drug addiction. The subjects and the settings have been uniformly harsh, the subjects primarily indigent and wayward, and the environs largely decrepit. Those stories include Larry Clark’s “Tulsa,” shot in the mid-1960s and published in 1971; Jessica Dimmock’s “The Ninth Floor,” shot in the Flatiron District of Manhattan and published in 2007; Michel Du Cille’s Pulitzer Prize winning work in 1988 documenting crack addiction in Miami.

Another important photo story in the canon of addiction is Eugene Richards’s “Cocaine True Cocaine Blue.” The project was shot primarily in New York and Philadelphia from 1988 to 1992 and published in 1994. The Instagram post above captures the visual tone and sensibility of that historical investigation. Notice the difference in tone between the historical work and a opioid story in June in The New Yorker shot by Richards in one West Virginia county.

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This tweet depicts four of six Richards images that illustrated the story. In the top left photo, the girl playing in the yard lives with her grandmother. She lost her father to a heroin overdose. The top right photo shows people running a project that helps place addicts in rehab. The middle photo shows a mother, a recovering addict, showing off her newborn. And the last photo is a doctor who offers free public classes in the use of Narcan, the drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

“What are the larger themes of photo coverage of the opioid crisis, centered on rural and suburban white America, and where do they contrast with coverage of drugs in cities?” asks Shaw. “Photos are almost always shot in color rather than the starker black and white. We typically see daytime or well-lit indoor photos, as opposed to night action on seedy streets or dark alleys.” Shaw further emphasizes that there is minimal engagement with courts, jail, or the police. And there is a stress on domesticity. The photos often are shot at a home, the spaces mostly tidy or pulled together. Bedroom portraits are common.

Opioid stories typically discuss family, extended family, and community.

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This image in the tweet above appeared in The New York Times “gentler drug war” story mentioned above. It’s a photo of Courtney Griffin, who died of a heroin overdose in 2014. The picture in the center show Courtney closely flanked by her sister and her mother. Emphasizing love and closeness, as well as nostalgia and irony, the photo exemplifies how the opioid imagery stays away from pain, despair, isolation, and, of course, relationship problems.

Victims are often depicted in a sympathetic light, with an emphasis on family bonds and survivor grief. A sub-theme of opioid crisis coverage: Many stories showcase children who have been saved by loving grandparents.

In the photo accompanying a Times story, notice the child safe in her bedroom, the letters on the wall spelling out her name, reinforcing identity and continuity. This pattern is a dramatic contrast to the narrative of broken homes, addicted babies, mothers depicted as unfit, the engagement of state agencies, and children routinely placed into foster care that is so characteristic of drug stories focused on black families in cities.

 This photo by Jahi Chikwendiu appeared in a Washington Post article highlighting a recovery house in Bowie, Maryland. Opioid stories consistently stress close-knit towns and support communities.This is a reunion picnic with residents, graduates, family members, and supporters. Of course, the bonding and intimacy in these photos obscure the alienation and the emotional isolation that go hand in hand with addiction.
“The issue of responsibility is largely absent until the theme of recovery comes into play,” says Shaw. At that point, users and addicts are often shown exercising remarkable will and winning the battlewith the disease. Photos stress dignity, help-seeking, coping skills, and self-reliance in the face of poverty and other challenges.

Paul Wright shows a picture of himself in the hospital after a near fatal overdose in 2015, Thursday, June 15, 2017, at the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic in Youngstown, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

Consider this AP photo of a young man showing a picture of himself after a near-fatal overdose in 2015. It’s like it can’t be the same person, the Nike “Just Do It” accentuating a sense of agency over addiction.

This photo was featured in a major article on the opioid crisis published this month by The New York Times Magazine. Faith, love, and patriotism are themes that often lace photos of the opioid crisis.

 

In this photo, we see a look of conviction on the man’s face and an American flag in the background. This formerly homeless man started a wildly popular Facebook group after his friend died of heroin and is now a sought after drug counselor. What’s more American than bringing nationalism, patriotism, and a sense of can-do to a problem otherwise riddled with shame?

When you do see photos of actual drug use, the images are typically clinical and objective, as opposed to desperate and dingy. After all the crafted photojournalism like the images you see above, it’s jarring to see these user pictures more in the style of stock photography.

 

This photo by John Moore is part of a story about New London, Connecticut, which is suffering an unprecedented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. You’ll notice that the user wears a crucifix, a symbol of faith and a visual buffer with the drug use. Unlike other drug scourges, where photos of users using were common and showed faces, many opioid portraits hide the users’ faces. We hardly ever see anguish, craving, or the high, the rush, or the stupor. The subjects look as if they are doing a routine task, like brushing their teeth.

Compare this to a frame from a story about New York City in May 2015 on the rise of synthetic marijuana, or K2, in New York City.

 

The above photo by Spencer Platt shows a black male drug user unceremoniously splayed out on an East Harlem sidewalk.

“Of course, there are exceptions,” says Shaw.

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 This tweet captures several photos from a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story that the public found widely disturbing. Administration of heroin in most opioid stories is visualized in a casual way. In the unusual instance that depiction is blatantly graphic or inordinately casual though, a much stronger impact has been elicited. In this case, a couple is photographed shooting up at home, the woman six months pregnant. Beyond the act of administration, however, the rest of the imagery still conforms to many of the domestic norms described above. The February 6, 2017 photo was made in the kitchen, as the couple apparently prepared a meal. The place looks otherwise spotless; both wear clean clothes, and the dishes on the far counter seem to be washed. In the accompanying images by photojournalist David Carson, the drug use fits a larger routine. It might be a horror, but it’s a particularly antiseptic and contained one.

In light of campaign politics and now the debate over healthcare, geography has been almost as prominent a theme in the opioid crisis as demographics. A great deal of the towns are down-and-out, suffering from poverty and a loss of industry. In many cases, however, the photography softens the blow.

“The visual narrative around the opioid crisis has largely sidestepped criminality,” says Shaw. In fact, many opioid stories depict police as social advocates fighting for the community, as exemplified by the July New York Times Magazine cover story. In some cases, they are even a lifeline for users thanks to first responders who carry the drug Naloxone for reversing an overdose.

 

Contrast this August 2015 arrest photo from East Harlem, the charges unspecified, (shot in this case by Spencer Platt for Getty Images), with the NYPD Instagram post below, from May.

As a form of public service announcement, the two officers promote their use of Naloxone spray accompanied by an account of how they “saved a man from a potentially fatal overdose” just the week before. In fact, the visual stories hardly address the dealers and distributors of opioids at all.

“I’m not sure what the race or ethnicity was of the person the NYPD rescued, but a thorough news image search reveals that most articles about Narcan or Naloxone either feature white drugs users or addicts, photos of white people who are being resuscitated (such as in this slideshow), or else they feature trainings or simulations with white volunteers and, almost exclusively, white mannequins,” says Shaw. “There is a clear double standard in the visual framing of the opioid crisis.

Shaw points out that the gentler tone presents a marked departure from historical drug coverage, and the bias in the depiction of the problem as it plagues urban people of color feels “baked in.” Shaw further states that what is even more concerning is the prospect for closing this perceptual gap. Besides racial disparity in journalism, the dog-whistle politics of President Trump is encouraging divisiveness and driving a deeper wedge. Still worse, the GOP leadership is patronizing addicts and states with proportionally larger populations of afflicted rural white populations with the promise of increased prevention and treatment funding as part of its argument for repealing Obamacare.

My opinion? Excellent way to bring truth to the surface. Thank you, Mr. Shaw, for shining light in the darkness.

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.

State v. Froehrich: Unlawful Inventory Search

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In State v. Froehlich, the WA Court of Appeals Division II upheld the suppression of methampetamine found in a vehicle because the defendant’s car was unlawfully searched.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Froehlich was driving her car. She collided with a pickup truck waiting at a stop sign. After the collision, the car came to rest on the right shoulder of the highway. It was not obstructing traffic. A Washington State Patrol Trooper arrived at the scene. By this time, Froehlich was seated in the pickup truck that she had hit.

Ms. Froehlich eventually left the scene in an ambulance after talking with police at the scene. One trooper followed her to the hospital to do sobriety testing, and she was not arrested. However, the trooper at the scene of the accident decided to impound her car. At the scene, he performed an inventory search of the vehicle which also included the search of Froerich’s purse which she left inside the car. He found methamphetamine.

Ms. Froehrich was charged with Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance With Intent to Manufacture or Deliver. Froehlich filed a motion to suppress the methamphetamine, arguing in part that the Trooper had no reason to impound the car and failed to consider reasonable alternatives to impoundment. The trial court granted the motion, suppressed the evidence and ultimately dismissed the charges. The State appealed.

ANALYSIS

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court that the impoundment was not lawful and therefore the search was not lawful because (1) under the community caretaking exception, the State did not prove that the impounding officer considered whether Froehlich, her spouse, or her friends were available to remove the vehicle; and (2) even though there was statutory authority for impoundment, the State failed to prove that the impounding officer considered all reasonable alternatives.

The Court reasoned that both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution prohibit warrantless searches unless an exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. One exception to the warrant requirement is a non-investigatory, good faith inventory search of an impounded vehicle. Law enforcement may lawfully impound a vehicle for three reasons: (1) as evidence of a crime, (2) under the community caretaking function, or (3) when the driver has committed a traffic offense for which the legislature has expressly authorized impoundment. Even if one of these reasons exists, however, an officer may impound a vehicle only if there are no reasonable alternatives.

Here, the Trooper’s impoundment of Froehlich’s car was not lawful under the community caretaking function because there were reasonable alternatives to impoundment. Here, the Trooper never asked Froehlich about arranging to have someone else remove the car as an alternative to impoundment, and the State presented no evidence that the Trooper considered Froehlich’s ability to arrange for the car’s removal.

CONCLUSION

Because Richardson unlawfully impounded the vehicle, his seizure of methamphetamine from Froehlich’s purse was unlawful.

My opinion? Good decision. Very simple, straightforward and correct analysis. As usual, I’m extremely impressed with Division II’s handling of search and seizure issues, especially when it comes to vehicle searches. Here, it’s clear that police officers cannot go about impounding people’s vehicles and searching through belongings when reasonable legal alternatives exist.

The “Drug House” Statute

Image result for meth drug house

In State v. Menard, the WA Court of Appeals Division II reversed the lower court dismissal of charges of  Maintaining a Drug Dwelling under RCW 69.50.402.

BACKGROUND

The defendant Rodney Menard owned and lived at his home in Yakima. Menard lived at the home since he was 5 years old. He rented rooms to five individuals, occasionally received methamphetamine from tenants as rent payment, consumed twenty dollars’ worth of methamphetamine per day, and possessed drug pipes. Menard knew his tenants used methamphetamine, but denied knowledge of the use of his home for methamphetamine sales.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) received complaints of drug traffic from Menard’s home. On July 15, 2015, a DEA confidential informant purchased approximately a gram of methamphetamine at Menard’s home. On July 23, 2015, the DEA Task Force conducted a narcotics search. The front door was unlocked. Rodney Menard and thirteen other individuals were present when law enforcement officers entered the residence. In a basement bedroom, a lady rested on a small couch with a bag of methamphetamine next to her pillow.

Law enforcement officers spoke with Rodney Menard and other residents of the home. When asked if people who visit take drugs, Menard answered: “most people do.” Two renters informed the officers that 10 to 15 different people came daily to the house to use drugs. Menard claimed he unsuccessfully tried to end the heavy traffic at the house. Officers confiscated drug paraphernalia and 25.5 grams of drugs inside the home.

MOTION TO DISMISS

Menard was charged with Maintaining a Drug Dwelling under RCW 69.50.402. He filed a Knapstad motion under arguments that (1) his conduct is unlawful only if the drug activity constituted the residence’s major purpose, and (2) selling drugs was not the primary purpose of the residence. The trial court granted Menard’s motion to dismiss. The State appealed.

LAW & ANALYSIS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that under Washington law, a defendant may present a pretrial motion to dismiss a charge when the State lacks ability to prove all of the elements of the crime. RCW 69.50.402(1), known colloquially as the “Drug House” Statute, declares:

It is unlawful for any person: ( f) Knowingly to keep or maintain any … dwelling, building … or other structure or place, which is resorted to by persons using controlled substances in violation of this chapter for the purpose of using these substances, or which is used for keeping or selling them in violation of this chapter.

Here, Menard argued that he may be found guilty of maintaining a drug dwelling only if he maintains the home for the principal purpose of facilitating the use of controlled substances. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed.

The court reasoned that to convict under the “Drug House” Statute, the evidence must demonstrate more than a single isolated incident of illegal drug activity in order to prove that the defendant “maintains” the premises for keeping or selling a controlled substance.

The Court further reasoned that sporadic or isolated incidents of drug use are not enough to prove criminal conduct. Here, however, there was substantial evidence that people other than Menard used drugs in the house. Apparently, 10 to 15 people each day entered the home to use drugs. When police searched the house, fourteen people, some of whom admitted to use of methamphetamine, occupied the premises. One resident rested methamphetamine near her pillow. Officers found drug devices scattered throughout the home. When asked if people who visit take drugs, Menard answered: “most people do.”

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal of charges.

Trial Apparel

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In State v. Caver, the WA Court of Appeals Division I decided a defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated when the court refused to allow him to wear jail clothing at trial.  It does not prejudice a defendant to wear civilian clothes.

Defendant Terry Caver was arrested and charged for Possession of Methamphetamine. Caver remained in custody when his trial began two months after his arrest. At the start of trial, he asked the trial court for permission to wear his jail clothes in front of the jury. He explained that the clothes “represent that I’m in here, that I’m not on the street. It represents what’s really going on in my life. I don’t want these people thinking that I’m on the streets when I’m not on the streets.”

The trial court denied Caver’s request, stating that “it causes much mischief if the defendant is clothed in regular jail garb.” The court explained to Caver that wearing jail clothes would cause the jury to speculate about why he was in jail and whether he posed a danger to them. The jury found him guilty.

He appealed on numerous grounds to include arguments that the trial court violated his due process rights by not allowing him to wear jail clothes at trial.

The court reasoned that  although a defendant has the right not to appear in jail or prison clothing pursuant to Estelle v. Williams, these rights do not include a broad freedom for the defendant to express himself through his dress.

“Compelling Caver to wear civilian clothes did not erode the “physical indicia of his innocence,” as requiring him to wear jail clothes or shackles would. It did the opposite by making him appear as any member of the public. Similarly, civilian clothes did not single Caver out “as a particularly dangerous or guilty person.” And civilian clothes did not offend the dignity of the judicial process or restrict Caver’s ability to assist counsel and testify.”

Furthermore, although some Defendants sometimes choose to wear jail clothes as a trial tactic, it does not imply that defendants have a right to pursue this trial tactic. Consequently, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court’s decision was not inherently prejudicial and that the trial court did not abuse discretion.

My opinion? Jail clothes make people look guilty. Period. That said, most defendants want to wear civilian clothing at trial. Looking “normal” – or at least not incarcerated – tells the jury the defendant might not be guilty of the charges.

Here, Mr. Caver wanted to wear his jail clothes at trial. Interesting. Was this a trial tactic? Who knows. I cannot speculate anything beyond this plain fact because I am not Mr. Carver’s attorney. However, as the court noted, ” . . . although some Defendants sometimes choose to wear jail clothes as a trial tactic, it does not imply that defendants have a right to pursue this trial tactic.”

Interesting opinion.

Backpack Searches When Jailed

In State v. Dunham, the WA Court of Appeals Division II decided that a warrantless search of a suspect’s locked backpack pocket was a lawful inventory search where the defendant was booked into jail, a search of his person produced knives, the backpack was to be logged into the jail’s temporary storage area and the officer felt knives on the outside of the backpack.

On January 29, 2014, Sergeant Gwen Carrell of the Chehalis Police Department responded to a reported shoplifting at a local department store. Upon arrival, Sgt. Carrell met with loss prevention officers. They told Sgt. Carrell that defendant Jason Dunham had multiple knives in his backpack and that they had removed the backpack from Dunham’s reach. Sgt. Carrell placed Dunham in handcuffs for officer safety and searched him for weapons. She located two more knives on Dunham’s person, arrested Dunham for theft and booked him into jail.

Sgt. Carrell searched Dunham’s backpack for items to be logged into the jail’s temporary storage. This is called an inventory search. In short, it is every police department’s policy to inventory items to be held in its storage facility for any dangerous items. As part of this policy, knives are to be kept in secure containers, preventing them from puncturing anything.

Sgt. Carrell used Dunham’s keys to unlock the backpack pocket. She opened the pocket and observed a flashlight, a butane torch, and a glass pipe. What Sgt. Carrell thought was a knife was actually the butane torch. The residue in the glass pipe tested positive for methamphetamine. The State charged Dunham with Possession of a Controlled Substance and Theft in the Third Degree.

Dunham filed a motion to suppress the evidence found during Sgt. Carrell’s search of the locked portion of his backpack pursuant to CrR 3.6, arguing that the search violated his constitutional rights. The trial court denied the motion and ruled that the inventory search was valid. Later, the trial court found him guilty on both counts at a bench trial.

Dunham appealed. He argued that the warrantless search of his backpack’s locked pocket violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. He claims that the search was not a valid inventory search.

Unfortunately for Dunham the Court of Appeals disagreed. First it reasoned that  inventory searches are an exception to the requirement that police have a warrant to search people’s personal property. Second, the Court described the purpose of an Inventory Search:

“The purpose of an inventory search is not to discover evidence of a crime, but to perform an administrative or caretaking function. The principal purposes of an inventory search are to (1) protect the owner’s property, (2) protect the police against false claims of theft by the owner, and (3) protect the police from potential danger. The scope of an inventory search should be limited to those areas necessary to fulfill its purpose.”

Third, the Court reasoned that Officer Carrel’s safety concern about potentially exposed knives in the locked pocket was reasonable based on the facts that (1) several knives were found on Dunham’s person, (2) additional knives were found in the unlocked portion of Dunham’s backpack, (3) one of the knives found in the backpack was unsheathed, and (4) Sgt. Carrell felt what she believed to be another knife in the locked pocket of the backpack. Therefore, a manifest necessity existed for searching the locked portion of the backpack.

Finally, the Court concluded that the inventory search was valid and affirmed Dunham’s conviction:

“Substantial evidence supports the challenged finding of fact. Given the reasonable indication that the locked portion of the backpack contained dangerous items along with Sgt. Carrell’s reasonable fear of being stabbed, we hold that a manifest necessity existed to search No. 46169-2-II 8 inside the locked portion of the backpack. Therefore the trial court’s findings of fact support its conclusion that the inventory search was valid. We affirm Dunham’s conviction.”

My opinion? Search and seizure issues are a HUGE aspect of unlawful possession cases. The legal issues come down to whether the search was lawful, and if not, whether the evidence can be suppressed. Here, the court’s decision appears sound. Under Washington law, officers may search a suspect’s person if they feel “hard and sharp” objects through the outside of a suspect’s clothing. This is done for officer safety. Similarly, Inventory Searches are conducted under the same policy of preserving officer safety. Here, the hard and sharp objects felt through Dunham’s backpack raised a safety concern. Therefore, the search appears lawful.

For more information on Search and Seizure Issues please review my Legal Guide titled, “Search & Seizure: Basic Issues Regarding Their Search for Weapons, Drugs, Firearms and Other Contraband.” There, I provide links to my analysis of Washington cases discussing searches of persons, vehicles, cars and homes. Also, please go the search engine of my Blog if you have specific queries about these issues.

Finally, I am available for free consultations if you face criminal charges involving search and seizure issues.

Good luck!

Unlawful Arrest for Failure to Pay Court Fines.

In State v. Sleater, the WA Court of Appeals Div. III held an arrest warrant may not issue for a defendant who fails to schedule an appearance in court to explain why she had failed to pay her court fines.

The Defendant Ms. Sleater had prior convictions for various drug offenses. As of April 2014, she was making a combined monthly payment of$75 toward three cases. She was also entered into Benton County’s “pay or appear” program. It required her to make her legal financial obligation (LFO) payments every month or appear to schedule a hearing to explain why she could not make the payments. The program agreement also stated that if the defendant did not make a payment and failed to schedule a hearing, “a warrant will be issued for the Defendant’s arrest.”

For months, Ms. Sleater’s mother paid the monthly fines. Her mother made a $150 on-line payment on April 17, 2014. Unfortunately, the computer did not apportion the sum among the three accounts, but applied all of the money to only one case number identified with the payment. AS a result, The other two counts were four and seven months behind.

On April 22, 2014 the clerk’s office obtained arrest warrants for Ms. Sleater since she had not made payments on those two cases and had not scheduled a hearing to explain the lack of payments.

On May 16, 2014 officers arrested Ms. Sleater on the two warrants. She possessed methamphetamine at the time of her arrest. Consequently, the prosecutor filed one count of possession of a controlled substance. Her attorney moved to suppress the evidence under CrR 3.6 on the claim that the warrants were wrongly issued. However, the trial court denied the motion and found Ms. Sleater guilty at trial.  She appealed.

The WA Court of Appeals held that the arrest warrants were invalidly issued in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Court reasoned that the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable seizures, and that seizure is reasonable if it serves a governmental interest which is adequate to justify imposing on the liberty of the individual.” However, it violates due process to punish defendants for failing to pay fines if the defendant cannot pay simply because they are impoverished.

“Nor can a state impose a fine and convert it to jail time solely because a defendant has no ability to pay the fine. The State must afford the defendant a hearing before jailing him for failing to pay his obligations. While the court can put the burden to prove inability to pay on the defendant, it still has a duty to inquire into a defendant’s ability to pay fines prior to jailing him.”

Here, the Court reasoned that the effect of the arrest warrants was to require Ms. Sleater to go to jail for failing to pay her LFOs without first conducting an inquiry into her ability to pay them:

“The facts of this case demonstrate the need for such an inquiry. Ms. Sleater’s mother did make a payment toward her daughter’s LFOs, but through some type of error the payment was not reflected in all three files. A hearing before the warrants issued would have allowed the court to resolve the problem without the necessity of an arrest.”

Here, reasoned the Court, a warrant should not have issued for defendant’s failure to pay without first determining the willfulness of that violation. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed Ms Sleater’s conviction for possessing methamphetamine.

Good decision.

Cruel & Unusual Punishment?

In State v. Schmeling, the WA Court of Appeals Division II decided that Felony Possession of a Controlled Substance is constitutional as applied under the Eighth Amendment and under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause even though the statute makes possession of very small amounts of a controlled substance a felony without knowledge of possession or intent to possess.

Here, as part of a theft investigation, law enforcement officers searched Richard Schmeling’s car and uncovered two small baggies that contained white residue. The residue was tested and turned out to be methamphetamine. The State charged Schmeling with Felony Possession of a Controlled Substance under RCW 69.50.4013. Schmeling’s first trial ended in a mistrial because of a hung jury. On retrial, the jury convicted Schmeling. He appealed his conviction on the argument that RCW 69.50.4013 violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process because it makes possession of drug residue a felony without requiring any culpable mental state.

The Court of appeals reasoned that Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The basic concept of the Eighth Amendment is that punishment for a crime must be proportionate to the offense. There are two types of Eighth Amendment analysis: (1) determining whether a sentence is disproportionate to the particular crime, and (2) using categorical rules to define constitutional standards for certain classes of crimes or offenders.

  1. WAS SCHMELING’S SENTENCE PROPORTIONATE TO HIS CRIME?

The Court gave historical background showing that many Eighth Amendment cases address whether a particular punishment is disproportionate to the crime. The Eighth Amendment does not require strict proportionality between crime and sentence and forbids only extreme sentences that are ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the crime. Most courts have shown a reluctance to review legislatively mandated sentences. As a result, successful challenges to the proportionality of sentences are exceedingly rare.

Here, Schmeling argues that classifying possession of small amounts of a controlled substance as a felony without a knowledge or intent constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the WA Supreme Court rejected a similar argument in State v. Smith. In that case, Smith was convicted of possession of more than 40 grams of marijuana, which was punished as a felony. He argued that the seriousness of the offense did not warrant classifying his crime as a felony. The court rejected Smith’s argument, noting that it was unaware of any authority supporting the proposition that classification alone could constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The court also held that Smith’s actual sentence was not grossly disproportionate to his offense. Consequently, under the traditional proportionality analysis, Smith controls. Therefore, classification of a crime as a felony despite the absence of a knowledge or intent requirement does not result in grossly disproportionate punishment.

2. WAS SCHMELING’S SENTENCE UNCONSTITUTIONAL GIVEN THE NATURE OF THE OFFENSE OR THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OFFENDER?

This analysis involves two steps. First, the reviewing court considers “objective indicia of society’s standards (categorical approach), as expressed in legislative enactments and state practice” to determine whether there is a national consensus against the sentencing practice at issue. Second, the reviewing court considers precedent and its own understanding and interpretation of the Eighth Amendment to determine in the exercise of its own independent judgment whether the punishment is unconstitutional.

The Court acknowledged that Schmeling wanted them to apply a categorical approach. However, the Court of Appeals declined to apply the categorical approach to punishment of adult drug offenders like Schmeling. It held that under State v. Smith, RCW 69.50.4013 does not violate the Eighth Amendment even though it punishes the possession of small amounts of controlled substances as a felony without imposing a knowledge or intent element.

3. DID SCHMELING’S SENTENCE VIOLATE DUE PROCESS?

In short, the Court held that RCW 69.50.4013 does NOT violate due process even though it makes possession of drug residue a crime without requiring any culpable mental state.

The court reasoned that Strict Liability Crimes – crimes with no knowledge or intent  requirement – do not necessarily violate due process. “We do not go with Blackstone in saying that ‘a vicious will’ is necessary to constitute a crime, for conduct alone without regard to the intent of the doer is often sufficient. There is wide latitude in the lawmakers to declare an offense and to exclude elements of knowledge and diligence from its definition.”

The Court of Appeals further reasoned that WA’s Supreme Court repeatedly has stated that the legislature has the authority to create strict liability crimes that do not include a culpable mental state. Also, our Supreme Court twice has directly addressed in two other cases whether the elements of possession of a controlled substance under prior versions of RCW 69.50.4013 contains a knowledge or intent element. Those cases were State v. Bradshaw and State v. Cleppe. In both cases, the court held that the legislature deliberately omitted knowledge and intent as elements of the crime and that it would not imply the existence of those elements.

Here, Schmeling cites two cases from other jurisdictions holding that a strict liability offense violated due process. However, given our Supreme Court’s repeated approval of the legislature’s authority to adopt strict liability crimes, the Court found Schmelling’s arguments unpersuasive.

In sum, the Court of Appeals held that RCW 69.50.4013 does NOT violate due process even though it does not require the State to prove intent or knowledge to convict an offender of possession of a small amount of a controlled substance. It affirmed Schmeling’s conviction and sentence.

State v. Cherry: Consent & Self-Incrimination

In State v. Cherry, the WA Court of Appeals Division II decided that a police officer’s questions to the passengers of a vehicle – which were intended to determine whether one of the passengers could safely remove the defendant’s car from the scene – were routine booking questions and did not violate the defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights.

Defendant Mathew Cherry was arrested for driving with a suspended license. He was driving two passengers. When the police officer asked Cherry to confirm who was in the car, Cherry identified his two passengers. When asked whether either passenger could take the car, Cherry responded that neither had a license and that he did not know anyone who did. The officer told Cherry that his car would be impounded.

Cherry consented to a search of his car. A pipe containing methamphetamine residue was found. When Cherry was booked into jail, he resisted a strip search and apparently swallowed the contents of a small pouch after it was seen between his legs.

The State charged Cherry with Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance and Tampering With Evidence. Cherry filed a CrR 3.6 motion to suppress the evidence found in his car, arguing that the officers threatened to have his car impounded if he did not consent to its search and that his consent was coerced. The trial court also conducted a CrR 3.5 hearing in which Cherry challenged the admission of his statements to police. At trial, a jury found Cherry guilty as charged. He appealed.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals upheld Cherry’s convictions. Here, the officer’s questions to Cherry’s passengers were not intended to and did not elicit incriminating information. Rather, the questions were intended to determine whether Cherry’s car could be safely removed from the scene.

Additionally, the court disagreed with Cherry’s arguments that officers were not permitted to ask for consent to search his car after he invoked his right to remain silent. Here, the officer informed Cherry of his Miranda rights before requesting Cherry’s consent to search the car. The court reasoned that the request for consent to search was not designed to elicit testimonial evidence and Cherry’s consent was not an incriminating statement. Therefore, law enforcement did not violate Cherry’s constitutional right to remain silent by requesting consent to search his car after Cherry had invoked that right.

Moreover, Cherry’s statements to police that he had consumed drugs earlier that day were admissible, and not made in response to any questioning likely to elicit an incriminating response. The court reasoned that even if Cherry’s statements were prompted by watching the police search his car, as Cherry now argues, they were not prompted by unlawful interrogation. There was no violation of Cherry’s right to remain silent. Therefore, his statements were properly admitted.

Finally, the court disagreed with Cherry’s arguments that his consent to search was not voluntary, and therefore, it violated the Fourth Amendment and the evidence found during the search is inadmissible. Here, under these facts, Cherry clearly consented.

For all of these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirm Cherry’s convictions.

State v. Linder: Unwitnessed Search is Unlawful

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In State v. Linder, the WA Court of Appeals Division III decided that evidence obtained pursuant to a search warrant was properly suppressed because the officer’s inventory of the search was not conducted with at least one witness.

Here, Defendant Aaron Linder was arrested by Kalama Police Chief Grant Gibson in March 2013 for driving with a suspended license. During the search incident to arrest, Chief Gibson found a small tin box inside the pocket of Mr. Linder’s hoodie. After being informed of his Miranda rights, Mr. Linder admitted being a daily user of hard drugs and that the tin box contained drug paraphernalia. But he refused to give his consent for Chief Gibson to open the box initially, and refused a second time at the police station.

The police obtained a search warrant. Sergeant Parker, without anyone else present, executed the warrant by opening the metal box and photographing and inventorying its contents. It was typical for the department’s night shift officer to work alone. The Kalama police department has a total of only five sworn officers.

Sergeant Parker inventoried the tin box as containing two pieces of aluminum foil, an empty plastic box, two plastic tubes, a hair pin, a safety pin, and a piece of plastic from a cigarette package. The cigarette wrapper contained a crystalline substance that appeared to be methamphetamine. After he finished the inventory and completed the return of service form, Sergeant Parker placed the items, a copy of his report, and a note for Chief Gibson in a temporary evidence locker.

The next morning, Chief Gibson, also acting alone, verified that the contents in the box matched Sergeant Parker’s inventory and field tested a small quantity of the cellophane wrapper and its contents, which tested positive for methamphetamine. He packaged the remainder of the crystalline substance for submission to the crime laboratory. Mr. Linder was thereafter charged with one count of Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, Chapter 69.50 RCW, for possession of methamphetamine.

Before trial, Mr. Linder moved to suppress the evidence found in the tin box on the grounds that it was searched in violation of CrR 2.3( d). The rule provides that a return of the search warrant shall be made promptly, shall be accompanied by a written inventory of any property taken, and-relevant here-that “the inventory shall be made in the presence of the person from whose possession or premises the property is taken, or in the presence of at least one person other than the officer.” In the suppression hearing that followed, both Sergeant Parker and Chief Gibson testified that they were unaware of the rule’s requirement that the inventory be made in the presence of another person.

The trial court granted Mr. Linder’s motion to suppress. The State appealed.

In reaching its decision, the WA Court of Appeals looked to the Exclusionary Rule In considering whether the contraband should be suppressed.

For those who don’t know, the Exclusionary Rule is a legal principle in the United States, under constitutional law, which holds that evidence collected or analyzed in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights is sometimes inadmissible for a criminal prosecution in a court of law. The exclusionary rule may also, in some circumstances at least, be considered to follow directly from the constitutional language, such as the Fifth Amendment‘s command that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” and that no person “shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law”.

The Exclusionary Rule is grounded in the Fourth Amendment and it is intended to protect citizens from illegal searches and seizures. The exclusionary rule is also designed to provide a legal remedy and disincentive, which is short of criminal prosecution in response to prosecutors and police who illegally gather evidence in violation of the Fifth Amendment in the Bill of Rights compelled to self-incrimination. The exclusionary rule also applies to violations of the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the right to counsel.

The WA Court of Appeals reasoned that Washington’s version of the Exclusionary Rule had three objectives:

First, and most important, to protect privacy interests of individuals against unreasonable governmental intrusions; second, to deter the police from acting unlawfully in obtaining evidence; and third, to preserve the dignity of the judiciary by refusing to consider evidence which has been obtained through illegal means.

Here, reasoned the Court, excluding the evidence served the third objective of preserving the dignity of the judiciary by refusing to consider evidence obtained through illegal means.  Here, a police officer’s unwitnessed late night execution of a search warrant in this case clearly violated CrR 2.3(d), called the reliability of his inventory into question, and could not be remedied other than by suppression.

My opinion? Great decision. Kudos to Division III for following the law.