Category Archives: Washington Court of Appeals

Shackled in Court

Image result for 5-point restraint shackles

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

BACKGROUND FACTS

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

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

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

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

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals agreed with Mr. Lundstrom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was The House a Dwelling?

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In State v. Hall, the WA Court of Appeals upheld a defendant’s criminal conviction for Residential Burglary despite his arguments that the house was not a dwelling.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In October 2014, Mr. Fredson moved his elderly mother Myrtle from her home to live near him because she had been having health problems. Myrtle had lived in the house since 1986, but by 2014 had difficulty managing her affairs.

Myrtle left furniture throughout the house, beds in each bedroom, appliances, clothes, and personal belongings in the home she moved away from. However, nobody lived in the house. After Myrtle went to live with her son Mr. Fredson, she visited the prior house once or twice a week.

Over time, unknown people broke windows and broke down doors in order to get inside
the house. Lloyd eventually boarded up the windows and secured the broken front door to keep people out. He also posted no trespassing and warning signs throughout the property.

On February 2, 2016, Mr. Fredson and Myrtle went to her home to check on it. Mr. Fredson suspected that someone was inside the house and called the sheriff. Officers responded and arrested the Defendant Mr. Hall as he came out of the house. Hall was carrying a backpack that contained items that Mr. Fredson and Myrtle identified as possessions that she had left in the house.

The State charged Mr. Hall with Residential Burglary, Third Degree Theft, and Making or Having Burglary Tools. A jury found him guilty of all three counts.

Mr. Hall appealed his residential burglary conviction. He argues that the evidence was insufficient to prove that the unoccupied house that he burglarized was a “dwelling,” as required to convict for Residential Burglary.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that a person commits Residential Burglary “if, with intent to commit a crime against a person or property therein, the person enters or remains unlawfully in a dwelling.” A “dwelling” is legally defined as “any building or structure which is used or ordinarily used by a person for lodging.” Whether a building is a dwelling turns on all relevant factors and is generally a matter for the jury to decide.

Here, however, the Court ruled that the fact that nobody had leaved in a house for 15 months prior to the burglary, that the windows had been boarded up and the broken front door had been secured, and there was no evidence of a plan for someone to resume living in the residence at the time of the burglary, did not prevent the house from being a “dwelling.”

Other factors supported a finding that the house constituted a dwelling included that the house had been used for lodging for almost 30 years, the house had never been used for anything other than lodging, the house was fully furnished with furniture in every room and appliances, and the owner of the house left clothing and personal belongings in the house. Finally, the owner, who was forced to leave because of age-related health problems, continued to regard the house as her abode.

Consequently, the Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Hall’s conviction.

My opinion? These type of cases are tough to defend. People have difficulty justifying the intrusion of any home, regardless of whether anyone lived in the home or not. Years ago, I conducted a jury trial on a Burglary case involving similar facts. My Client was a scrapper who wandered upon a long-abandoned house. The house was extremely decrepit, its front door was removed and no furniture was in the house. Although the jury ultimately acquitted Client of Burglary, they nevertheless found him guilty of the lesser crime of Criminal Trespass First Degree, a gross misdemeanor. This was a victory under the circumstances. Did I mention these types of cases are tough to defend?

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. It’s important to hire an assertive, experienced and effective attorney who knows the law.

Courtroom Disruptions

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In State v. Davis, the WA Court of Appeals held that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to question witnesses at trial was violated when the defendant was removed for being disruptive.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On January 23, 2014, a King County Sheriff’s deputy arrested Davis for possession of a stolen Hyundai vehicle.

Two and a half weeks later, on February 11,2014, a Federal Way Police Department officer observed a Buick parked near a park-and-ride and saw Davis standing outside the car, making furtive movements. As Davis got into the car to drive away, the officer recorded the license plate. The owner had reported the vehicle as stolen. the officer then initiated a traffic stop and arrested Davis for possession of a stolen vehicle — the Buick. A search of Davis recovered crack cocaine in his shirt pocket.

On May 19, 2014, the State charged Davis with two counts of possession of a stolen vehicle, and one count of possession of a controlled substance.

Davis motioned for standby counsel – an attorney who is appointed to assist a client who has invoked his/her right to self-representation – at numerous times throughout his pretrial proceedings. His requests were denied each time.  The court stated Davis must choose between having counsel and representing himself. Davis chose to proceed without a lawyer. The case proceeded to trial.

During trial, the The State Prosecutor attempted to continue its examination of a police officer, but Davis repeatedly interrupted to make comments about the water. The trial court temporarily retired the jury. A heated discussion took place to include the following:

THE COURT: Screaming at the top of his lungs, the jury–
THE DEFENDANT: And I’m going to continue to scream. Where’s my fucking water?
(Defendant screaming simultaneously with court)
THE COURT: I need to proceed with the trial, and I am finding that he is voluntarily absenting himself from the rest of these proceedings under State v. Garza, G-A-R-Z-A, and the record should reflect that he continues to speak on top of his lungs, swearing, accusing me of all kinds of things.
THE DEFENDANT: You’re being an asshole, and I can be one, too.
THE COURT: You’re now removed from the court.
THE DEFENDANT: Good. And fuck you very much, asshole. Fuck this kangaroo court shit.

At this point, it was after three o’clock in the afternoon. In Davis’s absence, the State continued questioning a police officer who testified as to finding crack cocaine in Davis’s pocket. The State then examined the police officer who had identified the stolen Buick, initiated the traffic stop, and arrested Davis.

The court did not give Davis an opportunity to cross-examine either officer.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals ruled that although (1) Davis did not have a right to standby counsel, and (2) the court properly removed him,  it nevertheless violated his Sixth Amendment right to representation by allowing the State to examine two of its witnesses in his absence and not affording him an opportunity to cross examine the witnesses.

The court reasoned that Davis went unrepresented during the testimony of police officers and was not given the opportunity to cross-examine them.

“He did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to representation and agree to have an empty defense table while the State questioned two critical witnesses.”

“This remains the case despite his decision to represent himself,” reasoned the Court of Appeals. “As reflected above, cases from other jurisdictions support this conclusion. We are unaware of authority supporting a contrary result.” Accordingly, the Court of Appeals concluded that leaving Davis without representation at trial violated his Sixth Amendment right to representation and remanded for a new trial.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Representing yourself is rarely a good idea.

Autopsy Photos Admitted

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In State v. Whitaker, the WA Court of Appeals held that a trial court properly admitted 15 of 100 autopsy photographs over the objection of the defendant who was charged with aggravated murder. The probative value of the photographs in helping to illustrate the medical examiner’s testimony outweighed their prejudicial effect.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Mr. Whitaker was charged with helping his friend Mr. Anderson and several others kidnap and Ms. Burkheimer, who was Anderson’s ex-girlfriend. Whitaker helped to bind, hide, and transport Burkheimer. He helped to dig her grave, rob her, bury her, and destroy evidence
of her murder.

At trial, the court admitted 15 autopsy photographs during the testimony of the medical examiner. The medical examiner testified that around 100 photographs were taken during Burkheimer’s autopsy and that the 15 selected for trial showed the injuries to Burkheimer’s body, what the medical examiner looked at when he decided where the bullet exit and entry wounds were, and how Burkheimer’s injuries related to one another.

The jury found Whitaker guilty of premeditated first degree murder, with an aggravating factor of kidnapping and a firearm enhancement, and conspiracy to commit first degree murder. During the trial, Whitaker moved for a mistrial several times, alleging numerous errors were made during trial; one of the errors being whether the trial court improperly admitted the photographs of the victim’s autopsy.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals upheld Whitaker’s conviction and reasoned that accurate photographic representations are admissible, even if gruesome, if their probative value outweighs their prejudicial effect.

“A bloody, brutal crime cannot be explained to a jury in a lily-white manner.”

“The admission of autopsy photographs is in the sound discretion of the trial court,” said the Court of Appeals. “Photographs have probative value where they are used to illustrate or explain the testimony of the pathologist performing the autopsy. Unless it is clear from the record that the primary reason to admit gruesome photographs is to inflame the jury’s passion, appellate courts will uphold the decision of the trial court.” Furthermore, reasoned the Court, the law requires an exercise of restraint, not a preclusion simply because other less inflammatory testimonial evidence is available.

The medical examiner’s testimony explaining the photographs and his conclusions about Burkheimer’s injuries was straightforward and not inflammatory.

“There is no doubt that these photographs are disturbing,” said the court. “But this was a brutal crime, and the record does not show that the primary reason for admitting the photographs was to inflame the jury.” Rather, reasoned the Court, the photographs were admitted to support the testimony of the medical examiner. “The State did not offer all 100 of the photographs but instead selected 15 that best illustrated Burkheimer’s injuries,” said the Court. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting them.

With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Whitaker’s conviction and sentence.

My opinion? The admissibility of evidence is one of the most important battles in trial practice. Courts conduct balancing tests on this issue under Evidence Rules 401, 402 and 403. Under these evidence rules, judges can admit evidence which is relevant and probative as long as the evidence is also not prejudicial to the defendant’s case.  Prejudicial evidence includes evidence which may inflame the passions of the jury. Understandably, however, the prejudicial effect can be outweighed by the probative value. In this case, the probative value of the medical examiner’s testimony outweighed the prejudicial effect these photos may have had on the jury.

Contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime involving photographic evidence which could be prejudicial to the case.

Online Research By Juror

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In State v. Arndt, the WA Court of Appeals upheld a defendant’s numerous high-level criminal convictions even though one of the jurors performed online research against the court’s instructions.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On February 23, 2014, Ms. Arndt and her boyfriend, Mr. Veeder Jr., spent the night at their
friends’ home. Late that night, the house caught fire. Everyone in the home escaped except Mr. Veeder, who died.

After an investigation, the State charged Arndt with murder in the first degree with an
aggravating circumstance of arson in the first degree, felony murder in the first degree with
aggravating circumstances, arson in the first degree, and six counts of assault in the second degree.

The jury found Arndt guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced Arndt to life in prison without the possibility of release or parole.

Months after the verdict, Juror 2 approached a woman whom she did not know was the
sister of Arndt’s trial attorney. Juror 2 said that in Arndt’s trial, she struggled with the term
“premeditation.” She further related that to better understand the term, she looked it up on the internet. The attorney’s sister told her brother what she had learned.

Defense investigator James Harris then met with Juror 2, explained that he worked for Arndt’s trial attorney, and asked to speak with her about her experience as a juror. Juror 2 spoke with Harris and told him that during deliberations she did internet research on the word “premeditation.” Juror 2 provided Harris with additional information, including sites she may have viewed. The State’s investigator also interviewed Juror 2.

Arndt moved for a new trial on grounds of juror misconduct. At a hearing on the motion,
the court heard testimony from Juror 2 and Harris. Juror 2 testified that she had researched the term “premeditation” and had found different sites, but did not remember whether she had viewed any of the specific sites she had showed Harris when he earlier interviewed her. She said that she looked at a couple different definitions, but it was the word “short” that made her understand. Juror 2 also testified that she had not shared her
research with other jurors.

Ultimately, the trial court held Arndt should not get a new trial:

“In substance, the Court finds that the definitions viewed by Juror #2 were indistinguishable to the jury instruction and were consistent with the law. Because the known research results, as presented to the Court, were consistent with the jury instruction on premeditation and the law, the Court is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Juror #2’s research could not have affected the verdict. Therefore, the motion for a new trial is denied.”

Arndt appealed to the WA Court of Appeals.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals reasoned that Juror 2 committed misconduct. Also, the consideration of novel or extrinsic evidence by a jury is misconduct and can be grounds for a new trial. Furthermore, juror use of extraneous evidence is misconduct and entitles a defendant to a new trial, if the defendant has been prejudiced.

“Once juror misconduct is established, prejudice is presumed,” said the Court of Appeals. “The court must grant a new trial unless it is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the extrinsic evidence did not contribute to the verdict.”

The Court of Appeals also reviewed the trial court’s instructions to the jury on the definition of “Premeditation.” It stated the following:

“Premeditated means thought over beforehand. When a person, after any deliberation, forms an intent to take human life, the killing may follow immediately after the formation of the settled purpose and it will still be premeditated. Premeditation must involve more than a moment in point of time. The law requires some time, however long or short, in which a design to kill is deliberately formed.”

Finally, the Court of Appeals reasoned that although the exact websites Juror 2 visited and the precise definitions she viewed are unknown, the part of those definitions that had an impression on her and affected her verdict were the word “short” and phrase “however short.”

“As the trial court ruled, these definitions were indistinguishable to the jury instruction and were consistent with the law,” said the Court of Appeals. “This ruling is sufficient to satisfy beyond a reasonable doubt that the extrinsic evidence did not contribute to the verdict and to overcome the presumption of prejudice. The court did not abuse its discretion.”

With that the Court of Appeals concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that Juror 2’s research did not contribute to the verdict. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed Arndt’s conviction.

My opinion? The Court’s decision is frustrating. It placed too much weight on whether the juror’s misconduct prejudiced the defendant. Instead, the Court should have focused on the fact that juror misconduct happened in the first place.

If you stole a candy bar from a grocery store, would your shoplifting affect the store’s bottom line? Probably not. However, the simple fact that you stole a candy bar is, in fact, a crime which demands an effective and just remedy. Otherwise, a crime which goes unpunished is essentially not a crime, correct?

Here, Juror 2 blatantly disregarded the court’s instructions to not perform online research. Did Juror 2’s research affect her decision on the verdict? Did Juror 2 discuss her research with other jurors behind closed doors when they deliberated the case? Therein lies the threat to justice; not only to this defendant, but criminal defendants everywhere. Online research should not be tolerated, even if it can be willed away away as having no impact on the outcome. Bad decision.

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

FBI Historical Cell Site Analysis

Image result for Cellular Analysis Survey Team (CAST)

In State v. Ramirez, the WA Court of Appeals held that cell site location testimony is widely accepted throughout the country, and it is not error under ER 702, to allow an FBI agent with sufficient training and experience to testify regarding historical cell site analysis.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Ramirez was charged with two counts of premeditated first degree murder and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm. All crimes occurred at Spokane County’s Broadway Square Apartments.

In addition to other pretrial motions, the defense also filed a motion to exclude a report and testimony from FBI Special Agent Jennifer Banks. The State named Special Agent Banks as an expert witness on historical cell site analysis. According to Banks’s report, records obtained from Mr. Ramirez’s cell phone provider placed him near the Broadway Square Apartments 10 minutes before the first 911 call was placed. The defense argued that Banks’s testimony should be struck based on late disclosure and because it failed to meet both the Frye standard for admissibility and the criteria for expert testimony under ER 702.

The parties argued the pending pretrial motions on the morning set for trial. Prior to jury selection, the trial court also held a Frye hearing to determine the admissibility of Special Agent Banks’s testimony. She testified that due to being a member of the FBI’s Cellular Analysis Survey Team (CAST), she received training in deciphering cell phone records.

Agent Banks also described two components to her work. First, she interprets historic call detail records from cellular telephone providers in order to discern the location of cell towers activated by a particular voice call or text message. Second, she performs field tests of geographic areas to determine the strength of various cell towers. These tests involve driving through a location with a scanning device which uploads cellular frequencies in a given area to a computer program and plots signal strengths on an area map. Agent Banks testified that CAST agents had testified in approximately 400 courts throughout the country and that the CAST methodology is more widely accepted in the law enforcement community than any other cellular location method.

Defense counsel argued that Agent Banks’s testimony should be struck because her expert report was untimely and because the FBI’s mapping software had not been validated. The State made clear that it would not object to a continuance if Mr. Ramirez wanted more time to evaluate Agent Banks’s report. However, Mr. Ramirez insisted on moving forward with trial as scheduled. The trial court ultimately permitted the State to go forward with Agent Banks’s testimony, finding that the substance of the testimony was not novel.

TRIAL

During her testimony, Agent Banks explained how her CAST analysis applied to Mr. Ramirez’s case. Agent Banks said Mr. Ramirez’s call detail records included not only a code for each cell site antenna activated by Mr. Ramirez’s phone calls and texts, but also the 120-degree angle that the antenna had been pointed at the time of connection. By plotting the call detail data onto a map, Agent Banks determined Mr. Ramirez’s cell phone was in the area of the Broadway Square Apartments at 9:24 p.m. on November 1, 2014. This was approximately 10 minutes before the first 911 calls.

In addition to interpreting the call detail records, Agent Banks explained the field test she performed in connection to Mr. Ramirez’s case. To perform the test, Special Agent Banks drove through Spokane Valley, collecting cell tower frequencies with an FBI scanner. The FBI’s scanning software was then able to generate a map, showing the coverage strength area for each of the cell towers activated by Mr. Ramirez’s cell phone. The maps developed from the drive-through process largely corroborated the information indicated from the maps developed solely from the call detail records.

The jury found Mr. Ramirez guilty as charged. He appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Among other issues, Mr. Ramirez argued the trial court erred when it found Agent Banks’s cell site analysis admissible under Frye and ER 702. Mr. Ramirez complained that the software program used by the FBI is proprietary, and thus has not been subject to independent peer review. He also claimed Agent Banks’s testimony was unhelpful to the jury because the FBI cell site location methodology failed to account for imperfections in the cell transmission process, such as weather, obstructions, and network traffic.

The Court of Appeals discussed the Frye standard for determining the admissibility of novel scientific evidence. The standard has two parts. It asks (1) whether the underlying theory is generally accepted in the scientific community, and (2) whether there are techniques utilizing the theory that are capable of producing reliable results. Evidence not involving “new methods of proof or new scientific principles” is not subject to examination under Frye. The Court also reasoned that with respect to the Frye standard, cell site location testimony is not novel; and is widely accepted throughout the country:

“Historical cell-site analysis can show with sufficient reliability that a phone was in a general area, especially in a well-populated one. It also shows the cell sites with which the person’s cell phone connected, and the science is well understood.”

Furthermore, the Court reasoned that Agent Banks bolstered the reliability of her historical analysis by performing a drive-through analysis of the signal strength of the cell towers activated by Mr. Ramirez’s cell phone and evaluating the particular characteristics of the cell tower with which Mr. Ramirez’s phone connected, including its power and the direction its antennae were facing.

“The theories behind the drive-through test/cell tower strength testimony were sound,” reasoned the Court. It is not novel or uncommon to measure the strength of cell tower or radio frequencies. In addition, computer programs routinely generate maps that correspond to real-world data. “Concerns about the FBI’s software program did not present a reason for excluding Agent Banks’s testimony under Frye, said the Court.

Finally, the Court of Appeals decided the trial court also did not abuse its discretion in admitting Agent Banks’s testimony under ER 702. “It is undisputed that Agent Banks qualifies as an expert in historical cell site analysis,” said the Court. “Her testimony was also helpful to the jury.” The Court explained that Agent Banks did not overestimate the quality of her cell site analysis. Throughout her testimony, she made the jury aware of the imprecision of cell site location information. She cross tested the information obtained from the cell location records with information from her drive-through signal strength test. “Mr. Ramirez cannot identify any realistic risk that the jury would have been confused by the nature of this testimony. The evidence was therefore properly admitted.”

With that the Court of Appeals affirmed Mr. Ramirez’s judgment and sentence.

My opinion? Interesting decision. The admissibility of this evidence involves challenges which, in turn, involve very complex questions of physics, signal timing, reliability, etc. First, does the network reliably collect and report the underlying data, in particular the signal timing and power measurements? Second, is the enhanced historical cell sector analysis a reliable method to determine accurate location information for a target cell phone at a point in the past? A closely related third question is what scope of expertise required to establish the reliability of the data collected and the methods used to interpret that data.

Contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime involving historical cell site analysis from a law enforcement officer.

Backpage.com & Privacy

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In In re Personal Restraint of Hopper, the WA Court of Appeals held that a defendant’s calls and text messages to the phone number listed in a Backpage.com advertisement were not private communications protected by the Washington Privacy Act.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In December 2012, Mr. Hopper searched Backpage.com with the intent of purchasing sex. Backpage operated an online classified advertising service, Its users created and posted their own ads, including ads in the adult category. This category included ads for prostitution activity, often under the guise of an adult escort or entertainment service. The ads often featured pictures of women identified by false names and ages, along with hourly rates.

Hopper saw an advertisement for a woman named “Whisper,” who he later learned was K.H. The ad stated that she was 19 years old. She was actually 16 years old. It listed a phone number that Hopper both called and contacted by text. When he contacted the number by text, he initially believed that he was communicating with K.H. But K.H.’s pimp, identified as Mr. Park, had listed his own number on the ad and was reading and responding to Hopper’s text messages.

In December 2012, police arrested Park and, with a warrant, searched his cell phone. K.H. told police that Hopper had paid to have sex with her and identified him from a photograph montage. The police located Hopper’s home address from the text messages stored on Park’s phone. The State charged Hopper with commercial sexual abuse of a minor. In March 2014, a jury convicted Hopper as charged.

Hopper appealed his conviction on arguments that his trial counsel gave ineffective
assistance by failing to move to suppress his text messages to K.H., which police found stored on Park’s cellular phone.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals reasoned that a privacy act violation occurs when “(1) a private communication transmitted by a device. . . was (2) intercepted or recorded by use of (3) a device designed to record and/or transmit (4) without the consent of all parties to the private communication.” Hopper claims that his text messages to K.H. were “private communications” under the act because he intended them for her alone and they concerned illegal activity. Whether communications are private is a question of fact but may be decided as a question of law where, as here, the parties do not dispute the facts.

The Court of Appeals noted the Act does not define “private.” Instead, Washington courts have adopted the dictionary definition. Nevertheless, Washington courts will generally presume that each of the two parties participating in the conversation intends it to be private.

“Hopper’s subjective expectation of privacy was objectively unreasonable,” said the Court of Appeals. The Court explained that Hopper responded to an ad on Backpage.com, a website notorious for advertising prostitution activity. The ad was titled “any way you want it 19” and featured an unidentifiable woman with a fictitious name. A reasonable person would not expect that contacting a stranger by text through the phone number listed in this advertisement would provide a legitimate opportunity for a private conversation with a known person. Even Hopper admitted that “the picture wasn’t a good enough picture to clearly identify a specific person.”

“And regardless of whether Hopper was initially aware of K.H.’s pimp, it is common knowledge that prostitutes often have pimps. Thus, even though Hopper subjectively intended for his text messages to K.H. to be private, his communications were not private
because this expectation was unreasonable. Park did not violate the act when he recorded and stored Hopper’s messages to K.H. on his cell phone.”

The Court of Appeals concluded that because Hopper does not establish that these text messages were “private communications” under the act, he does not show that his counsel’s performance fell below an objectively reasonable standard of care. His claim failed. The Court of Appeals upheld Hopper’s conviction and found his attorney was not ineffective.

Contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving searches of cell phones. Depending on the circumstances, the evidence might be suppressible. And for more information on search warrants, please read my Legal Guide on Search & Seizure.

“Can I Have My Case File?”

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In State v. Padgett, the WA Court of Appeals held that a defendant’s motion to compel production of his client file and discovery materials is governed by CrR 4.7(h)(3) and RPC 1.6(d).  Although disclosure shall be granted when a criminal defendant requests copies of his or her file, without any showing of need, disclosure is also subject to redactions.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In 2014, Mr. Padgett was convicted of several felonies. In November 2016, during
the pendency of his appeal, he filed a motion to compel production of his client file. The trial court held a hearing on Mr. Padgett’s motion. However, the prosecutor opposed the motion citing procedural issues and an interest in limiting Mr. Padgett’s access to sensitive
information in the discovery file. Ultimately, the trial court sided with the prosecutor and denied Mr. Padgett’s motion. He appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that under CrR 4.7(h)(3), defense counsel is authorized to provide discovery materials to a defendant “after making appropriate redactions which are approved by the prosecuting authority or order of the court.” Furthermore, under RPC 1.16(d) the professional conduct rules also require defense counsel to “surrender papers and property to which the client is entitled” upon termination of representation unless retention is “permitted by other law.”

The Court of Appeals also reasoned that Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) has issued an ethics advisory opinion interpreting RPC 1.16(d) to mean that “unless there is an express agreement to the contrary, the file generated in the course of representation, with limited exceptions, must be turned over to the client at the client’s request” at the conclusion of representation.

“Under the combined force of CrR 4.7(h)(3) and RPC 1.16(d), some sort of disclosure must be made when a criminal defendant requests copies of his or her client file and relevant discovery at the conclusion of representation. Similar to a public records request, no showing of need is required for disclosure.”

Despite its reasoning, the Court also gave limits and parameters. It said that while CrR 4.7(h)(3) and RPC 1.16(d) require disclosure, they do not entitle a defendant to unlimited access to an attorney’s file or discovery. Counsel may withhold materials if doing so would not prejudice the client.

That said, examples of papers – the withholding of which would not prejudice the client – would be drafts of papers, duplicate copies, photocopies of research material, and lawyers’ personal notes containing subjective impressions such as comments about identifiable persons. In addition, materials may be redacted as approved by the prosecuting attorney or court order, in order to protect against dissemination of sensitive or confidential information. Finally, a protective order may also be entered, if appropriate.

Against that background, and given the foregoing rules, the Court of Appeals held the trial court was obliged to grant Mr. Padgett’s motion for disclosure of his client file. It reasoned that if a defendant is denied access to his client file and related discovery materials, he will be deprived of a critical resource for completing a viable appeal.

My opinion? Good decision. Personally and professionally speaking, it benefits everyone when all parties are clear and transparent as possible regarding access to a client’s case file. Clients have a right to know and attorneys have a duty to provide.

Inadmissible & Irrelevant Evidence

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In State v. Burnam, the WA Court of Appeals held that the trial court correctly excluded evidence that the woman the defendant killed had four years earlier dated a man accused of murder and that she had hid the murder weapon.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Burnam was charged with first degree murder or, in the alternative, second degree murder and interfering with the reporting of domestic violence. As trial approached, Mr. Burnam wanted to testify in support of his self-defense claim. He also wanted to testify that the victim Ms. Sweet had been involved in a prior homicide.

Apparently, four years earlier, Ms. Sweet dated a man accused of murder and she had hid the murder weapon, which was a firearm. Sometime after the homicide, Ms. Sweet briefly gave the firearm away and then attempted to get it back. When law enforcement questioned her, she was evasive and misleading. She was charged and convicted of first degree rendering criminal assistance by means of concealing, altering, or destroying the gun.

Mr. Burnam claimed that this was character evidence and asked the court to analyze its admissibility under ER 404(b). Under this evidence rule, evidence of prior acts can be admissible for certain other reasons, including motive, opportunity, and intent

Mr. Burnam made a lengthy offer of proof in support of his motion. He argued that the evidence would help establish the reasonableness of his fear of serious harm or death during his struggle with Ms. Sweet. He repeatedly asserted the jury should know that Ms. Sweet was involved with a homicide or capable of being involved with a person who had committed a homicide.

Despite defense counsel’s offer of proof, the court nevertheless excluded all evidence of the homicide case that Ms. Sweet was involved in.

At trial, Mr. Burnam testified he responded in self-defense to Ms. Sweet. Despite his testimony, the jury found Mr. Burnam guilty of first degree murder and interfering with the reporting of domestic violence. Mr. Burnam appealed on arguments that the court should have admitted evidence that Ms. Sweet was involved in a murder from four years ago.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that both the United States Constitution and the Washington Constitution guarantee the right to present testimony in one’s defense. Furthermore, a defendant’s right to an opportunity to be heard in his defense, including the rights to examine witnesses against him and to offer testimony, is basic in our system of jurisprudence. However, defendants can present only relevant evidence and have no constitutional right to present irrelevant evidence. If relevant, the burden is on the State to show the evidence is so prejudicial as to disrupt the fairness of the fact-finding process at trial.

Admissibility of Self-Defense Evidence.

The Court further reasoned that in considering a claim of self-defense, the jury must take into account all of the facts and circumstances known to the defendant.

“Because the vital question is the reasonableness of the defendant’s apprehension of danger, the jury must stand as nearly as practicable in the shoes of the defendant, and from this point of view determine the character of the act,” said the Court. “Thus, such evidence is admissible to show the defendant’s reason for fear and the basis for acting in self-defense.”

Moreover, evidence of a victim’s violent actions may be admissible to show the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the crime and to indicate whether he had reason to fear bodily harm. Thus, a defendant may, in addition to the character evidence, show specific acts of the victim which are not too remote and of which the defendant had knowledge at the time of the crime with which he is charged. Evidence of specific acts may be admissible for the limited purpose of showing the defendant had a reasonable apprehension of danger.

Finally, the court reasoned that an offer of proof should (1) inform the trial court of the legal theory under which the offered evidence is admissible, (2) inform the trial judge of the specific nature of the offered evidence so the court can judge its admissibility, and (3) create an adequate record for appellate review.

The Court of Appelas concluded that Mr. Burnam’s offer of proof failed to inform the trial judge of the specific nature of the offered evidence.

“Mr. Burnam’s offer of proof was lengthy but repeatedly vague on the specific nature of the offered evidence.”

The Court further concluded that Ms. Sweet merely pleaded guilty to rendering criminal assistance by disposing of a firearm used previously in a homicide. Nevertheless, rendering criminal assistance is a nonviolent felony.

“The mere fact that Ms. Sweet dated a man accused of murder and hid the murder weapon does not strongly imply that Ms. Sweet was violent. The prejudicial effect of excluding this questionable evidence is minimal. We conclude the trial court did not violate Mr. Burnam’s constitutional right to present a defense when it excluded this evidence.”

Consequently, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision to exclude evidence that Ms. Sweet was indirectly involved in a homicide from four years earlier.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are involved in cases involving assault or self-defense. Generally speaking, evidence that the victim had prior bad acts and/or had violent tendencies is admissible. However, court must undergo a balancing test under the evidence rules to determine if the evidence being offered is relevant, probative and/or unfairly prejudicial. This case was fairly straightforward in determining that the dead victim’s prior conviction for a non-violent crime was irrelevant.

Pretext Traffic Stop

Image result for pretext traffic stop

In State v. Hendricks, the WA Court of Appeals held that a traffic stop for Failure to Transfer Title was not unlawfully pretextual because the stop was initiated based upon running license plates as vehicles passed him and the deputy did not recognize the vehicle’s occupants until after initiating the traffic stop.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Ms. Ciulla was named as a protected party in a no contact order issued against
Hendricks. On September 8, 2016, the State charged Hendricks with violation of a no contact order, alleging that he knowingly had contact with Ciulla. Hendricks filed a CrR 3.6 motion to suppress evidence seized from the traffic stop leading to his arrest, asserting that there was no lawful basis for the traffic stop.

At the CrR 3.6 hearing, Clallam County Sheriff’s Deputy Federline testified that he
was on duty on the evening of September 7, 2016 when he saw a Mazda pickup truck and ran the license plate of the vehicle. Upon his check of the truck’s license plate, Deputy Federline found that more than 15 days had passed since ownership of the vehicle had changed, but the title had not been transferred.

When the truck passed, Deputy Federline also saw that the truck’s back license plate was partially obscured by a trailer hitch. Deputy Federline conducted a traffic stop of the truck. When Deputy Federline made contact with the vehicle’s occupants, he recognized Ciulla in the front passenger seat and Hendricks in the back seat. Deputy Federline arrested Hendricks. Following this testimony, Hendricks argued that Deputy Federline lacked authority to stop the truck based either on a failure to timely transfer title or on an obscured license plate.

The trial court denied Hendricks’s motion to suppress. Following the trial court’s denial of his CrR 3.6 suppression motion, Hendricks waived his right to a jury trial, and the matter proceeded to bench trial on a stipulated record. The trial court found Hendricks guilty of violation of no contact order. The trial court also found that Hendricks committed his offense against a family or household member. Hendricks appealed from his conviction.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution generally prohibit searches and seizures absent a warrant or a recognized exception to the warrant requirement. One such exception to the warrant requirement is an investigative stop as set forth in Terry v. Ohio, a landmark search and seizure case which applies to traffic violations. Also, a law enforcement officer may conduct a warrantless traffic stop if the officer has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a traffic violation has occurred or is occurring.

The court rejected Hendricks’s arguments that the failure to comply with RCW 46.12.650(5)(a)’s requirement of transferring title within 15 days of delivery of a vehicle does not constitute a traffic infraction under RCW 46.63.020 because the failure to timely transfer title is not a parking, standing, stopping, or pedestrian offense.

“The plain language of RCW 46.63.020 shows that the legislature intended to treat the failure to timely register a vehicle’s title as a traffic infraction and, thus, the trial court correctly concluded that Deputy Federline had an articulable suspicion justifying his stop of the vehicle in which Hendricks was riding as a passenger.”

Next, the Court of Appeals addressed whether the stop was unlawfully pretextual.

Pretextual Traffic Stops

The Court reasoned that Article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution prohibits pretextual traffic stops. State v. Ladson, 138 Wn.2d at 358. A pretextual traffic stop occurs when a law enforcement officer  stops a vehicle in order to conduct a speculative criminal investigation unrelated to enforcement of the traffic code. Ladson, 138 Wn.2d at 349. Whether a given stop is pretextual depends on the totality of the circumstances, “including both the subjective intent of the officer as well as the objective reasonableness of the officer’s behavior.” Ladson, 138 Wn.2d at 359. A traffic stop is not pretextual even where the officer has an additional motivation for conducting the stop apart from a suspected traffic violation, so long as the officer’s purported motive in investigating a suspected traffic violation was an actual, conscious, and independent reason for the stop. State v.
Arreola, 176 Wn.2d 284, 299-300, 290 P.3d 983 (2012).

“Hendricks suggests that Deputy Federline had suspected the vehicle’s occupants of being
involved in drug activity and used the failure to timely transfer title as a pretext to investigate the vehicle and its occupants for drug related offenses,” said the Court. “This is pure speculation without any support in the record.”

The Court reasoned that Deputy Federline was the only witness at the CrR 3.6 hearing. Furthermore, the deputy testified that he was parked at an intersection running the license plates of southbound traveling vehicles when he saw the vehicle at issue. Deputy Federline began to initiate his traffic stop after finding that the title to the vehicle at issue was not timely transferred following a change in ownership. Finally, Deputy Federline recognized Hendricks and Ciulla only after initiating the traffic stop and contacting the driver of the vehicle.

“In short, Hendricks fails to identify any evidence in the record that would have supported a claim that Deputy Federline’s traffic stop was a pretext to investigate a crime unrelated to a suspected traffic infraction.”

Consequently, the Court held that because the record lacked of any evidence supporting a claim that Deputy Federline conducted a pretextual traffic stop, Hendricks can show neither deficient performance nor resulting prejudice from defense counsel’s decision to decline raising the issue at the CrR 3.6 hearing.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed Hendrick’s conviction.

Contact my office if you, a friend or family member was contacted by police under circumstances which appear unlawfully pretextual. Despite the above case, Washington case law protects the rights of those who appear to be searched and seized under fabricated pretenses.