Category Archives: Washington Court of Appeals

Random UA’s & Privacy

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In State v. Olsen, the WA Supreme Court held that although random urinalysis tests (UAs) do implicate the privacy interests of a defendant who is on probation (probationer), the testing does not violate the defendant’s Constitutional rights if the UAs purpose was to  monitor compliance with a valid probation condition requiring the defendant to refrain from drug and alcohol consumption.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The facts are undisputed. In June 2014, defendant Brittanie Olsen pleaded guilty in Jefferson County District Court to one count of DUI, a gross misdemeanor offense under RCW 46.61.502. The court imposed a sentence of 364 days of confinement with 334 days suspended. As a condition of her suspended sentence, the court ordered that Olsen not consume alcohol, marijuana, or non prescribed drugs. Over defense objection, the court also required Olsen to submit to “random urine analysis screens … to ensure compliance with conditions regarding the consumption of alcohol and controlled substances.”

Olsen appealed to Jefferson County Superior Court, arguing that the random UAs requirement violated her privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. She contended a warrantless search of a misdemeanant probationer may not be random but instead “must be supported by a well-founded suspicion that the probationer has violated a condition of her sentence.” The court agreed, vacated Olsen’s sentence, and remanded to the district court for resentencing without the requirement that Olsen submit to random urine tests.

The State appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that “offenders on probation for DUI convictions do not have a privacy interest in preventing the random collection and testing of their urine when used to ensure compliance with a probation condition prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, marijuana, and/or non prescribed drugs.

ISSUE

The WA Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether random UAs ordered to monitor compliance with a valid probation condition not to consume drugs or alcohol violate a DUI probationer’s privacy interests under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution.

COURT’S CONCLUSIONS & ANALYSIS

The Supreme Court held that the random UAs here were conducted with “authority of law” under article I, section 7 of our state constitution. Furthermore, although random UAs of DUI probationers do implicate privacy interests, the UAs here are narrowly tailored and imposed to monitor compliance with a valid probation conditions.

The Court reasoned that The Washington State Constitution says that no person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law. One area of increased protection is the collection and testing of urine.

“Compared to the federal courts, we offer heightened protection for bodily functions,” said the Court. It elaborated that our courts have generally held that for ordinary citizens, suspicionless urinalysis testing constitutes a disturbance of one’s private affairs that, absent authority of law, violates the WA Constitution.

“On the other hand, we have repeatedly upheld blood or urine tests of prisoners, probationers, and parolees of some cases without explicitly conducting an analysis under the WA Constitution,” said the Court. It elaborated that two questions must be answered in cases like this: (1) whether the contested state action disturbed a person’s private affairs and, if so, (2) whether the action was undertaken with authority of law.

a. UAs Implicate a DUI Probationer’s Privacy Interests.

“We have consistently held that the nonconsensual removal of bodily fluids implicates privacy interests,” said the Court. It further stated that UAs implicate privacy interests in two ways. First, the act of providing a urine sample is fundamentally intrusive. This is particularly true where urine samples are collected under observation to ensure compliance. Second, chemical analysis of urine, like that of blood, can reveal a host of private medical facts about a person, including whether he or she is epileptic, pregnant, or diabetic. “These privacy interests are precisely what article I, section 7 is meant to protect.”

However, the Court also said that probationers do not enjoy constitutional privacy protection to the same degree as other citizens.

“Probationers have a reduced expectation of privacy because they are persons whom a court has sentenced to confinement but who are serving their time outside the prison walls,” said the Court.  Therefore, the State may supervise and scrutinize a probationer more closely than it may other citizens. “However, this diminished expectation of privacy is constitutionally permissible only to the extent necessitated by the legitimate demands of the operation of the parole process.”

The Court then addressed the State’s argument that UAs do not implicate Olsen’s privacy interests because probationers lack any privacy interest in their urine.

“We disagree,” said the Court. “Even though misdemeanant probationers have a reduced expectation of privacy, this does not mean that they have no privacy rights at all in their bodily fluids.” After giving a detailed analysis under the precedent of State v. Surge, the Court summarized that, even though probationers do not enjoy the same expectation of
privacy as other citizens, the UAs here still implicate their reduced privacy
interests under the WA Constitution.

b. Random UAs of DUI Probationers Do Not Violate the WA Constitution Because They Are Conducted with Authority of Law.

Next, the Court addressed whether the UA was performed with authority of law. In short, the Court decided that issue in the affirmative. It said the State has a strong interest in supervising DUI probationers in order to promote rehabilitation and protect the public, and elaborated that probation is simply one point (or, more accurately, one set of points) on a continuum of possible punishments.

It elaborated that probation is not a right, but an act of judicial grace or lenience motivated in part by the hope that the offender will become rehabilitated. To that end, a sentencing court has great discretion to impose conditions and restrictions of probation to assure that the probation serves as a period of genuine rehabilitation and that the community is not harmed by the probationer’s being at large.

“As such, the State has a compelling interest in closely monitoring probationers in order to promote their rehabilitation,” said the Court. “As probation officers’ role is rehabilitative rather than punitive in nature, they must, then, have tools at their disposal in order to accurately assess whether rehabilitation is taking place.” Here, in the case of DUI probationers, the Court reasoned that monitoring and supervision ensure that treatment is taking place and serve to protect the public in the case that a probationer fails to comply with court-imposed conditions.

The court further reasoned that random UAs are narrowly tailored to monitor compliance with probation conditions, they are an effective monitoring tool and they are a permissible under these circumstances:

“Unannounced testing is, arguably, crucial if a court is to impose drug testing at all. Random testing seeks to deter the probationer from consuming drugs or alcohol by putting her on notice that drug use can be discovered at any time. It also promotes rehabilitation and accountability by providing the probation officer with a ‘practical mechanism to determine whether rehabilitation is indeed taking place.'”

Finally, the WA Supreme Court reasoned that random UAs, under certain circumstances, are a constitutionally permissible form of close scrutiny of DUI probationers. It found that
the testing here was a narrowly tailored monitoring tool imposed pursuant to a valid prohibition on drug and alcohol use. Random UAs are also directly related to a probationer’s rehabilitation and supervision.

With that, the Court concluded  that the random UAs here were conducted with “authority of law” under article I, section 7 of our state constitution and affirmed the Court of Appeals decision to invoke them.

No-Contact Order Lengths

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

BACKGROUND FACTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISSUE

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

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

My opinion? Good decision.

 

Public Records & Inmates

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In Department of Corrections v. McKee, the WA Court of Appeals held that state law prevents jail inmates from making prolific records requests for the purpose of suing the agency and profiting financially.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Jeffrey McKee is an inmate in the custody of the Washington State Department of Corrections (the Department). Since 2006, he submitted at least 336 requests to the Department under the Public Records Act (PRA). The Department filed a lawsuit against McKee and sought a preliminary injunction to stop Mr. McKee from filing further requests. It argued RCW 42.56.565(2)(c)(i) applies when an inmate makes prolific records requests for the purpose of suing the agency and profiting financially.

The trial court disagreed and interpreted the statute as being limited to situations in which inmates seek the private information of agency employees to harass those employees. The trial court therefore generally denied the Department’s request for an injunction.

After the trial court entered its order, the Department filed a motion in the Court of Appeals
for discretionary review.

ISSUE

On appeal the issue was whether Mr. McKee’s requests were made to harass or intimidate the agency or its employees.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Given the plain language of the statute, the Court of Appeals held that an inmate’s requests for public records may be prohibited if the request or requests are burdensome and made for financial gain.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that the PRA is a “strongly worded mandate for broad disclosure of public records.” It requires all state and local agencies to make any public record available for public “inspection and copying” on request, unless the record falls within certain specific exemptions.  The policy behind this law is that “free and open examination of public records is in the public interest.” To promote this policy, the PRA is to
be “liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed.”

However, the Court also acknowledged that in 2009, the legislature enacted RCW 42.56.565 to address abusive requests for public records by inmates. This statute authorizes courts to prohibit the “inspection or copying of any nonexempt public record by persons serving criminal sentences in state, local, or privately operated correctional facilities” if the court finds that one of following four situations applies:  (1) The request was made to harass or intimidate the agency or its employees; (2) Fulfilling the request would likely threaten the security of correctional facilities; (3) Fulfilling the request would likely threaten the safety or security of staff, inmates, family members of staff, family members of other inmates, or any other person; or (4) Fulfilling the request may assist criminal activity.

The statute then gives a nonexhaustive list of factors a court may consider in deciding whether to enjoin an inmate’s past or future records requests under RCW 42.56.565(3). These factors include: (1) other requests by the requestor, (2) the type of records sought, (3) statements offered by the requestor concerning the purpose for the request, (4) whether disclosure of the requested records would likely harm any person or vital government interest, (5) whether the request seeks a significant and burdensome number of documents, (6) the impact of disclosure on correctional facility security and order, the safety or security of correctional facility staff, inmates, or others, and (7) the deterrence of criminal activity.

The Court further reasoned that when an inmate files prolific records requests and sues an agency, the statute ensures the agency will not have to pay penalties in the event it makes a good faith error in responding. However, even if the agency is not required to pay penalties, it is still obligated to respond to future requests.

“This is still burdensome and expensive, even if the agency does not have to pay penalties,” said the Court of Appeals. Consequently, the Court reasoned that in order to alleviate these burdens and expenses, the statute allows the agency to stop the inmate from making future requests, just like the Department did here.

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling on behalf of Mr. McKee.

Invalid Search Warrant

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In State v. Youngs, the WA Court of Appeals suppressed evidence of the defendant’s blood test collected after a search warrant because the search warrant application did not contain sufficient facts to establish that the suspect was driving the car.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In the early morning hours of May 15, 2013, a Washington State Patrol Trooper arrested Youngs after driving a car involved in a rollover collision. The judge issued the warrant based on the Affidavit in Support of Search Warrant for Evidence of a Driving While Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUI).

This affidavit is a largely preprinted form to which the law enforcement officer may add information.

Following the blood draw, the State charged Youngs with DUI. Youngs moved to suppress evidence obtained under authority of the warrant. The district court denied the motion. Youngs then agreed to a stipulated bench trial based on the police report and blood alcohol report. The district court found Youngs guilty and sentenced him.

Youngs sought review in the superior court. The Court affirmed based on the content in the state trooper’s affidavit. Eventually, the WA Court of Appeals granted Youngs’s appeal.

ISSUE

The question was whether the trooper’s search warrant affidavit had sufficient facts for a judge to make an independent decision whether there was probable cause that the defendant was driving.

COURT’S DECISION & ANALYSIS

 

The Court decided that although the factual information concerning intoxication is sufficient and unchallenged in this case, the factual information to establish driving is insufficient.

The Court reasoned that a judge may only issue a search warrant upon probable cause. The warrant must be supported by an affidavit identifying the place to be searched and the items to be seized. The affidavit must contain sufficient facts to convince an ordinary person that the defendant is probably engaged in criminal activity.

Furthermore, the Court reasoned that judges must evaluate the relevant affidavit “‘in a commonsense manner, rather than hypertechnically, and any doubts are resolved in favor of the warrant. Thus, a “negligent or innocent mistake” in drafting the affidavit will not void it. Also, judges may draw reasonable inferences from the stated facts.

However, the Court also reasoned that inferences alone, without an otherwise substantial basis of facts, are insufficient. The affidavit may provide summary statements so long as it also expresses the facts and circumstances underlying that summary.

Here, the Court found technical problems with the affidavit. For example, one problem is that the preprinted language in the form—”ceased driving/was found in physical control of a motor vehicle” — suggests that it is intended to apply to two different crimes. One crime is “Driving While Under the Influence under RCW 46.61.502, while the other is “Physical Control of Vehicle While Under the Influence under RCW 46.61.504, which is a totally separate and different crime with different elements for the State to prove:

The Court said that unlike the act of driving, which may be readily observed, “physical control” is a conclusion drawn from other facts. For example, a police officer may reach this conclusion based on the defendant’s proximity to the vehicle, possession of keys to it, or similar observable circumstances.  Because the magistrate must independently determine whether probable cause exists, he or she cannot simply accept such a conclusion without supporting allegations. Therefore, ruled the Court, the statements in the search warrant affidavit are conclusory, general, and insufficient to support probable cause that Youngs was driving the vehicle.

With that, the Court reversed Youngs’ conviction and remanded the case back to the district court with directions to suppress the evidence obtained by the warrant.

My opinion? Excellent decision. Sure, it’s sometimes safe to assume that the sole driver of a car involved in a collision is, in fact, the driver. However, it muddies the waters even further when law enforcement officers issuing search warrants fail to clarify whether the crime of straight DUI or Physical Control DUI took place. These crimes are very different. One crimes involves officers seeing the defendant drive (straight DUI) while the other crime does not (Physical Control DUI). Combined with the fact that there was missing information regarding the defendant’s driving at all, this combination of errors makes for an ineffective search warrant.

Again, good decision.

DV Protection Orders

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In Rodriquez v. Zavala, the WA Supreme Court held that a person does not have to be a victim of domestic violence (DV) in order to be included in a DV protection order.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Esmeralda Rodriguez and Luis Zavala shared a history of domestic violence. Over the course of their relationship, Zavala repeatedly physically and emotionally assaulted Rodriguez. He shoved Rodriguez to the ground while she was pregnant with their infant child L.Z., attempted to smother her with a pillow, blamed her for his failings in life, pulled a knife on her and promised to cut her into tiny pieces, threatened to kidnap L.Z., and said he would do something so horrible to Rodriguez’s daughters from a prior relationship that she would want to kill herself. He threatened to kill her, her children, and himself. Zavala tried to control Rodriguez. He restricted her communication with friends and family members, and he appeared uninvited wherever she was when she failed to return his phone calls.

Zavala’s history of violence against Rodriguez reached its peak one day in June 2015 after the couple had separated. At 2:00 a.m. that morning and in violation of a previous restraining order, Zavala pounded on Rodriguez’s door, threatening to break windows unless she let him in. Rodriguez went to the door and opened it enough to tell Zavala to leave. Zavala pushed past Rodriguez, cornered her, and began choking her. He told Rodriguez he was going to “end what he started.” The police arrived and arrested Zavala.

A few days later, Rodriguez went to the court and petitioned for a domestic violence protection order for herself and her children, including L.Z. In her petition, Rodriguez described the assault and Zavala’s history of violence. The court issued a temporary order pending a full hearing. The temporary order restrained Zavala from contacting Rodriguez and all four children.

At the later protection order hearing, Zavala appeared. Rodriguez discussed the choking incident and told the court that L.Z. had been asleep in another room during the most recent attack. She feared Zavala would take their son based on previous threats. Zavala admitted to coming to the house because he wanted to see L.Z., but denied Rodriguez’s allegations of abuse.

The trial court issued a protective order for Rodriguez and her daughters, but excluded L.Z., explaining that the boy was not “present” during the assault or threatened at all. According to the trial judge, “L.Z. wasn’t involved in any of this.” The order was effective for one year, expiring on June 26, 2016.

Rodriguez appealed. Among other things, she argued that her son should have been included in the final protection order based on her fear that Zavala would hurt L.Z. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that a petitioner may seek relief based only on her fear of imminent harm to herself. The WA Supreme Court granted review.

ISSUE

Whether the definition of “domestic violence” in chapter 26.50 RCW contemplates a parent’s fear of harm for a child at the hands of another parent.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION

The Court reasoned that in order to commence a domestic violence protection order action, a person must file a petition “alleging that the person has been the victim of domestic violence committed by the respondent. Under the statute, “Domestic violence” is defined as the following:

“(a) physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, between family or household members; (b) sexual assault of one family or household member by another; or (c) stalking as defined in RCW 9A.46.110 of one family or household member by another family or household member.”

The Court further explained that The Court of Appeals’s interpretation of the statute was unnecessarily narrow. “By relating the fear of harm back to the petitioner, it ignores the final prepositional phrase ‘between family or household members.'” Consequently, because domestic violence includes the infliction of fear of harm between family members generally, the definition includes a mother’s fear of harm to her child by that child’s father.

Also, the context of the statute, related provisions, and statutory scheme as a whole also indicate that “domestic violence” was intended to cover more than merely a petitioner and a perpetrator:

“This definition reflects the legislative recognition that violence in the home encompasses many different familial and household roles; violence does not distinguish on the basis of relationship.”

Moreover, the Court reasoned that a person does not have to be a victim of domestic violence to be included in a protection order. RCW 26.50.060 gives trial courts substantial discretion to protect victims and their loved ones. The provision explains that a trial court may bar a respondent from going to the “day care or school of a child” or having “any contact with the victim of domestic violence or the victim’s children or members of the victim’s household” and that, notably, the court may order “other relief as it deems necessary for the protection of the petitioner and other family or household members sought to be protected.”

Additionally, the Court said that the legislative intent of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) further supports that “domestic violence” includes a petitioner’s fear of harm between family members.

Finally, the Court explained that the plain language of RCW 26.50.010(3), related DV statutes, and the statutory scheme show that the definition of “domestic violence” allows a petitioner to seek relief based on a general fear of harm between family members. It said that deciding that “domestic violence” means the fear possessed only by the one seeking protection not only conflicts with the statute’s plain language, it would leave children unprotected:

“Even more acutely, such an interpretation would fail to protect infants and developmentally delayed children. These are the most vulnerable of our vulnerable populations. Excluding these children from protection orders because they fail to or cannot show fear of a harm they may not understand subjects them to violence the legislature expressly intended to prevent.”

Accordingly, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals because Zavala’s violent threats against L.Z. were “domestic violence” under the plain language of the statute, and Rodriguez properly petitioned for a protection order on L.Z.’s behalf based on her reasonable fear for him.

Join Offenses = Bad Results

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In State v. Linville, the WA Court of Appeals held that the defendant’s numerous criminal charges cannot be “joined” to a charge of leading organized crime.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Following an increase in residential burglaries in Thurston County, law enforcement
officers noticed similarities among several burglaries. Officers ultimately recovered numerous items taken during the burglaries from Linville’s home.

The State charged Linville with 1 count of leading organized crime, 35 counts of
residential burglary, 1 count of attempted residential burglary, 4 counts of first degree burglary, 3 counts of second degree burglary, 39 counts of trafficking in stolen property, 17 counts of first degree theft, 18 counts of second degree theft, 1 count of attempted second degree theft, 3 counts of third degree theft, 5 counts of theft of a firearm, 5 counts of identity theft, 4 counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, 1 count of possession of stolen property, and 1 count of possession of a controlled substance, for a total of 138 charges with numerous deadly weapon sentencing enhancements. The State alleged that Linville was armed with a firearm during the commission of the four first degree burglaries.

At no point did Linville argue that joinder of any offenses was improper under RCW 9A.82.085.

During the jury trial, the State presented testimony from numerous co-defendants who identified Linville as the instigator and leader of the burglary scheme. The co-defendants’ testimony was corroborated by law enforcement officers and victims who described the common characteristics among the burglaries and identified stolen goods recovered from the homes of Linville and his co-defendants. The jury found Linville guilty of 137 offenses, and he was sentenced to 914 months in prison, which included 240 months for four firearm sentencing enhancements.

Linville appealed on the argument that his defense counsel gave ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to move for severance of offenses that were not part of the pattern of criminal profiteering activity from the charge of leading organized crime under RCW 9A.82.085.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Ultimately, the Court agreed with Linville. It reasoned that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the effective assistance of counsel in criminal proceedings. To show ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show that (1) defense counsel’s conduct was deficient, and (2) the deficient performance resulted in prejudice. To show deficient performance, Linville must show that defense counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. To show prejudice, Linville must show a reasonable possibility that, but for counsel’s purportedly deficient conduct, the outcome of the proceeding would have differed.

  1. Counsel Rendered Deficient Performance.

First, the Court reasoned that RCW 9A.82.085 states the following, in relevant part:

“In a criminal prosecution alleging a violation of leading organized crime, the state is barred from joining any offense other than the offenses alleged to be part of the pattern of criminal profiteering activity.”

RCW 9A.82.010(12) defines “pattern of criminal profiteering activity” as “engaging in at least three acts of criminal profiteering.” RCW 9A.82.010(4) defines “criminal profiteering” as:

“any act, including any anticipatory or completed offense, committed for financial gain, that is chargeable or indictable under the laws of the state in which the act occurred and, if the act occurred in a state other than this state, would be chargeable or indictable under the laws of this state had the act occurred in this state and punishable as a felony and by imprisonment for more than one year, regardless of whether the act is charged or indicted, as any of the following: . . . .”

RCW 9A.82.010(4) then lists 46 crimes and their defining statutes. First and second degree theft, trafficking in stolen property, leading organized crime, and identity theft are included in the list. However, residential burglary, first degree burglary, second degree burglary, attempted residential burglary, theft of a firearm, third degree theft, unlawful possession of a firearm, and possession of stolen property are NOT included in the list. 

Consequently, the Court reasoned that a plain reading of the statutes made it clear that the State was barred from joining charges of residential burglary, first degree burglary, second degree burglary, attempted residential burglary, theft of a firearm, third degree theft, unlawful possession of a firearm, and possession of stolen property to Linville’s prosecution for leading organized crime.

“The unreasonable failure to research and apply relevant statutes without any tactical purpose constitutes deficient performance. Here, defense counsel’s failure to object to the State’s improper joinder of charges was unreasonable and constitutes deficient performance.”

2. Counsel’s Deficient Performance Resulted in Prejudice to the Defendant’s Case.

The Court said that in order to succeed on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Linville must also show that but for his attorney’s deficient performance the outcome of the trial would have differed, and therefore the deficient performance was prejudicial.

To this end, the Court reasoned that this issue is somewhat different than the related issue of discretionary joinder or severance pursuant to CrR 4.4(b). Under CrR 4.4(b), a trial court must grant a motion to sever offenses if it determines that “severance will promote a fair determination of the defendant’s guilt or innocence of each offense.” A defendant seeking such a severance under CrR 4.4(b) must show that a trial involving all counts would be so manifestly prejudicial as to outweigh the concern for judicial economy.

In contrast, the Court explained that RCW 9A.82.085 leaves no room for the trial court’s discretion. Under that statute, the State is barred from joining offenses other than those alleged to be part of the criminal profiteering activity in a prosecution for leading organized crime.

“Because of defense counsel’s failure to object, Linville was improperly tried for 138 total charges and convicted of 137 offenses,” said the Court. “Had counsel properly objected to the joinder, 56 of the charges, including all of the burglary charges, would have been severed, the trial would not have included convictions for those 56 improperly joined charges, and the outcome of this trial would have been different.”

The Court extrapolated the prejudicial consequences of the joinder. It explained that each of the four firearm enhancements – which resulted in a mandatory minimum sentence of 240 months – were associated with the four counts of first degree burglary. The firearm enhancements would not have been considered but for defense counsel’s deficient performance.

“The improper joinder had additional prejudicial consequences,” stated the Court. For example, by improperly joining four charges of unlawful possession of a firearm, the State was permitted to introduce evidence of Linville’s prior felony for possession of a controlled substance without a prescription. This prior conviction evidence was highly prejudicial given that the State’s theory was that Linville’s crime ring was motivated by drugs. Also, the State relied heavily on the burglaries as evidence of Linville’s guilt for leading organized crime. A jury separately considering the burglary charges would not necessarily have heard testimony of Linville’s accomplices accusing him of orchestrating a broad scheme.

Consequently, the Court held that Linville’s defense counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to object to the joinder of offenses in violation of RCW 9A.82.085. The Court therefore reversed Linville’s convictions and remanded them back to the trial court for separate trials.

My opinion? Good decision. A defense attorney’s failure to sever “joined” offenses into separate trials can have profoundly devastating effects. Put simply, juries are more biased against the defendant in a joinder trial versus a trial with a single charge. Consequently, they are more likely to convict on a particular charge in a joinder trial with multiple charges than in a trial on the same single charge. It’s imperative that competent defense attorneys sever counts whenever possible.

Pretrial Publicity & Change of Venue

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In State v. Munzanreder, the WA Court of Appeals held that the jury selection process used by the trial court – which included a written questionnaire with a number of questions regarding exposure to media reports and questioning each juror individually about media exposure – protected the defendant’s constitutional rights to an impartial venue. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the motion to change venue.

BACKGROUND FACTS

John J. Munzanreder appealed his conviction for the first degree murder of his wife. Because of the sensational nature of the alleged crime, local media extensively covered his case from arrest through trial.

Munzanreder worked with Juan Ibanez at Valley Ford in Yakima, Washington. In
early February 2013, Ibanez approached Munzanreder and asked him for money for a
toolbox. Munzanreder agreed to give him the money ifhe helped get rid of somebody.
Munzanreder told Ibanez that he wanted help killing his wife, Cynthia, and would give
him $20,000. Ibanez said he would help, but he would not kill her.

Munzanreder gave Ibanez cash and directed him to purchase a gun. Munzanreder
told Ibanez his plan: Munzanreder and his wife would go the movies, he would shoot her
with the new gun, he would then throw the gun to Ibanez in some nearby bushes, and
Ibanez would run away with the gun.

On February 28, 2013, the Munzanreders went to see a movie at the Majestic
Theater in Union Gap, Washington, a small city immediately south of Yakima. Ibanez received a prearranged text message from Munzanreder that the plan would be executed
and went to the theater and waited in the bushes adjacent to the theater’s parking lot.

After the movie, as the couple approached their car, Munzanreder shot his wife with the
gun purchased by Ibanez. Munzanreder then threw the gun into the bushes where Ibanez
waited. As Ibanez left the scene with the gun, he ran past a couple near his car.

Law enforcement arrived and questioned witnesses. Munzanreder told law
enforcement he heard a shot and saw a man in black clothes running away. Munzanreder
said he had followed the man, but fell and injured himself, developing a black eye.

Munzanreder’s wife later died from her injuries.

Law enforcement continued to investigate. They interviewed Ibanez, whose car
had been reported at the crime scene. Ibanez quickly confessed and told law enforcement
of the details of the crime. Media coverage of both the murder and the arrests quickly
saturated Yakima County.

Munzanreder was charged with Murder in the First Degree. The State also sought a Deadly Weapon Enhancement because the crime occurred with a handgun.

The Jury Questionnairre

Defense counsel and the State had worked together to create an agreed juror
questionnaire. The purpose of the questionnaire was to uncover juror bias, so that the
trial court and the parties could individually interview venire jurors with possible bias in
open court but outside the presence of other venire jurors.

The questionnaire contained many questions, including questions focusing on
pretrial publicity about the case. Those questions asked the venire jurors to list media
sources they used, whether they generally believed the media, whether they thought the
media was fair to both sides of a case, and what criminal cases they followed in the
media. It also specifically asked about Munzanreder’s case. The questionnaire asked
venire jurors if they knew information about the case from any sources, and concluded the
section by asking if they had formed any opinions about the case. The questionnaire also
asked venire jurors if they wanted to discuss their answers separately from other jurors.

The completed questionnaires revealed that 105 of the remaining 128 venire jurors knew
about the case; of these 105, 24 had formed opinions; and of these 24, most believed
Munzanreder was guilty.

Before the remaining venire panel returned to the courtroom, Munzanreder orally
moved for a change of venue. The motion was anticipated because Munzanreder had
earlier said he would make such a motion, and had provided the trial court and the State
with copies of local media stories and media Facebook posts.

The State, although opposing Munzanreder’s motion, indicated the trial court might give additional peremptory challenges. Munzanreder responded that he might ask for additional peremptory challenges, but would not do so until after the court ruled on his motion. The trial court took the motion under advisement and said it would make its ruling later in the jury selection process.

The parties completed voir dire and then went through the process of selecting the
Jury. The trial court permitted each party 6 peremptory challenges for the first 12 jurors,
and 1 additional peremptory challenge for each of the 3 alternate jurors. Munzanreder
never asked for additional peremptory challenges.

The panel was sworn in. The trial court provided the panel various preliminary
instructions and then excused them for lunch. With the panel excused, the trial court gave
its oral ruling denying Munzanreder’s motion to change venue.

Over the next several days, the parties presented their evidence.

The jury returned a guilty verdict on 1st degree murder with a firearm
enhancement. The trial court sentenced Munzanreder to 340 months of incarceration.

Munzanreder timely appealed. His principal arguments on appeal are the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to change venue, and the voir dire process used by the trial court failed to protect his constitutional right to an impartial jury.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Court applied a Gunwall analysis to determine if the Washington Constitution provides greater protection than the United States Constitution in a particular context.  A Gunwall analysis must be performed, if litigants want the court to consider whether a parallel constitutional provision affords differing protections.

Here, the Court found that Munzanreder’s state constitutional right to an impartial jury should be interpreted as providing the same degree of protection as the parallel federal constitutional right. The Court similarly held that article I, section 22 of the WA Constitution’s right to an impartial jury does not provide any more protection than the Sixth Amendment.

Second, the Court of Appeals raised and dismissed Munzanreder’s arguments that the voir dire process employed in his case was insufficient. It reasoned that under Lopez-Stayer v.
Pitts, a trial court has considerable discretion in conducting voir dire. Abuse of discretion occurs when a trial court bases its decision on untenable grounds or untenable reasons.

Here,  the Court of Appeals discussed how extensive and meticulous jury selection was in this case. The trial court summoned 243 potential jurors. The parties worked together to craft an extensive juror questionnaire that satisfied the State, Munzanreder, and the trial court. The trial court granted several dozen individual interviews in open court outside the presence of other venire jurors. The trial court was fully involved with the process, and asked questions designed to expose bias and to ensure that jurors would reach a verdict based on the evidence presented at trial and on the court’s instructions on the law. Jury selection took over four days. Munzanreder did not request additional peremptory challenges, despite knowing he had that option. Munzanreder simply asserts now that the process was insufficient, although he was heavily involved at trial in developing the process used. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals decided that because Munzanreder does not show an abuse of discretion, his appeal on this issue fails.

Third, the Court of Appeals raised and dismissed Munzanreder’s arguments that the jury selection process used by the trial court was constitutionally deficient. He attempts to punctuate his point by showing that four biased jurors were empaneled. The Court reasoned that A party may challenge a juror for cause under CrR 6.4(c); and RCW 4.44.170. The trial court is in the best position to determine whether a juror can be fair and impartial because the trial court is able to observe the juror’s demeanor and evaluate the juror’s answers to determine whether the juror would be fair and impartial. For this reason, this court reviews a trial court’s denial of a challenge for cause for a manifest abuse of discretion.

Here, the Court of Appeals found no manifest abuse of discretion. Munzanreder failed to use his peremptory challenges to remove juror #51, a potentially bad and unbiased juror. He also elected not to request additional peremptory challenges. If the trial court erred in denying Munzanreder’ s for cause challenge of venire juror 51, because Munzanreder elected not to remove venire juror #51 with his allotted peremptory challenges or by requesting additional challenges, Munzanreder waived that error.

Fourth, the Court of Appeals raised and dismissed Munzanreder’s arguments that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion for a change of venue. He primarily argues the pretrial media publicity was overwhelmingly inflammatory, which prejudiced the jury pool against him. The Court reasoned that in order to prevail on a change of venue motion, the defendant need only show a probability of unfairness or prejudice. Sheppard v. MaxwellState v. Rupe. The following nonexclusive factors aid our review of whether a trial court abused its discretion in denying a change of venue motion:

(I) the inflammatory or noninflammatory nature of the publicity; (2) the degree to which the publicity was circulated throughout the community; (3) the length of time elapsed from the dissemination of the publicity to the date of trial; (4) the care exercised and the difficulty encountered in the selection of the jury; (5) the familiarity of prospective or trial jurors with the publicity and the resultant effect upon them; (6) the challenges exercised by the defendant in selecting the jury, both peremptory and for cause; (7) the connection of government officials with the release of publicity; (8) the severity of the charge; and (9) the size of the area from which the venire is drawn.”

Here, the Court of Appeals reasoned that although the initial venire pool provided substantial challenges because of the trial court’s careful process for selecting a jury, it was highly confident that 11 of the 12 empaneled jurors were impartial.

“If venire juror #51 was biased, Munzanreder had the opportunity to remove him,” said the Court. “Munzanreder elected not to use any of his peremptory challenges to remove venire juror 51, and he did not request additional peremptory challenges. These two facts strongly suggest that even Munzanreder believed the empaneled jury was fair and impartial.” With that, the Court of Appeals concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Munzanreder’s motion to change venue.

Consequently, the Court of Appeals confirmed Munzanreder’s conviction.

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

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

FACTS & BACKGROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Williams’ appeal concerns the possession of stolen property conviction.

ANALYSIS & CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Opening the Door

Image result for defense attorney opened the door to suppressed evidence

In State v. Wafford, the WA Court of Appeals that a defendant’s counsel “opened the door” to suppressed evidence during opening statement, and that the proper remedy was to admit evidence that the court had previously ruled inadmissible.

FACTS & BACKGROUND

The incidents began years before. In 2005, T.H.’s mother heard that eight-year-old T.H. had told a friend that something inappropriate happened with Mr. Wafford. After reporting to police, T.H.’s mother took T.H. to be interviewed at Dawson Place, the Snohomish County Center for Child Advocacy. There, a child forensic interview specialist talked with T.H., and their conversation was video-recorded. T.H. did not make a specific disclosure of sexual abuse by Wafford, though she did appear to nod affirmatively in response to one question about inappropriate sexual contact. The State did not investigate further or charge Wafford.

However, Mr. Wafford continued to sexually abuse H.F. as well as her sister T.H. Eventually, the State charged Wafford with crimes against both T.H. and H.F.  As to T.H., Wafford was charged with first degree rape of a child, first degree child molestation, and first degree incest. As to H.F., Wafford was charged with first degree rape of a child, first degree child molestation, and third degree child molestation.

PRE-TRIAL SUPPRESSION OF VIDEO INTERVIEW

Before trial, the court conducted a child hearsay hearing at which it concluded that the 2005 recorded interview of T.H. was inadmissible. The court reasoned that because T.H. never actually described an act of sexual contact, her statements were not admissible under the child hearsay statute.

TRIAL

During defense counsel’s opening statement, she referred explicitly to the video of T.H.’s interview: “Mariyah brought both H.F. and T.H. to Dawson Place in 2005. Nova Robinson interviewed on video T.H., but T.H. denied that anything was happening to her.” The State did not object.

After opening remarks, the State requested that the court admit the interview video that had been previously excluded. The State argued that when defense counsel mentioned the video, she opened the door to its admission. The court found that defense counsel opened the door and admitted a portion of the video. Ultimately, the jury found Wafford guilty of first degree child molestation of T.H., but was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining counts. The court sentenced Wafford to 68 months in prison.

Wafford appealed on the argument that, as a matter of law, comments made by counsel during opening statements cannot open the door to otherwise inadmissible evidence.

ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION

The Court reasoned that (1) a party who introduces evidence of questionable admissibility may open the door to rebuttal with evidence that would otherwise be inadmissible, and (2) a party who is the first to raise a particular subject at trial may open the door to evidence offered to explain, clarify, or contradict the party’s evidence. State v. Jones, citing 5 KARL B. TEGLAND, WASHINGTON PRACTICE: EVIDENCE LAW AND PRACTICE § 103.14, at 66-67 (5th ed.2007).

With that background, the Court addressed Wafford’s argument that because a comment made during an opening statement  is not evidence, it cannot open the door pursuant to State v. Whelchel and  Corson v. Corson.

However, the Court distinguished these cases. First, it reasoned that Whelchel does not support the broad proposition that opening statements cannot open the door because the evidence in question in Whelchel was admissible when the parties made opening statements. Second, the Corson case was distinguishable because in that case the trial court wrongfully admitted irrelevant and prejudicial evidence in response to an improper opening statement when other more effective means of ensuring a fair proceeding are available. Consequently, the Corson case did not hold that opening statements can never open the door to otherwise inadmissible evidence.

Next, the Court rejected Wafford’s argument that comments made during opening statements cannot open the door. First, such a rule would be contrary to the general rule permitting trial courts the discretion to determine the admissibility of evidence. Second, whether the issue arises from the statement of counsel or the testimony of a witness is immaterial to the question faced by the trial judge: to what extent, if any, has the statement compromised the fairness of the trial and what, if any, response is appropriate:

“In answering this question, the trial judge should have a range of options at his or her disposal. A judge may admonish the jury to disregard certain statements or reiterate its instruction that opening statements are not evidence. The judge may allow testimony about otherwise inadmissible evidence, while continuing to exclude the exhibit or document which contains the evidence. Or the judge may find that a party has opened the door to otherwise inadmissible evidence. The appropriate response is that, which in the discretion of the trial judge, best restores fairness to the proceeding.”

Finally, the Court rejected Wafford’s argument that the trial court mistakenly admitted the recording because it was inadmissible hearsay and therefore incompetent evidence.  Under ER 801(d)(1)(ii), a statement is not hearsay if “the declarant testifies at the trial or hearing and is subject to cross examination concerning the statement, and the statement is… consistent with the declarant’s testimony and is offered to rebut an express or implied charge against the declarant of recent fabrication or improper influence or motive. . . .” Here, however, the victim testified. The court concluded her affirmation of Wafford’s unlawful sexual conduct was consistent with her testimony and is thus not hearsay under ER 801(d)(1).

With that, the Court upheld Wafford’s conviction and sentencing.

My opinion?

It is well settled in Washington that a party that introduces evidence of questionable admissibility runs the risk of “opening the door” to the admission of otherwise inadmissible evidence by an opposing party.

For this reason, it is mandatory that attorneys exercise extreme discretion with their comments and questions during trial. Defense attorneys must avoid discussing evidence they work so hard to suppress. Not only can one “open the door” during direct and cross examination of witnesses, but also opening statements.

No-Contact Order Held Invalid

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In State v. Torres, the WA Court of Appeals decided a lower court improperly imposed a 5-year no contact order between the defendant and his son in a Witness Tampering prosecution.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mario Torres is the father of M.T. (born 2003) and N.B. (born 2012). N.B. lived with his mother. However, on the morning of December 22, 2014, he was left in Mr. Torres’s care while N.B.’s mother went shopping. M.T. was also with Mr. Torres at the time. On December 23, N.B.’s mother and grandmother took him to receive medical care after he was found unresponsive. N.B. died a few days later. N.B.’s injuries suggested his death was a homicide.

Police Interview With M.T.

Part of law enforcement’s investigation into N.B. ‘s death involved a forensic interview of M.T. He originally told the interviewer that N.B. was responsive while in Mr. Torres’s care and ate some “Chicken McNuggets” during this time. But M.T. later told the interviewer this was not true. M.T. then said that he heard a loud bang while Mr. Torres was caring for N.B. and N.B. started loudly crying. Mr. Torres later told M.T. he had accidentally stepped on N.B. ‘s leg causing him to fall and strike the bedpost. M.T. never saw N.B. get up again after this. M.T. told the interviewer that both his parents approached him at his grandmother’s home earlier that day and told him to make up a story about N.B. eating Chicken McNuggets, and not mention that N.B. had bumped his head. Additionally, Mr. Torres allegedly told M.T. to “make up lies” about what happened.

Police interview with Mr. Torres.

The police talked to Mr. Torres the day after M.T’s interview. After being advised of his Miranda rights, Mr. Torres denied injuring N.B. but admitted N.B. fell and struck his head on a bedpost. Mr. Torres also admitted he did not want M.T. to talk to the police and had a private conversation with him to outline what M.T. would say. Mr. Torres claimed he told M.T. to tell the truth and say Mr. Torres did not cause the injuries to N.B. He did not offer any specific details on what M.T. was told.

Criminal Charges, Guilty Verdicts, Sentencing & the 5-Year No Contact Order.

The State charged Mr. Torres with one count of Witness Tampering under RCW 9A.72.120(l)(c). Although the case progressed toward trial, Mr. Torres ultimately pled guilty and entered an Alford plea on February 25. His case then proceeded directly to sentencing. During the sentencing colloquy, the court ultimately imposed a five-year no-contact order, prohibiting Mr. Torres from all contact with M.T. except by written mail. Mr. Torres also received a sentence of six months and $1,960 in court fines. Torres appealed.

For those who don’t know, a no contact order is also called a restraining order, and prohibits a person from being in physical or verbal contact with another person. The court must order the no contact agreement, and usually specifies how many feet, or yards, away the individuals must stay from one another. If broken the defendant may receive a fine, or jail time with a felony or misdemeanor charge.

COURT OF APPEALS’ DECISION AND REASONING.

The Court began with stating RCW 9.94A.505(9) authorizes a trial court to impose crime related prohibitions as sentencing conditions. A No-Contact Order is such a prohibition. The court further reasoned that conditions interfering with fundamental rights, such as the right to a parent-child relationship, must be “sensitively imposed” so they are “reasonably necessary to accomplish the essential needs of the State and public order.” A trial abuses its discretion if the trial court employs the wrong legal standard.

The Court further reasoned that here, at sentencing, the trial court imposed a five-year no-contact order, prohibiting almost all contact between Mr. Torres and his son. The Court reasoned that in so doing, the court failed to acknowledge Mr. Torres’s fundamental right to parent his child or explain why a five year prohibition on all personal contact was reasonably necessary to further the State’s interests. “This was error, even under the deferential abuse of discretion standard,” said the Court of Appeals. “While the trial court certainly can impose a no-contact order to advance the State’s fundamental interests in protecting children, it must do so in a nuanced manner that is sensitive to the changing needs and interests of the parent and child.”

“The State suggests we can infer the reasons for the court’s no-contact order from the record. We disagree. The record before us is scant. The trial judge did not explain why he decided to impose a no-contact order that was 10 times longer than what was requested by the State. We are unable to discern the court’s likely reasoning from the limited information presented. It is the trial court’s duty to balance the competing interests impacted by a no contact order.”

With that, the WA Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the trial court for further reconsideration – and instructions – on re-creating the no contact order.

“How to Create a No Contact Order.”

This portion of the Court opinion was very instructive to the lower court. For example, it was instructed that the trial court shall first address whether a no-contact order remains reasonably necessary in light of the State’s interests in protecting M.T. from harm. If it is, then the court shall endeavor to narrowly tailor the order, both in terms of scope and duration. When it comes to the order’s scope, the court shall consider less restrictive alternatives, such as supervised visitation, prior to restricting all personal contact between Mr. Torres and his child. In addition, the court’s order should recognize that “what is reasonably necessary to protect the State’s interests may change over time.” Accordingly, the court shall consider whether the scope of the no-contact order should change over time. The court shall also reconsider whether the ultimate length of the no-contact order remains appropriate. Finally, the trial court should keep in mind that a sentencing proceeding is not the ideal forum for addressing parenting issues.

My opinion?

This was a great decision. I’m impressed that the Court of Appeals gave specific instructions on creating no contact orders in the future. Good opinion.