Tag Archives: Mt. Vernon Criminal Defense Attorney

Flowers v. Mississippi: Supreme Court Finds Race-Based Peremptory Strikes Unlawful

Image result for batson peremptory

In Flowers v. Mississippi, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the State’s peremptory strikes in the defendant’s first four trials strongly supported the conclusion that the State’s use of peremptory strikes in the defendant’s sixth trial was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Curtis Flowers was tried six separate times for the murder of four employees of a Mississippi furniture store. Flowers is black. Three of the four victims were white. At the first two trials, the State used its peremptory strikes on all of the qualified black prospective jurors.

In each case, the jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death, but the convictions were later reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court based on prosecutorial misconduct. At the third trial, the State used all of its 15 peremptory strikes against black prospective jurors, and the jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death.

The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed again, this time concluding that the State exercised its peremptory strikes on the basis of race in violation of Batson v. Kentucky. Flowers’ fourth and fifth trials ended in mistrials. At the fourth, the State exercised 11 peremptory strikes—all against black prospective jurors. No available racial information exists about the prospective jurors in the fifth trial.

At the sixth trial, the State exercised six peremptory strikes—five against black prospective jurors, allowing one black juror to be seated. Flowers again raised a Batson challenge, but the trial court concluded that the State had offered race-neutral reasons for each of the five peremptory strikes. The jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. Flowers appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Justice Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justices Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan joined. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch dissented.

Kavanaugh began by discussing the history behind the landmark Batson v. Kentucky. In his majority opinion he explained that under Batson, once a prima facie case of discrimination has been shown by a defendant, the State must provide race-neutral reasons for its peremptory strikes. The trial judge then must determine whether the prosecutor’s stated reasons were the actual reasons or instead were a pretext for discrimination.

“Four categories of evidence loom large in assessing the Batson issue here, where the State had a persistent pattern of striking black prospective jurors from Flowers’ first through his sixth trial,” said Justice Kavanaugh.

The Court reasoned that here, a review of the history of the State’s peremptory strikes in Flowers’ first four trials strongly supports the conclusion that the State’s use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent:

“The State tried to strike all 36 black prospective jurors over the course of the first four trials. And the state courts themselves concluded that the State had violated Batson on two separate occasions. The State’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury.”

The Court also reasoned that the State’s use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial followed the same discriminatory pattern as the first four trials.

“Disparate questioning can be probative of discriminatory intent,” said the Court.  “Here, the State spent far more time questioning the black prospective jurors than the accepted white jurors—145 questions asked of 5 black prospective jurors and 12 questions asked of 11 white seated jurors.”

Consequently, along with the historical evidence from the earlier trials, as well as the State’s striking of five of six black prospective jurors at the sixth trial, the dramatically disparate questioning and investigation of black prospective jurors and white prospective jurors at the sixth trial strongly suggest that the State was motivated in substantial part by a discriminatory intent.

Furthermore, the Court reasoned that comparing prospective jurors who were struck and not struck is an important step in determining whether a Batson violation occurred. “Here, Carolyn Wright, a black prospective juror, was struck, the State says, in part because she knew several defense witnesses and had worked at Wal-Mart where Flowers’ father also worked,” said the Court. “But three white prospective jurors also knew many individuals involved in the case, and the State asked them no individual questions about their connections to witnesses. White prospective jurors also had relationships with members of Flowers’ family, but the State did not ask them follow-up questions in order to explore the depth of those relationships.”

Finally, the Court ruled that the State also incorrectly explained that it exercised a peremptory strike against Wright because she had worked with one of Flowers’ sisters and made apparently incorrect statements to justify the strikes of other black prospective jurors. “When considered with other evidence, a series of factually inaccurate explanations for striking black prospective jurors can be another clue showing discriminatory intent,” said the Court. Consequently, the trial court at Flowers’ sixth trial committed clear error in concluding that the State’s peremptory strike of black prospective juror Carolyn Wright was not motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent. Pp. 26–30.

With that, the Supreme Court reversed Flowers’ conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court.

My opinion? Good decision. Although the facts and allegations are terrible for Mr. Flowers, prosecutors simply cannot use exercise race-based peremptory challenges to get justice.

Whatcom County Jail Settles ACLU Lawsuit

Image result for whatcom jail

A settlement agreement has been proposed in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union last year against the Whatcom County Jail and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, according to a press release sent Tuesday from ACLU’s Washington chapter.

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the ACLU’s lawsuit, Kortlever v. Whatcom County et. al, challenged Whatcom County’s refusal to provide people access to MAT even though it provides other clinically appropriate medications to inmates. Singling out a group of people because of their disability and denying them access to medical services to which they would otherwise be entitled is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whatcom County’s willingness to change its policies means that the court will not have to decide whether the previous policy was unlawful.

The lawsuit, filed in June 2018, alleged the jail had a policy for giving medication, such as buprenorphine (Suboxone or Subutex) or methadone, to pregnant women suffering from opioid use disorder, but had no policy for non-pregnant individuals, essentially forcing them to go into withdrawal once they were booked, according to court records.

Under the settlement, the Whatcom County Jail now will provide people in the jail with medication-assisted treatment (MAT) services to treat opioid use disorder, according to a press release sent Tuesday from the sheriff’s office.

Opioid use disorder is classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and also is a recognized substance use disorder. A person qualifies as having opioid use disorder if they meet two or more criteria that reflect impaired health function over a 12-month period. The disorder is a chronic condition and is often accompanied by changes to brain chemistry, the ACLU release stated.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are in jail and face criminal charges. Being incarcerated brings a considerable strain on family, mental health, employment and quality of life. A competent defense attorney can argue a motion to release the defendant or reduce bail. For more information, please read my Legal Guide titled, “Making Bail.”

Cities Can’t Criminalize Homelessness

Image result for police arrest homeless

Great article by   of Curbed describes how the Ninth Circuit’s Martin v. City of Boise, held that city law enforcement cannot  arrest or punish people for sleeping on public property unless they provide adequate and relatively accessible indoor accommodations.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The Martin case, which originated in 2009 when six residents sued the city, argued that laws against sleeping in public and qualifying that action as Disorderly Conduct were unconstitutional, specifically discussed reasonable and accessible spots for everyone. That means having beds accessible for the disabled and for pregnant women and families. An important argument in the Martin case concerned faith-based services that required those staying there to pray in a certain manner. Judges declared spots that coerced religious observation were not accessible to all.

The April 1 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers nine states in the western U.S. including California and Washington, rejects a petition to challenge a September ruling on the case. The 2-1 decision by a panel of three judges means that the earlier decision by the court stands, an affirmation of the theory that criminalizing people for camping of sleeping in public without any place to go is illegal.

“The government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

~Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

The ruling means unless there is enough shelter space for the homeless population of a city such as Seattle or San Francisco, city officials can’t enforce anti-vagrancy laws or prohibitions against camping in public parks or sidewalks. The court can’t force cities to build adequate shelter space or homeless housing, but it can make it unconstitutional for them to criminalize homelessness until that burden has been met.

Reporter Patrick Sisson wrote that Eve Garrow, a homelessness policy analyst and advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), expects that advocacy groups such as her own will soon engage in proactive public education campaigns to ensure municipalities are aware of the Martin decision and the group’s interpretation of the court ruling.

“I do believe if cities and counties continue to enforce in a way that’s now clearly unconstitutional, advocacy organizations will engage in litigation to protect the civil rights of these people,” she says.

The legal reasoning grew out of an interpretation of the Eighth Amendment and its prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, according to Ms. Garrow.

“You’re criminalizing someone for behavior that’s unavoidable,” she says. “Everyone has to sleep.” In effect, she says, municipal laws that ban sleeping in public are making it illegal to be poor.

Steve Berg, vice president of programs and policy for the National Alliance to End Homelessness, says the decision has gotten a lot of attention, and will hopefully accelerate the movement towards more supportive housing and services.

“There are still too many people in local governments who think the right answer to homelessness is arresting people,” he says.

Good decision, Ninth Circuit.

Necessity Defense vs. Climate Change

In State v. Ward, the WA Court of Appeals held that a defendant who was charged with burglary in the second degree after he broke into a pipeline facility and turned off a valve, which stopped the flow of Canadian tar sands oil to refineries in Skagit and Whatcom Counties, was entitled to argue a necessity defense to the jury. The defendant contended that his commission of the crime was necessary to avoid harm to the climate, as governments had failed to meaningfully address the crisis of climate change.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Kinder Morgan transports tar sands oil from Canada into the United States by pipeline. On October II, 2016, Kinder Morgan was notified by telephone that persons “would be closing a valve, one of our main line valves in the Mount Vernon area within the next 15 minutes.” Following the call, Ward cut off a padlock and entered the Kinder Morgan pipeline facility off of Peterson Road in Burlington, WA. Ward then closed a valve on the Trans-Mountain pipeline and placed sunflowers on the valve. At the same time, other protesters closed similar valves in North Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota. Collectively, the protests temporarily stopped the flow of Canadian tar sands oil from entering into the United States.

Ward was arrested at the pipeline facility and charged with burglary in the second degree, criminal sabotage, and criminal trespass in the second degree. Ward admitted his conduct but argued that his actions were protected under a necessity defense. The trial court granted the State’s pretrial motion in limine to preclude all witnesses and evidence offered in support of Ward’s necessity defense.

Ward’s first trial ended with a hung jury. The State then recharged Ward with burglary in the second degree and criminal sabotage. Ward moved for reconsideration of the trial court’s order granting the State’s motion in limine. In support of his motion, Ward offered argument, the curriculum vitae for eight proposed expert witnesses, and voluminous scientific evidence documenting the impacts of climate change, that climate change is primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity, and the contribution of burning tar sands oil. The trial court denied Ward’s motion for reconsideration and excluded all testimony and evidence in support of Ward’s necessity defense. A second jury found Ward guilty of burglary but were unable to return a verdict on criminal sabotage.

Ward appealed on arguments that the trial court denied his constitutional right to present a defense by striking all testimony and evidence of necessity.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals reasoned that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article 1, sections 21 and 22 of the Washington Constitution guarantee a defendant the right to trial by jury and to defend against criminal allegations. If Ward submitted a sufficient quantum of evidence to show that he would likely be able to meet each element of the necessity defense, then the trial court’s exclusion of evidence in support of his sole defense violated Ward’s constitutional rights.

NECESSITY DEFENSE

The Court explained that the Necessity is available when the pressure of circumstances cause the accused to take unlawful action to avoid a harm which social policy deems greater than the harm resulting from a violation of the law. To successfully raise the necessity defense the defendant must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that: (1) they reasonably believed the commission of the crime was necessary to avoid or minimize a harm, (2) the harm sought to be avoided was greater than the harm resulting from a violation of the law, (3) the threatened harm was not brought about by the defendant, and (4) no reasonable legal alternative existed.

THE NECESSITY DEFENSE APPLIES

The Court held that that here, Ward’s necessity defense applies. In short, Ward’s past successes in effectuating change through civil disobedience in conjunction with the proposed expert witnesses and testimony about Ward’s beliefs were sufficient evidence to persuade a fair minded, rational juror that Ward’s beliefs were reasonable.

First, Ward offered evidence that he has been working with environmental issues for more than 40 years but that the majority of his efforts failed to achieve effective results. Ward asserted that because of these failures he came to understand that the issue of climate change would require other than incremental change and that direct action was necessary to accomplish these goals.

Second, Ward offered sufficient evidence to show that the harms of global climate change were greater than the harm of breaking into Kinder Morgan’s property. Ward asserted that the extent of the harm resulting from his actions were the loss of a few locks and the temporary inconvenience to Kinder Morgan’s employees. Compared to this, Ward introduced “voluminous scientific evidence of the harms of climate change.”

“When civil disobedience and the necessity defense intersect, it is the intent of the protester, not the effectiveness of the protest, that is of the utmost relevance.”

Furthermore, the Court of Appeals reasoned that Ward’s actions were not intended to be merely symbolic in nature because the harms that Ward asserted he was trying to alleviate were more than just climate change, generally, but also included both the specific dangers of Canadian tar sands oil and the impacts of sea level rise on Washington.

“As such, the evidence he planned to introduce was not solely aimed at inducing jury nullification and the trial court erred in preventing Ward from introducing evidence in support of his necessity defense,” said the Court of Appeals.

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Ward’s conviction.

My opinion? I’m proud and impressed that our Court of Appeals allowed such a broad and permissive view of the Necessity defense. Apparently, the harm that climate change brings may necessitate  drastic measures.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges where the Necessity Defense could be argued and proven. Cases like State v. Ward show that a strong, well-supported defense of Necessity should be liberally given to juries when the facts support the defense. Kudos to Mr. Ward’s defense counsel for taking the case to jury, appealing the judge’s rulings and getting a successful outcome on appeal. Excellent work.

Many Washington Inmates Are Eligible for Release.

Image result for free from jail

Excellent article by  reporter Chad Sokol of the Spokesman Review describes how, on any given day, thousands of inmates in Washington jails are eligible to be released based on their likelihood to commit new crimes and show up to court before trial, according to a new report from the state auditor’s office.

Auditors found roughly one-third of the state’s jail inmates are candidates for pretrial services such as electronic monitoring, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and texts and phone calls that remind people of court dates.

The auditors also found the cost of incarceration significantly outweighs the cost of pretrial services, concluding such reforms could save $6 million to $12 million in taxpayer money each year while maintaining public safety.

The audit, published last week, makes no policy recommendations but reaffirms what criminal justice activists have been saying for years: The cash bail system disadvantages the poor and fuels recidivism.

“When defendants cannot afford to pay bail, they remain in jail until the trial. Keeping them in jail is costly to the taxpayers . . . Perhaps more importantly, extended jail time before trial can have significant consequences for defendants, as they become more likely to be convicted, more likely to receive a longer sentence, and less likely to gain and maintain future employment.” ~ WA State Auditor’s Office

According to reporter Sokol, the state auditors examined 2016 jail inmate data using the Public Safety Assessment, a risk-assessment tool created by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. About half of the 4,700 inmates deemed eligible for release were considered likely to reoffend without monitoring and services, while the rest were considered low-risk.

The auditors specifically examined data from Spokane and Yakima counties, which have made concerted efforts to reduce jail overcrowding and eliminate socioeconomic disparities. The auditors found that defendants given pretrial services reoffended at slightly lower rates than those released on bail, but in Spokane County the difference was not statistically significant.

Defendants released through pretrial services in Spokane County, however, were much more likely to show up to court than those released on bail, the auditors found. Failure-to-appear rates for the two groups were 38 percent and 53 percent, respectively.

The audit accompanies another report, published in February by Washington’s Pretrial Reform Task Force, which makes a range of policy recommendations aimed at safeguarding the presumption of innocence enshrined in the Constitution.

“The use of a pretrial services department can be really helpful in assisting people getting to court or remembering court dates,” said Municipal Court Judge Mary Logan, who co-authored the task force report with state Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu and King County Superior Court Judge Sean O’Donnell.

Logan noted bail is “not supposed to be a punitive measure,” and with few exceptions, court rules require defendants be released before trial. The task force concluded the government – not defendants – should bear the cost of pretrial services.

“Accused persons cannot and should not be required to incur additional costs or debts as a result of their participation in pretrial services,” they wrote.

Spokane County’s criminal justice administrator, Maggie Yates, said the task force report validates the county’s reform efforts funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

My opinion? This is good news. Releasing individuals when it’s appropriate not only makes sense legally, but ethically and financially as well. Individuals facing charges may continue to support their families, pursue and maintain employment, and seek out mental health or substance use treatment while navigating court proceedings. The resulting stability only makes our community safer.

Please contact my office if you have a friend or family member who is incarcerated and facing criminal charges. Under CrR 3.2, judges have options to lower bail or release defendants on their personal recognizance while the charges are pending.

Victim Restitution

Image result for bobcat tractor

In State v. Romish, the WA Court of Appeals held that a defendant’s obligation to pay a victim’s restitution in possession of stolen property cases is only limited to damage that the State can prove was caused by the defendant’s conduct.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Romish pled guilty to possession of stolen property of a Bobcat tractor. In his guilty plea statement, Mr. Romish admitted to knowingly possessing stolen property, but he denied altering the condition of any of the property in his possession. He also did not indicate when he came into possession of the stolen property.

At the plea and sentencing hearing, Mr. Romish’s attorney agreed that restitution could be ordered if the State showed a causal connection between the damage to the Bobcat and Mr. Romish’s possession of it, but expressed doubts that the State could establish such a connection. Mr. Romish denied altering the condition of the Bobcat. Counsel also disputed the amount of claimed damages and requested a separate hearing on restitution.

A restitution hearing was held October 12, 2017. The only witness to testify was the owner of the stolen property. He described the damage that was sustained by the Bobcat as a result of the theft. He also explained that the Bobcat had been repainted in a haphazard manner and that a taillight had been broken. Although there did not appear to be any functional damage, the owner had the Bobcat serviced it, just to make sure.

Receipts showed the service, repair and repainting costs totaled $4,897.42. In addition to having the Bobcat repaired and serviced, the owner testified he had to rent replacement equipment during the period that the Bobcat was unavailable for use in his excavation business. Rental fees were incurred not only for the period that the Bobcat was missing as stolen, but also for the time the Bobcat was out of commission for service and repairs. The total rental cost was $4,928.46.

On cross-examination, the property owner denied knowing who stole the Bobcat or
who had repainted it. The owner testified that the paint on the Bobcat was neither fresh
nor wet when it was recovered. And the property owner denied seeing any paint at the
location where the Bobcat was recovered.

After the close of evidence, the trial court ordered Mr. Romish to pay restitution for all costs associated with the disappearance, repair and repainting of the Bobcat. Although the court recognized Mr. Romish had not been convicted of stealing the Bobcat, it nevertheless reasoned it could find at least by a preponderance of the evidence that the damage to the Bobcat had occurred while it was in Mr. Romish’s possession. The total amount of restitution was set at $9,825.88.

Mr. Romish appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals took Mr. Romish’s side. It vacated the trial court’s restitution order and remanded Romish’s matter for a new restitution hearing.

“The law of restitution relies on causation . . .” said the Court of Appeals, ” . . . and that reliance creates a distinction between theft and possession of stolen property.” Furthermore, the Court reasoned that culpability for possession of stolen property does not necessarily include culpability for the stealing of the property. “The actual thief is guilty of a different crime.”

The Court further reasoned that when a defendant has been convicted of possessing—but not the theft of—stolen property, sentencing courts must ensure a true causal connection links the defendant’s conduct to the victim’s losses. The mere fact that property was recently stolen does not permit inferring causation. “Instead, we require more specific evidence tying the defendant’s conduct to the victim’s losses,” said the Court.

Here, the Court held that no such evidence was presented in Mr. Romish’s case:

“Although the Bobcat was found in a barn at Mr. Romish’s residence, there was no evidence of painting supplies or recent painting activities at that location. Nor were there shards of glass or plastic that might signify the tail light had been broken at Mr. Romish’s
residence. In addition, the paint on the Bobcat was not fresh. This suggests that at least some time had passed between the repainting of the Bobcat and the date of its recovery by law enforcement.”

Additionally, the evidence presented at the hearing doidnot link Mr. Romish’s criminal conduct to many of the victim’s claimed damages. “No evidence was presented that might lead one to believe the Bobcat would not have been repainted or the taillight broken ‘but
for’ Mr. Romish’s possession,” said the Court of Appeals. “In like manner, there is no reason to think Mr. Romish’s possession of the Bobcat was the ‘but for’ cause of the victim’s rental fee expenses prior to the offense conduct date of August 23, 2016. Given these circumstances, the order of restitution must be reversed.”

My opinion? This case presented an interesting question regarding causation and damages in a criminal law context. Although the victim’s plight is sympathetic, and although there was substantial evidence that Mr. Romish stole the Bobcat, the Court was correct in its ruling that the State lacked evidence showing that Mr. Romish actually damaged the stolen Bobcat. Theft and property damage require two different levels of proof.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. A defendant’s obligation to pay restitution to the victim of a crime is a huge issue in criminal law. Hiring competent and experienced defense attorney is a step in the right direction.

Firearms & Terry Stops

Related image

In State v. Tarango, the WA Court of Appeals held that the presence of a firearm in public and the presence of an individual openly carrying a handgun in a “high-risk setting,” are insufficient, standing alone, to support an investigatory stop.

BACKGROUND FACTS

At around 2:00 in the afternoon on a winter day in 2016, Mr. Matthews drove to a neighborhood grocery store in Spokane, parking his car next to a Chevrolet Suburban in which music was playing loudly. A man was sitting in the passenger seat of the Suburban, next to its female driver. When Mr. Matthews stepped out of his car and got a better look at the passenger, who later turned out to be the defendant Mr. Tarango, he noticed that Mr. Tarango was holding a gun in his right hand, resting it on his thigh. Mr. Matthews would later describe it as a semiautomatic, Glock-style gun.

As he headed into the store, Mr. Matthews called 911 to report what he had seen, providing the 911 operator with his name and telephone number. The first officer to respond saw a vehicle meeting Mr. Matthews’s description parked on the east side of the store. He called in the license plate number and waited for backup to arrive. Before other officers could arrive, however, the Suburban left the parking area, traveling west.

The Suburban was followed by an officer and once several other officers reached the vicinity, they conducted a felony stop. According to one of the officers, the driver, Lacey Hutchinson, claimed to be the vehicle’s owner. When told why she had been pulled over, she denied having firearms in the vehicle and gave consent to search it.

After officers obtained Mr. Tarango’s identification, however, they realized he was under Department of Corrections (DOC) supervision and decided to call DOC officers to perform the search.

In searching the area within reach of where Mr. Tarango had been seated, a DOC officer observed what appeared to be the grip of a firearm located behind the passenger seat, covered by a canvas bag. When the officer moved the bag to get a better view of the visible firearm—the visible firearm turned out to be a black semiautomatic—a second firearm, a revolver, fell out. Moving the bag also revealed a couple of boxes of ammunition. At that point, officers decided to terminate the search, seal the vehicle, and obtain a search warrant. A loaded Glock Model 22 and a Colt Frontier Scout revolver were recovered when the vehicle was later searched.

The State charged Mr. Tarango, who had prior felony convictions, with two counts of first degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Because Mr. Tarango had recently failed to report to his community custody officer as ordered, he was also charged with Escape from community custody.

Before trial, Mr. Tarango moved to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop, arguing that police lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. However, the trial court denied the suppression motion. Later, at trial, the jury found Mr. Tarango guilty as charged. He appealed.

ISSUE

The issue on appeal was whether a reliable informant’s tip that Mr. Tarango was seen openly holding a handgun while seated in a vehicle in a grocery store parking lot was a sufficient basis, without more, for conducting a Terry stop of the vehicle after it left the lot.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Court of Appeals held that Mr. Tarango’s motion to suppress should have been granted because officers lacked reasonable suspicion that Mr. Tarango had engaged in or was about to engage in criminal activity.

The Court reasoned that warrantless searches and seizures are per se unreasonable unless one of the few jealously and carefully drawn exceptions to the warrant requirement applies.

“A Terry investigative stop is a well-established exception,” said the Court. “The purpose of a Terry stop is to allow the police to make an intermediate response to a situation for which there is no probable cause to arrest but which calls for further investigation . . . To conduct a valid Terry stop, an officer must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity based on specific and articulable facts known to the officer at the inception of the stop.”

Additionally, the Court of Appeals reasoned that in evaluating whether the circumstances supported a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, it reminded that Washington is an “open carry” state, meaning that it is legal in Washington to carry an unconcealed firearm unless the circumstances manifest an intent to intimidate another or warrant alarm for the safety of other persons.

“Since openly carrying a handgun is not only not unlawful, but is an individual right protected by the federal and state constitutions, it defies reason to contend that it can be the basis, without more, for an investigative stop.”

Here, because the officers conducting the Terry stop of the Suburban had no information that Mr. Tarango had engaged in or was about to engage in criminal activity, the officers lacked reasonable suspicion.

Consequently, the Court of Appeals ruled that Tarango’s motion to suppress should have been granted. The Court also reversed and dismissed his firearm possession convictions.

Please contact my office if, a friend or family member face criminal charges. Similar to the excellent defense attorney in this case, experienced attorneys routinely research, file and argue motions to suppress evidence when it is gained by unlawful search and seizure and in violation a defendant’s Constitutional rights.

Right to Impartial Jury

Image result for Right to Impartial Jury

In State v. Phillips, the WA Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not violate an African-American defendant’s right to an impartial jury by dismissing a prospective juror despite the juror’s feelings that African American men are more prone to violence.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On July 1, 2016, Mr. Phillips came home late after his wife Ms. Philips was in bed asleep with their infant daughter. Ms. Philips told Mr. Phillips to leave her alone. Their daughter called 911 and reported that Mr. Phillips was hitting Ms. Philips. When Mr. Phillips saw his daughter was calling the police, he knocked the phone from her hands.

King County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the 911 call and found the house in chaos. Mr. Phillips was arrested and booked into jail. From jail, Mr. Phillips repeatedly called Mrs. Philips demanding that she get him out and expressing his anger at the police having been called. Mr. Phillips was charged with Assault in the Second Degree Domestic Violence (DV) and Tampering With a Witness.

Jury Selection

During jury selection, the trial judge asked if any of the jurors had personal experience
with domestic violence. Juror 10 was among the members who raised their hand. When asked to elaborate, he explained that his sister and his wife’s sister-in-law were both involved in abusive relationships with intimate partners.

Juror #10 also revealed an experience in college after an intramural basketball game when an African American player on the opposing team assaulted him. Juror 10 explained, “nothing came of it, but it left an emotional imprint.” He further elaborated,

“And this is an emotional truth. I don’t live this way; I don’t believe this; but I’m also aware that feelings happen in reality that black men are more prone to violence . . . It was also notable that afterwards when, you know, the gym supervisor was called and there was just a huddle on the spot, and then, of course there was denial and, you know, dismissiveness of it. And that’s another narrative; that those who are violent try to get out of it; so those are two personal emotions imprints that are there, as well.”

From these comments, both the State Prosecutor and Mr. Philips’ defense attorney asked numerous questions to Juror #10. Ultimately, neither the State nor defense counsel exercised a peremptory challenge or moved to strike Juror #10 for cause. Later, Juror #10 served on the jury.

Ultimately, the jury found Phillips guilty of second degree assault and found the State prove aggravating circumstances. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the witness tampering charge, and it was dismissed. Mr. Philips was sentenced to 120 months.

He appealed. One of the issues was whether Juror #10 should have been struck from serving on the jury panel.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Philips’ conviction.

The Court started by giving a substantial amount of background on the issue of jury selection. It said the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and article 1, section 22, of the Washington Constitution, guarantee a criminal defendant the right to trial by an impartial jury.

Furthermore, in order to ensure this constitutional right, the trial court will excuse a juror for cause if the juror’s views would prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath. The presence of a biased juror cannot be harmless; the error requires a new trial without a showing of prejudice.

Also, at trial, either party has a statutory right to challenge a prospective juror for cause. “Actual bias is a ground for challenging a juror for cause,” said the Court of Appeals. “Actual bias occurs when there is the existence of a state of mind on the part of the juror in reference to the action, or to either party, which satisfies the court that the challenged person cannot try the issue impartially and without prejudice to the substantial rights of the party challenging.”

Furthermore, Under State v. Irby, RCW 2.36.110 and CrR 6.4 it is the judge’s duty to excuse potential jurors from  jury service if they have manifested unfitness as a juror by reason of bias, prejudice, indifference, inattention or any physical or mental defect. These court precedents, statutes and court rules give a trial judge an independent obligation to excuse a juror, regardless of inaction by counsel or the defendant.

However, the Court of Appeals ultimately reasoned that the present case was distinguishable from Irby.

Also, the Court of Appeals reasoned that defense counsel was alert to the possibility of biased jurors.

“Defense counsel actively questioned Juror #10, including questioning whether, despite juror 10’s concerns, the juror would follow the court’s instructions and base his decision on the evidence presented,” reasoned the court of Appeals. “As a result, defense counsel did not challenge Juror #10. This suggests that defense counsel observed something during voir dire that led counsel to believe Juror #10 could be fair.”

Furthermore, the Court of Appeals said it was also significant that Phillips used his peremptory challenges to strike several jurors, but had one peremptory challenge remaining when he accepted the jury, including Juror #10. “Again, this suggests that defense counsel either wanted juror 10 on the jury, or did not want one or both the next potential jurors on the panel,” said the Court of Appeals.

Consequently, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in failing to excuse Juror #10 for cause and upheld Mr. Philips’ conviction.

My opinion? Bad decision.

I’ve conducted nearly 40 jury trials, which is more experience than most criminal defense attorneys have. In my experience, potential jurors have a tendency to mitigate, justify, deny, back-pedal and just plain cover up any biases they have. It’s human nature. Therefore, if any juror states they have a biases which prejudice a criminal defendant, then that juror should be excused. Period.

Unfortunately, it appears Defense Counsel also failed to strike Juror #10. That is unfortunate as well. As the judge said, however, this may have been strategic. Perhaps Defense Counsel wanted to avoid impaneling a potential juror who was actually more biased than Juror #10. We don’t know.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an experienced and proactive defense attorney is the first step toward gaining justice.

“School Search” Held Unconstitutional

Image result for principal's office

In State v. A.S., the WA Court of Appeals held that drugs found in a 14-year-old child’s backpack in a search conducted by the vice-principal were rightfully suppressed because the search was not reasonable when the child (1) was not a student of the school, (2) the vice principal knew nothing about the child’s history or school record, (3) there was no record of a drug problem at the school, and (4) there was no exigent circumstance to conduct the search as police officers were already on their way to the school.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On April 11, 2016, Meadowdale High School staff received information about an alleged threat involving then 14-year-old A.S., who was not a Meadowdale student. Meadowdale staff looked up A.S.’s picture using the district’s computer system so that they would be able to identify her should she appear on campus.

Later that day, the Vice-Principal of Meadowdale summonsed A.S. to his office, and later, the Principal’s office. A.S. was not very cooperative with being questioned.

At some point while A.S. was in Kniseley’s office, the Vice-Principal noticed an odor that he recognized as marijuana emanating from A.S. The Vice-Principal then searched A.S.’s backpack, which was sitting next to her, and found suspected marijuana and drug paraphernalia. A.S. did not say or do anything to resist the search of her backpack.

A.S. was later charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a controlled substance. Prior to trial, A.S. moved to suppress the evidence of the suspected marijuana and drug paraphernalia found in her backpack, arguing that the evidence was the fruit of an unlawful search and seizure. Specifically, A.S. argued that the “school search exception” to the warrant requirement did not apply to her because she was not a Meadowdale student when the Vice-Principal searched her backpack and even if the exception did apply, the search was not reasonable.

The trial court denied A.S.’s motion and, following a stipulated bench trial, convicted A.S. of both possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a controlled substance. A.S. appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that under both the Washington Constitution and U.S. Constitution, a government actor must obtain a search warrant supported by probable cause to conduct a search unless an exception applies. Under pre-existing case-law, the exceptions to the warrant requirement are “‘jealously and carefully drawn.”

School Search Exception

One of these exceptions is the “school search exception,” which allows school authorities to conduct a search of a student without probable cause if the search is reasonable under all the circumstances. A search is reasonable if it is: (1) justified at its inception; and (2) reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the interference in the first place.

The Court further reasoned that under ordinary circumstances, a search of a student by a teacher or other school official will be ‘justified at its inception’ when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school. And, a search will be permitted in scope “when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.

Finally, Washington courts have established the following factors from State v. Brooks and State v. McKinnon as relevant in determining whether school officials had reasonable grounds for conducting a warrantless search:

“The child’s age, history, and school record, the prevalence and seriousness of the problem in the school to which the search was directed, the exigency to make the search without delay, and the probative value and reliability of the information used as a justification for the search.”

Here,  the search was unconstitutional.

First, A.S. was not a student of the school and the Vice-Principal knew nothing about the child’s history or school record. Specifically, nothing in the record suggests that the Vice-Principal, who guessed that A.S. was middle school aged, knew anything about A.S.’s history or school record. Indeed, the Vice-Principal testified that when he looked up A.S. in the district database, he was only interested in her picture.

Furthermore, there was no evidence that drug use was a drug problem at Meadowdale. Rather, when asked whether Meadowdale had a drug problem, the Vice-Principal responded, “I don’t believe so.” He also testified that he did not deal with drugs on a regular basis as a school administrator and that Meadowdale had only “occasional incidents” on its campus involving students bringing drugs or drug paraphernalia on campus.

Additionally, there was no exigency to conduct the search without delay, given that the police had been called, and A.S.—who had been told that the police were called—gave no indication that she was trying to leave the principal’s office.

And finally, the odor of marijuana alone did not create an exigent circumstance, particularly where the Vice-Principal had no other reason to believe that A.S. used marijuana or that her backpack would contain marijuana. For these same reasons, the search of A.S.’s backpack was not justified at its inception.

My opinion? Good decision. In an educational context, school officials have a substantial interest in maintaining discipline and order on school grounds. However, the search conducted in this case did not promote that interest.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime involving a questionable search by the authorities. Hiring a competent, experienced and knowledgeable defense attorney is the first step toward gaining justice.

Fentanyl Is the Deadliest Drug

Image result for Fentanyl overdose

 

Excellent article by  of USA Today discussed a recent report from the from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding that Fentanyl is now the deadliest drug in America, with more than 18,000 overdose deaths in 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

It’s the first time the synthetic opioid has been the nation’s deadliest drug. From 2012 to 2015, heroin topped the list.

For those who don’t know, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, applied in a patch on the skin. Because of its powerful opioid properties, Fentanyl is also diverted for abuse. Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency, or be disguised as highly potent heroin. Many users believe that they are purchasing heroin and actually don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl – which often results in overdose deaths.

On average, in each year from 2013 to 2016, the rate of overdose deaths from Fentanyl increased by about 113 percent  a year.  The report said fentanyl was responsible for 29 percent of all overdose deaths in 2016, up from just 4 percent in 2011.

Overall, more than 63,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016, according to the report, which was prepared by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  That’s an average of 174 deaths  a day.

The study also said many people who die from overdoses have multiple drugs in their system. “We’ve had a tendency to think of these drugs in isolation,” Dr. Holly Hedegaard, lead author of the report, told HuffPost. “It’s not really what’s happening.”

As an example, roughly 40 percent of people listed as dying of a cocaine overdose also had fentanyl in their system.

After fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine were the deadliest drugs in 2016. After declines earlier in the decade, the report said, overdose deaths from both cocaine and methamphetamine were starting to rise again.

The study said illegal drugs such as fentanyl and heroin were the primary causes of unintentional overdoses, while prescription drugs such as oxycodone tended to be used in suicide overdoses.

Drug abuse is terribly destructive and deeply affects addicts, families and society. However, please contact my office if you, a friend or family members are charged with a drug crime. The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right against unlawful search and seizure. Perhaps some well-argued pretrial motions can become part of an aggressive defense against pending drug charges.