Tag Archives: Mt. Vernon Criminal Defense

Firearms & Terry Stops

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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.

Signalling Turns

Image result for left turn signal red light

In State v. Brown, the WA Court of Appeals held that a driver, who moved left from a middle lane to a dedicated left turn lane while signaling his intention to change lanes, is not required to reactive his turn signal before turning left from the reserve lane unless public safety is implicated. Therefore, evidence discovered when a driver is stopped for failing to signal a turn when public safety is not implicated must be suppressed.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On the evening of March 22, 2015, Trooper Acheson of the WA State Patrol patrolled the streets of Kennewick. At 10:15 p.m., while traveling eastbound on Clearwater Avenue, Trooper Acheson saw Mr. Brown driving a Toyota Tundra, turn right from Huntington Street onto Clearwater Avenue. During the turn, the left side tires of the Tundra, a large pickup, crossed the white dashed divider line between the two eastbound lanes by one tire width for a brief moment, after which the vehicle fully returned to its lane of travel. Brown’s diversion across the dividing line did not endanger any travel. Acheson observed Brown’s tires cross the white dashed divider line, and he continued to view Brown’s driving thereafter.

Shortly after entering Clearwater Avenue, Mr. Brown signaled his intent to change lanes, and to move to the left or inner eastbound lane, by activating his left turn signal that blinked numerous times. Brown entered the inner lane of the two lanes.

Soon, Mr. Brown approached the intersection of Clearwater Avenue and Highway 395, where the eastbound lanes widen to three lanes. The innermost of the three lanes becomes a designated left turn only lane. Brown again wished to change lanes so he could turn left. Brown signaled his intent to move left into the dedicated turn lane. Brown maneuvered his vehicle into the dedicated turn lane, at which point the left turn signal cycled-off.

Mr. Brown stopped his vehicle in the dedicated left turn lane while awaiting the light to turn green. He did not reactivate his turn signal. Trooper Acheson pulled behind Brown. No other traffic was present on eastbound Clearwater Avenue. When the light turned green, Brown turned left onto northbound Highway 395. Trooper Mason Acheson then activated his patrol vehicle’s emergency light and stopped Brown.

Trooper Acheson stopped David Brown based on Brown’s crossing the eastbound lanes’ divider line during his turn from Huntington Street onto Clearwater Avenue. He did not stop Brown based on Brown’s failure to signal his left turn onto Highway 395. After stopping Brown, Trooper Acheson investigated Brown for suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUI). Acheson arrested Brown for DUI.

Brown filed a motion to suppress evidence garnered from the stop of his car by Trooper Acheson. The court concluded that, because Brown violated no traffic law, Trooper Acheson lacked probable cause to initiate the traffic stop. Therefore, the court suppressed all evidence gained from the stop and thereafter dismissed the prosecution.

The Prosecutor appealed the dismissal to the superior court. According to the superior court, David Brown violated RCW 46.61.305(2), which requires a continuous signal of one’s intent to turn during the last one hundred feet before turning left. Because Trooper Mason Acheson observed Brown’s failure to continuously signal before turning left onto the highway, Acheson gained reasonable suspicion of a traffic infraction. The superior court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.

Mr. Brown appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that RCW 46.61.305(2) declares that a driver must, “when required,” continuously signal an intention to turn or cross lanes during at least the last one hundred feet traveled before turning or moving lanes. This appeal asks if this statute compels a driver, who moved left from a middle lane to a dedicated left turn lane while signally his intention to change lanes, to reactivate his turn signal before turning left from the reserved turn lane.

“We hold that the statute only requires use of a signal in circumstances that implicate public safety. Because the circumstances surrounding David Brown’s left-hand turn from a left-turn-only lane did not jeopardize public safety, we hold that Trooper Acheson lacked grounds to stop David Brown’s vehicle.”

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed the superior court, reinstated the district court’s grant of David Brown’s motion to suppress and dismissed the charge of driving while under the influence.

My opinion? Good decision. It makes sense that unless public safety is an issue, police officers shouldn’t have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to pull over a vehicle that’s clearly in the left-turn lane even though their vehicle turn signal is not activated. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges of DUI, Reckless Driving, Driving While License Suspended or other criminal traffic violations.

Rodriguez v. United States: Nonconsensual Dog Sniff of Car Held Unconstitutional

**EXCELLENT OPINION**

In State v. Rodriguez, the United States Supreme Court held that absent reasonable suspicion, police extending a traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.

In summary, the Supreme Court ruled that (1) the 4th Amendment does Fourth Amendment does not tolerate a dog sniff conducted after completion of a traffic stop, (2) a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violated the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures, (3) a seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation becomes unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the issuing of a ticket for the violation, and (4) a stop may, however, be prolonged for a dog sniff when there is independent information giving rise to an individualized suspicion that the occupants of the car are involved in a drug offense.

The 6-3 ruling is indeed a big win for the 4th Amendment.

In this case, Officer Struble, a K-9 officer, stopped the defendant Rodriguez for driving on a highway shoulder. After issuing a warning for the traffic offense Officer Strubble asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around the vehicle. Rodriguez refused. Struble detained him until another police officer arrived. Struble’s dog perfomed a search and alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. The dog found methamphetamine.

Seven or eight minutes elapsed between the time Struble issued the warning and the dog alerting to the presence of contraband.

Rodriguez faced several federal drug charges. Although he moved to suppress evidence seized from the vehicle on the basis that Officer Struble prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion in order to conduct the dog sniff search, the lower court denied Rodriguez’s motion. Eventually, the United States Supreme Court weighed in on the search and seizure issues.

The Court reasoned that a routine traffic stop is more like a brief stop under Terry v. Ohio than an arrest. Its duration is determined by the seizure’s “mission,” which is to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attend to related safety concerns.

Beyond determining whether to issue a traffic ticket, an officer’smission during a traffic stop typically includes checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants againstthe driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof ofinsurance. These checks serve the same objective as enforcement ofthe traffic code: ensuring that vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly.

The court further reasoned that a dog sniff is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission. Also, the Court was concerned that seizing citizens for traffic stops and holding them to conduct a more intrusive search with no evidence of criminal activity beyond the mere traffic stop is unlawful: “The critical question is not whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket, but whether conducting the sniff adds time to the stop.

My opinion? Great ruling! It’s rare that the Supreme Court upholds the 4th Amendment these days. Fortunately, this favorable outcome happened because the suspect asserted his rights by refusing the dog sniff. Past rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court limit 4th Amendment protections where suspects DID NOT assert their rights. See Florida v. Bostick.

Yet here’s a case where the suspect did flex their rights. Look at the outcome! It’s a testament – a reminder, if you will – that asserting your rights makes a difference. Great case.

Marijuana / THC Breathalyzer Available Soon.

Cannabix Marijuana Breathalyzer

Technology appears to be catching up.

Since Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2014, and the growing trend to legalize pot in some capacity across the nation, there is an increased interest in addressing drugged driving.

However, today’s standardized testing marijuana intoxication is not as simple as detecting alcohol. More science and research are required. It the meantime, technology will be coming to market, such as the marijuana breathalyzer being developed by Cannabix Technologies, Inc. to give police officers an on-site tool to enhance detection of THC, the psychotropic metabolite in marijuana.

In the future, devices of this type will likely be dialed in by the forensic community and become an integral element in identifying marijuana-intoxicated drivers and in other settings, including workplaces and general consumer use, just as the alcohol breathalyzer is today.

My opinion? We saw this coming. It’s almost humorous. Typically, the law lags behind technological advances. Here, technology appears to be lagging behind the evolution of marijuana legalization! Interesting development, no? This device is another tool in the hands of law enforcement – along with Drug Recognition Experts, and search warrants for the testing of blood – for investigating DUI charges.

What Caused the Decline In Crime?

Interesting reading.

A new report examines the dramatic drop in crime nationwide over the past two decades — and analyzes various theories for why it occurred.

In What Caused the Crime Decline? a team of economic and criminal justice researchers examined over 40 years of data, gathered from 50 states and the 50 largest cities. Their work examines one of the nation’s least understood recent phenomena – the dramatic decline in crime nationwide over the past two decades – and analyzes various theories for why it occurred. It concludes that over-harsh criminal justice policies, particularly increased incarceration, which rose even more dramatically over the same period, were not the main drivers of the crime decline. In fact, the report finds that increased incarceration has been declining in its effectiveness as a crime control tactic for more than 30 years. Its effect on crime rates since 1990 has been limited, and has been non-existent since 2000.

More important were various social, economic, and environmental factors, such as growth in income and an aging population. The introduction of CompStat, a data-driven policing technique, also played a significant role in reducing crime in cities that introduced it.

The report concludes that considering the immense social, fiscal, and economic costs of mass incarceration, programs that improve economic opportunities, modernize policing practices, and expand treatment and rehabilitation programs, all could be a better public safety investment.

Nobel laureate Dr. Joseph E. Stiglitz called the report “groundbreaking” in a foreword.

This is ineresting reading. Also, their research contained information on how/why specific states’ dropoff in crime happened.

 

State v. Larson: Retail Theft With Extenuating Circumstances

Interesting opinion.

In State v. Larson wire cutters, which were used to sever the wire that attached a department store security device to a pair of Nike shoes, are a “device designed to overcome security systems” for purposes of RCW 9A.56.360(1)(b). 

Defendant Zachary Larson attempted to steal a pair of shoes from a retail store. The shoes were equipped with a security device that was attached to the shoes by wire. Yet, Larson, using wire cutters that he had brought into the store, severed the wire and removed the security device. When Larson tried to leave the store, he was stopped by security employees and, subsequently, was charged with one count of Retail Theft with Extenuating circumstances under RCW 9A.56.360(1)(b), which criminalizes the commission of retail theft while in possession of a “device designed to overcome security systems.”

While the case was pending, he argued a Knapstad motion seeking dismissal of the charge. Therein, he argued that, as a matter of law, wire cutters do not constitute a “device designed to overcome security systems.” The trial court denied his Knapstad motion. On December 18, the trial court found Larson guilty as charged. He was sentenced to 60 days of confinement. Larson appealed on the argument that the trial court improperly denied his Knapstad motion and that wire cutters do, in fact, constitute a device designed to overcome security systems.

The court disagreed with Larson and stated the following:

“The plain meaning of the statute reveals the legislature’s intent to punish thieves who, anticipating that the possession ofa device which may be able to foil a store’s security system will be expedient to their cause, commit retail theft while in possession of such a device. In recognition of the fact that wire cutters are designed to cut wire, which is a common feature ofsecurity systems, we hold that, within the meaning of former RCW 9A.56.360(1 )(b), wire cutters constitute a ‘device designed to overcome security systems.'”

The Court also reasoned that the Division II Court of Appeals decision in State v. Reeves, ___ Wn. App. ___, 336 P.3d 105 (2014) – a recent opinion which held that “ordinary pliers” do not constitute a device designed to overcome security systems – was wrongfully decided :

“To exclude wire cutters from the statute’s reach on the basis that wire cutters may be used in other settings to achieve different ends would frustrate the legislature’s intent, while providing those inclined to commit retail theft with an unmistakable incentive to employ “ordinary devices,” as characterized by the Reeves court, to pursue their nefarious ends. Surely, the legislature did not intend such a result.”

With that, the Court upheld Larson’s conviction.

State v. Weller: Community Caretaking

In State v. Weller, the WA Court of Appeals decided an officers’ entry into a garage to privately interview children about their allegations of abuse was lawful under the health and safety check community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement. Also, the seizure of the board the children stated was used by the parents while beating the children, was lawful under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement.

Sandra and Jeffrey Weller had six children in their care. In 2011, CPS became suspicious that the Wellers were abusing the children. Eventually, CPS conducted a welfare check of the family home with the assistance of numerous police officers. The officers did not have a search warrant. Officer Aldridge asked if they could come inside and speak with Sandra and the children. Sandra stepped back from the door and the officers entered the house. The officers attempted to talk privately with the twins. Officer Jensen and CW talked in one room. Officer Aldridge and CG talked in another room, and ultimately moved into the garage for greater privacy. Both children described being beaten repeatedly with a board.

Officer Aldridge was standing in the same place as when she entered the garage when she looked around and saw a board leaning against the garage wall in plain view. She asked the children if that was the board used to beat them, and they replied that it was. Officers saw what appeared to be bloodstains on the board. Based on her observations, Officer Aldridge decided to remove the twins and the other children from the Weller residence.

After speaking with the children, the State filed multiple charges against the Wellers, including several charges of second, third, and fourth degree assault, and several counts of unlawful imprisonment. At trial, the Wellers tried to suppress the evidence and dismiss the case on theories

The Wellers moved to suppress the board, arguing that it was seized during an unlawful search of their residence without a warrant. They argued that the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement was inapplicable because there was no immediate threat of injury to any persons and that entry into the house was a pretext for a search for evidence of a crime. However, the trial court denied the motion to suppress, concluding in a detailed oral ruling that the officers lawfully were in the garage under the community caretaking exception and that they were authorized to seize the board because it was in plain view.

The case proceeded to a jury trial. The jury found Jeffrey guilty on most counts and the trial court sentenced him for five counts of Assault Second Degree, one count of Unlawful Imprisonment, one count of Assault Third Degree of a child, and two counts of Assault Fourth Degree. The jury also found Sandra guilty on most counts and the trial court sentenced her for four counts of Assault Second Degree and one count of Unlawful Imprisonment. The defendants appealed.

The Wellers argue that the officers seized the board used to beat CW and CG in an unlawful warrantless search of their garage, and therefore that the trial court erred in denying their CrR 3. 6 motion to suppress the board. The Court disagreed, and held that the trial court did not err when it concluded that ( 1) the officers’ entry into the garage to privately interview the children was lawful under the community caretaking function exception to the warrant requirement, and (2) the seizure of the board was lawful under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement. Some background on these legal principles is necessary.

WARRANTLESS SEARCHES

Both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution prohibit warrantless searches and seizures unless one of the narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. The State bears the burden of demonstrating that a warrantless search or seizure falls within an exception to the warrant requirement.

 COMMUNITY CARETAKING

The community caretaking function exception to the warrant requirement arises from law enforcement officers’ community caretaking function and involves two aspects: officers rendering aid or assistance ( emergency aid exception) or making routine checks on health and safety (health and safety exception). Another exception to the warrant requirement is the plain view exception, which allows officers to seize an object if they are lawfully present in a constitutionally protected area and the object is in plain view.

A search pursuant to the community caretaking function exception must be totally divorced from  a criminal investigation. The exception does not apply where an officer’ s primary motivation is to search for evidence or make an arrest.

Here, the Court reasoned that the officers entered the garage because they were trying to find a private place to interview the children in conjunction with their welfare check. Nothing in the record suggests that the officers were searching the garage or looking for evidence.

HEALTH AND SAFETY CHECK INSPECTION

To invoke the health and safety check exception, the State must show that ( 1) the officer subjectively believed someone needed health or safety assistance, and (2) a reasonable person in the same situation would believe that there was a need for assistance, and ( 3) there was a reasonable basis to associate the need for assistance with the place searched. Next, the State must show that the encounter under this exception was reasonable, which depends upon a balancing of the individual’ s interest in freedom from police interference against the public’ s interest in having the police perform a community caretaking function.

Here, the Court reasoned that the three requirements for application of the health and safety check exception clearly were satisfied. The officers subjectively and reasonably believed that the Weller children needed health or safety assistance. A trained CPS investigator relayed to the officers her professional opinion that the Weller children were not safe and were expressing severe fear.

PLAIN VIEW

The ” plain view” exception to the warrant requirement applies when officers ( 1) have a valid justification for being in a constitutionally protected area, and ( 2) are immediately able to realize that an item they can see in plain view is associated with criminal activity. The test for determining when an item is immediately apparent for purposes of a plain view seizure is whether, considering the surrounding circumstances, the police can reasonably conclude that the item is incriminating evidence. Officers do not need to be certain that the item is associated with criminal activity – probable cause is sufficient.

Here, the Court decided the officers were lawfully present in the Wellers’ garage. Further, the surrounding facts and circumstances led the officers to believe that the board was evidence of a crime. As the welfare check progressed, the children said Mr. Weller periodically beat them with a board. Further, when the officers were in the garage, the children began to look for the board. And the children immediately confirmed that the board in the garage was in fact the board used to beat them. As a result, the Court held that the plain view exception to the warrant requirement applied to the officers’ seizure of the board.

The Court of Appeals upheld the convictions.

New Findings: Decline in Black Incarceration for Drug Offenses

http://sentencingproject.org/Admin%5CDocuments%5Cpublications%5Cdp_raceanddrugs.pdf.

For the first time in 25 years, since the inception of the “war on drugs,” the number of African Americans incarcerated is state prisons for drug offenses has declined substantially.  According to a recent study released by The Sentencing Project, there exists a 21.6% drop in the number of blacks incarcerated for a drug offense.  This presents a decline of 31,000 people during the period 1999-2005.

Why the decrease?  The study shows that many states are softening their approach to crime by reconsidering overly punitive sentencing on defendants.  Diversionary programs are also being re-examined.  The changing approach is, not surprisingly, inspired by fiscal concerns.  Policymakers recognize that skyrocketing corrections costs cut into public support for higher education and other vital services.

Second, at the federal level, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has enacted changes in the sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses, and members of Congress are considering proposals to reform the mandatory penalties for crack offenses.

My opinion?  Ironically, the recession has spurred positive changes in the criminal justice system.  Many lawmakers realize the foolishness behind incarcerating people for low-level drug offenses.  Also, I believe the “War on Drugs” has changed tactics.  Nowadays, police are more interested in busting defendants for methamphetamine (meth) than crack cocaine.  Meth is considered  a much larger risk to public safety and health.  Meth is also largely used/possessed by non-minorities.   This is partially because most meth labs are found in rural destinations; which have more caucasians, and not so much in the inner city, where more minorities dwell.

Just my two cents . . .

State v. Sutherby: Great Case Regarding Improper Prosecution and Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=801690MAJ

Here, The Supreme Court threw out a child rape conviction for improper prosecution and ineffective counsel. Shortly before Christmas 2004, the Sutherby’s five-year-old granddaughter (“L.K.”) stayed with them for two nights at their Grays Harbor home. Based on the girl’s accusations, Randy Sutherby was arrested and charged with first degree rape of a child and first degree child molestation. A subsequent search of his personal computer found child pornography, and he was charged with “10 counts of possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.” He was convicted by a jury on all counts and appealed.

The Court here considered two issues: “(1) what is the proper unit of prosecution for possession of child pornography under former RCW 9.68A.070 (1990), and (2) did Sutherby receive ineffective assistance of counsel due to his trial attorney’s failure to seek a severance of the child rape and molestation charges from the possession of child pornography charges?”

Sutherby argued that he should have been sentenced on only one count of possession of child pornography under the criminal statute, formerly RCW 9.68A.070, rather that separate counts for each image. The court noted that the U.S. and Washington constitutions both protect a defendant from being punished more than once for the same offense. The statute provided “[a] person who knowingly possesses visual or printed matter depicting a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct is guilty of a class C felony.” The court said that “any” is vague, and determined defendants who possess multiple images should only be charged with a single count of possession. The court remanded the sentencing of Sutherby for a single count of possession.

Sutherby also sought reversal of his convictions for child rape and child molestation based on his trial attorney’s failure to move for severance of the child pornography counts from these charges. As the court noted, severance of charges is important when there is a risk that the jury will use the evidence of one crime to infer the defendant’s guilt for another crime or to infer a general criminal disposition. The case against Sutherby for possession of child pornography was strong, and could have influenced the jury on the rape and molestation charges. The court agreed that Sutherby demonstrated ineffective assistance of counsel based on his trial attorney’s failure to seek severance of the charges. The Supreme Court reversed Sutherby’s convictions for child rape and molestation and remanded for retrial.

My opinion?  Yes, society HATES sex crimes; especially when children are possibly involved.  Here, however, the Supremes correctly looked beyond the nature of the crime and addressed how the case was botched by the Prosecutor and defense attorney alike.  Clearly, the Supremes sent a message: stacking charge after charge is, simply, unconstitutional.  Multiple images does not = multiple charges!  We creep into the realm of double jeopardy.

Additionally, State v. Sutherby teaches defense attorneys about ineffective assistance of counsel.  Oftentimes, prosecutors will try adding additional charges on totally unrelated events before trial.  This tactic, if successfully done, makes juries suspicious that the defendant “must be a bad person, otherwise they wouldn’t have acquired all these criminal charges.”  In other words, the juries become prejudiced toward the defendant, and might decide the cases accordingly.  This type of outcome kills justice.  Defense attorneys must avoid slopiness and BE CAREFUL.  We cannot allow the State to unfairly prejudice our clients at the 11th hour before trial.

Again, great opinion.

Closing Prisons, Slashing Sentences Eyed to Balance Budget

Excellent Seattle Times article.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2009010460_criminaljusticecuts09m.html

In a sour economy, Washington and other states’ lawmakers are considering budget cuts that would close prisons, loosen sentencing guidelines and slash probation terms.  Lawmakers in Olympia are looking for nearly $4 billion in spending cuts.

My opinion?  Make lemonade out of lemons.  Perceive our budget woes as opportunities to revamp our criminal justice system.  Community service helps everyone.  Jailing low-level offenders helps no one.

Studies show the most expensive and least productive response to drug, mental-health and poverty-driven crime is full confinement. The most effective and most cost-productive response is community-based work, education and retraining.

True, there are some very violent and nasty defendants who probably should be incarcerated (even though they STILL deserve the benefits of a system which adamantly preserves their constitutional rights).  However, most people in the criminal-justice system are not in that violent category. Most are caught up in generations of a lifestyle where low-level crime is the accepted norm. It is these people who are unnecessarily sanctioned with long jail/prison sentences, parole, probation, etc.

My hope is that now, when we are asked to re-evaluate our use of limited resources, we will make the change for a broader, more socially beneficial response to crime.  Don’t spend hundreds of millions on penal institutions that give nothing back.  Instead, spend tens of millions on people.  Schools, community centers and community work programs are cheaper than jails.