Monthly Archives: February 2009

Excellent Police Misconduct WA Website

I found a local police misconduct website while surfing the internet.  Great stuff.

Titled, “Injustice In Seattle,” the site is devoted to increasing public awareness of police misconduct and detainee abuse, in addition to providing support for victims of police misconduct and detainee abuse.  The blog covers misconduct issues in all cities, counties, and towns in Washington State.

Don’t get me wrong.  Police work is extremely difficult.  The hours are long, people are unruly, etc.

However, these websites are helpful.  Let’s face it: police misconduct happens.  It’s incumbent on us to educate ourselves on how to identify it, as well as how to respond when it happens.

Report finds inequalities in Washington criminal fines

A report finds wide disparities in how much Washington’s criminal defendants are required to pay in fines and fees.  According to the University of Washington study released Tuesday, Hispanics are charged significantly higher fees and fines than non-Hispanic whites; men are fined more than women; and drug cases bring greater fees and fines than violent crimes do.

There were also geographic differences. One man convicted of drug offenses in Pierce County was assessed fees and fines of $600, while one convicted in Lewis County was assessed $6,710.

The study examined all superior court cases resolved in the first two months of 2004 — nearly 3,400 cases. The researchers determined that the system is illogical and hinders people from rejoining society, especially because of the high 12 percent interest rate they must pay on the fines. Three years after the defendants were sentenced, about half had made no payments.

This is disgraceful.  The report provides emprical data that our justice system is horribly inconsistent when it comes to administering costs/fees upon defendants.  Unbelieveable.  The lesson?  Don’t get caught committing crimes if you’re minority, male, and come from out of town . . .




Amend Washington’s “Three Strikes” Law

Our criminal justice system is based on the concept that the punishment must fit the crime. Stated another way, the sentence imposed for a particular crime should be proportional to the circumstances of the crime.

The problem?  Under Washington’s “Three Strikes” law, which imposes a mandatory life sentence without parole on individuals convicted of any of almost two dozen felony offenses, the crime of Robbery in the Second Degree is one of the listed crimes.  An individual can be charged with second-degree robbery even if no weapon is used or no one is injured!

The solution?  Support the removal of Rob 2 from the list of strike offenses.  The bottom line is this: Rob 2, while serious in and of itself, does not rise to the level of being Strike-worthy. When dealing with a potential life sentence, it is simply unjust to include a crime that sweeps so broadly.

Additionally, the “Three Strikes” law does not deter crime, and it disproportionately affects minority offenders. It takes sentencing discretion away from judges, who should be able to consider individual circumstances when imposing sentences. It adds costs to already tight government budgets by incarcerating elderly persons who are not a threat to public safety. Passing the legislation will reduce the number of people who are imprisoned for life out of all proportion to their offenses.

Restore The Right To Vote

In November 2008, more than 3 million people in Washington voted in federal, state, and local elections.  Truly a great year for voter turnout!

Unfortunately, there are more than 167,000 Washington citizens who are stripped of their voting rights because of our state’s unnecessarily complicated system for restoring voting rights to convicted felons.  Poor people and minorities are hit the hardest, with 17& of African Americans and 10% of the voting age Latino population prevented from voting under our current laws.

The right to vote should never be tied to a person’s economic class.  Currently, citizens are prevented from voting until they have repaid all of thie Legal Financial Obligations – fees and other costs associated with their sentence.  Our laws impose a 12% interest rate on these debts!  Many people coming out of the criminal justice system find their debt increasing despite making monthly payments.  This exacerbates the problem, and assures that poor individuals will lose the right to vote permanantly.

Restoring voting rights encourages people to reconnect with their communicities and become good citizens.  Research has shown that people who voted after being released are 50% less likely to reoffend than those who did not vote.

Encourage your legislature to vote “Yes!” to HB 1517 and SB 5534.   Restore the right to vote!

Change Washington’s Marijuana Laws

This month, the Washington Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on Senate Bill 5615, a bill that would reclassify possession of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor, carrying mandatory jail time, to a civil infraction and a $100 dollar fine.

According to the Washington A.C.L.U., In 2007, enforcement of Washington laws for possession of marijuana resulted in over 11,000 arrests, 3,600 convictions (with an average sentence of four days in jail), and cost an estimated $7.5 million dollars.

The A.C.L.U. says it supports Senate Bill 5615 sponsored by Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

Alison Holcomb with the A.C.L.U. says: “We don’t believe adults who use small quantities of marijuana for personal use should be treated as criminals.”

Some Washington police officials see it differently. Burien Police Chief Scott Kimerer says he fears, if passed, this could open the door to further legalization and he says he doesn’t want to make the drug more attractive than it may already be.

He goes on to says; “People might have a tendency to say well it’s not going to be a criminal offense. It’s not going to affect my job… It’s not going to affect anything else involving what a criminal matter would and so why don’t I try it… And I don’t want to do that.”

From my perspective – that of a criminal defense attorney – the legislation is extremely progressive.  Far too many of my clients  – most of them young people who are gainfully employed or attending college – face criminal charges for violating our archaic marijuana laws. Indeed, alcohol abuse is FAR more debilitating and dangerous. And it’s legal!  Some people consume marijuana for medicinal purposes. It’s time for a change.

Decriminalization is a step in the right direction. True, $100 civil penalty is still imposed. Perhaps after some success with the proposed legislation (if it passes) the civil penalty will eventually be erased as well. One can only hope.

Law Firm Client Obtains $150,000 Damages Award for Police Negligence

Client Victoria Walker was held against her will and assaulted by a friend at his parent’s cabin. She called 911 from the cabin two times. The sheriff deputy dispatched to the 911 call failed to adequately respond. Ms. Walker eventually escaped from the cabin and contacted authorities. The deputy was terminated from employment.

Attorney Alexander Ransom filed a public disclosure request seeking all information regarding the case. He obtained police reports, internal investigation reports, an arbitration decision, and a past disciplinary notice given to the deputy for similar failures to respond. Mr. Ransom also filed a Notice of Claim against Island County claiming police negligence.

The case was resolved through out-of-court negotiations with the Washington Counties Risk Pool.

Ms. Walker reports she is “extremely happy with the outcome,” and “hope(s) these circumstances never happen again for anyone else.”