Monthly Archives: August 2009

State v. McCormick: Sex Offender’s Suspended Sentence Remains Revoked

Harsh opinon from the WA Supremes . . .

David McCormick was convicted of first degree rape of a child for raping his 11-year-old granddaughter. He was sentenced to over 10 years in prison, but given a special sex offender sentencing alternative (SSOSA) that suspended the prison term provided he abide by certain restrictions, including that he “not frequent areas where minor children are known to congregate”

Unfortunately, McCormick’s community corrections officer was tipped off that McCormick had been regularly visiting a St. Vincent De Paul Food Bank located in a building used as part of an elementary school. This was not McCormick’s first violation of the SSOSA terms, and the trial court revoked the sentencing alternative.

McCormick argued that the State should have been required to prove that his violation was willful, that the state and federal constitutional guarantees of due process require proof that such a violation was willful before revoking a suspended sentence, and that there was insufficient evidence.

However, the Court held that the plain language of the SSOSA statutes do not require proof that a violation was willful before a sentence may be revoked, that post-conviction due process requirements do not require proof of willfulness, and that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s decision. Justice Fairhurst wrote the majority opinion and was joined by seven other justices.

Justice Sanders dissented, asserting that “[t]he State should at least be constitutionally required to prove McCormick reasonably should have known the food bank was an area where minors are known to congregate.”

My opinion?  The Supremes established bright-line rules regarding how they view SSOSA violations.  Basically, their attitude is zero tolerance:  “If you’re on SSOSA, don’t even so much as ACCIDENTLY place yourself where children are present.  We won’t entertain whether violations are willful.  You, in your position, should be smart enough to stay away from children, Mr. Child Molester . . .”

Our society and legal system is harsh on child molesters.  Period.

Case in point: just yesterday, I was watching jury selection for murder case up here in Whatcom County.  Defense attorney was establishing good rapport with the jury pool —  up until he mentions the defendant molested his daughter in the past.  What happened next was extremely unfortunate for the defendant.  One by one, potential jurors raised their hands and begged to be excused from the jury.  “Sorry, I can’t be unbiased . . . I’ve got kids . . . child molestation is awful . . . scum of the earth . . .” No joke — by the time jury selection ended, only half of the jury pool remained.

It isn’t easy representing client with sex cases.  However, it doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to adequate defense.  Quite the contrary.  The “molestation” monicker follows defendants around for a lifetime.  They must register themselves wherever they live.  They’re under constant scrutiny from treatment providers and the parole board.

So here’s my advice: if there’s any chance IN THE WORLD that a sex case can be proved innocent before a jury, then defendant must retain counsel that’s ready — and willing — to take the charges before a jury.  The sentencing options for sex cases are few; and as we can see, poorly defended.

Bellingham Police Department Launches Anti-Crime Team

Bellingham’s finest created a five-person police team dedicated to warrant arrests, stakeouts, sting operations, and plainclothes detective work.  The team’s goal is to reduce  — and follow up on — the number of 911 calls the police department receives.  “Our purpose is basically to do what patrol doesn’t have time to do,” Sgt. Keith Johnson said.  “If we can spend some quality time and solve problems rather than deal with them every time they flare up, then the community benefits and patrol benefits.”

My opinion?  Prepare to see more unlawful arrests . . .

The Anti-Crime Team (ACT) appears to be a proactive sub-unit of the Bellingham Police Department.  In short, ACT provides additional investigations/policing of our neighborhoods.  These activities include serving bench warrants, police interviews, stakeouts, etc.  In other words, ACT is involved in community caretaking.

Know this, however: “community caretaking” is, in reality, a legal term; and establishes an exception to rule that officers MUST have a warrant to arrest citizens.  ACT’s proactive approach could create a risk of abuse to the community caretaking exception of the warrant requirement.  Under WA law, and in light of the risk of abuse, courts must be cautious in applying the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement.  In order to avoid abuse of the exception, community caretaking searches/seizures must be strictly divorced from criminal investigations.  Also, the community caretaking function exception may not be used as a pretext for a criminal investigation.

Given ACT’s proactive approach to neighborhood policing as a “community caretaking” function, we could see an increase in unlawful arrests.

The solution?  Be aware of your Constitutional rights when approached/questioned by police officers.  Be cooperative.  Avoid making unnecesssary statements.  Ask for an attorney.

When Men Are Victims of Domestic Violence

Article discusses domestic violence when the perpetrator is female and the victim is male.

According to the article, a recent study showed that 64 percent of the men who called a DV hotline were told that they “only help women,” and only half were referred to programs for male perpetrators.  Overall, only 8 percent of the men who called hotlines classified them as “very helpful,” whereas 69 percent found them to be “not at all helpful.”  Worse, when an abused man called the police, the police were more likely to arrest him than to arrest his abusive female partner.

My opinion?

I’ve handled hundreds of domestic violence (DV) cases.  Truthfully, female-on-male DV doesn’t happen often.  Indeed, I can count ON ONE HAND cases I’ve worked where a female defendant abused her male boyfriend/husband.  Either it rarely happens, or doesn’t get reported.  Probably both.

Still, it’s shameful that female-on-male DV isn’t taken as seriously.  Societal norms probably have much to do with it (men are physically stronger, they should have the wherewithall to “handle” an angry/violent female, etc.).

You should know this, however: BY WASHINGTON STATUTE, POLICE MUST ARREST SOMEONE IF THEY ARE SUMMONED VIA 911 PHONE CALL.  There’s no getting around it.  No arguing with police.  They will arrive, separate you two, investigate the scene, gather evidence, interview witnesses, determine who the primary aggressor is, and arrest them.

In addition, a DV perpetrator can be charged with Interfering With a 911 Call – a gross misdemeanor – if the perpetrator attempts to stop the victim from calling the police.

Some food for thought . . .

Why Henry Louis Gates Should Sue

Last week in Cambridge, Mass., Sgt. James Crowley arrested Henry Louis Gates Jr., a professor at Harvard, for Disorderly Conduct while responding to a reported break-in at Gates’s home.  The charges were subsequently dismissed.  Nevertheless, media pundits are asking the question:  should Mr. Gates sue?

Not surprisingly, the article’s author advocates legal action.  A lawsuit from Gates could lead to formal examination of the troubled history of police interactions with African-Americans.  The suit would also oppose systemic injustice and benefit the larger community.  Finally, lawsuits can be an important tool for reform when coupled with advocacy and public education efforts when the circumstances are conducive to change.

My opinion?  Personally, I also believe Gates should file suit.  Some police officers wrongfully become offended when questioned by citizens.  These same officers consider it unlawful when citizens exercise their Constitutional rights.   In short, citizens have the 4th amendment right to refuse illegal searches/seizures by police.  We also have the 5th Amendment right to remain silent upon arrest.  In other words, we may legally refuse to provide police with information which may incriminate ourselves.   When and why did it become unlawful to exercise our rights?  Where is the Disorderly Conduct in that?

It could be problematic, however, for Mr. gates to prove damages.

In order to prevail, Mr. Gates must show that he was (1) injured before/during/after the arrest, and (2) that his injuries led to quantifiable damages.  Admittedly, the damages portion is difficult to quantify.  Was Mr. Gates physically injured at any time?  Was he incarcerated?  If so, did his incarceration cause him any other injuries?  Did Mr. Gates undergo mental trauma?  The answers to these questions should determine whether his lawsuit has merit or is frivolous.

Good luck, Mr. Gates . . .