Monthly Archives: September 2009

Too Much Information: Blogging Lawyers Face Ethical and Legal Problems

Chalk it up to the age of Facebook. Blogging lawyers and judges have landed in trouble with legal ethics regulators and judges, while one blogging lawyer ended up as a defendant in a defamation lawsuit.

My opinion?  I’ve blogged for some time now.  Early on, I discovered that my ethical duties under the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC’s) clearly prohibit me from discussing certain things.  This is ESPECIALLY true in matters involving judges and clients.

For example, RPC 8.2 prohibits lawyers from making making statements against judges that ” . . . the lawyer knows is false or with reckless disregard as to its truth concerning the qualifications, integrity, or record of the judge.”  Indeed, the rule goes on to say that lawyers take an active role in quelching “bad talk” about judges: ” Lawyers . . . should support and continue traditional efforts to defend judges and courts from unjust criticism.”

Additionally, RPC 1.6 — which addresses client confidences/secrets — holds that a lawyer SHALL NOT reveal confidences or secrets relating to the representation of a client unless the client consents after consultation.

Lawyers, be careful.  Treat clients and judges like gold.  The internet doesn’t exist in a vacuum . . .

Seattle v. St. John: Police May Obtain a Search Warrant For a Blood Sample When Motorists Refuse to Give Breath Test.

Painful opinion from WA Supremes . . .

After crashing his motorcycle in Seattle, Robert St. John was investigated for driving under the influence of alcohol. A police officer asked St. John to consent to a blood alcohol test.  St. John refused.   The officer obtained a warrant for the test.  The results were suppressed in municipal court based on a broad interpretation of a provision of the Implied Consent law (RCW 46.20.308(1)) that prohibits performing the test once consent has been refused. The superior court reversed and the Court of Appeals certified three questions to the Supreme Court:

1. Does the implied consent statute allow the State to administer a blood alcohol test pursuant to a warrant after a driver has declined a voluntary blood alcohol test?

2. Does an implied consent warning violate due process if it does not inform drivers that an officer may seek a warrant for a blood alcohol test even if the driver declines the voluntary blood alcohol test?

3. Does the doctrine of equitable estoppel bar the State from seeking a warrant for a blood alcohol test after informing drivers that they may refuse the voluntary blood alcohol test?

The Supremes upheld the superior court and allowed the blood test evidence.  They reasoned that the Implied Consent law restricts performing a blood test pursuant to that law, but does not prohibit performing a blood test pursuant to a lawfully issued warrant (RCW 46.20.308). Similarly, the officer’s statements about the Implied Consent law did not foreclose his obtaining the warrant.

I echo the dissenting opinion of Justice Charles Sanders.  Simply put, an officer cannot force a driver to submit to a blood test if the driver refuses consent.  However, under the majority opinion’s reasoning, a driver’s refusal to consent to a Breath test is essentially meaningless.

Click here for Justice Sanders’  full dissent:

X52 Program Leads to Increased DUI Patrols and Arrests

This past Labor Day Weekend, the Washington State Patrol made 296 arrests for suspicion of Driving Under the Influence.  That’s slightly higher than the 292 arrests WSP made over the same weekend in 2008.  In a recent report released by the WSP, there were 44 calls from concerned motorists which led to 20 arrests for suspicion of DUI.  The increased arrests — and inevitable prosecutions — are directly attributed to Washington State Patrol’s (WSP)  implementation of the X52 anti-DUI campaign.

X52 stands for extra patrols 52 weeks per year. The goal of the X52 program is to reduce speeding and DUI-related traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Washington’s roads.

Under the program, Washington Traffic Safety Commission released $450,000 worth of grants to local law enforcement agencies to help them provide additional impaired driving and speed patrols every week of the year.  These sustained enforcement patrols specifically target speed and DUI offenders, as well as look for other traffic violations. The program is being administered statewide through a network of community traffic safety task forces.

The X52 program also includes initiatives designed to let the public know that these extra patrols are happening in Washington every week. $450,000 is budgeted for paid radio advertising and alternative messaging. Earned media efforts will be spearheaded by community traffic safety task forces.

My opinion?  Clearly, the WSP is aggressively campaigning the X52 program.  I foresee even greater DUI patrol this holiday season.  For more information on X52, click the link below.

State v. Eriksen: Tribal Officers Can Pursue Suspects Off the Reservation

The WA Supreme Court decided that tribal police officers can pursue motorists beyond the limits of tribal lands after having observed them commit a traffic infraction on the reservation.

A Lummi Nation Police Department officer witnessed a motorist on the reservation driving at night with high beams and drifting across the center divider.  He began following the vehicle and activated his emergency lights.  After traveling a quarter mile the car pulled into a gas station located off the reservation.  The police officer witnessed the driver, Loretta Eriksen, hop over the car’s center console and into the passenger’s seat.  The officer detained Eriksen until a Whatcom County police deputy arrived, who arrested her for DUI.

Ms. Eriksen was convicted for DUI.  The trial court said Lummi Nation’s inherent sovereign power authorizes tribal police to continue in “fresh pursuit” of offenders who drive off the reservation.

The Supreme Court agreed.  It reasoned  that the Lummi Nation is a sovereign nation with inherent authority to enforce its laws and detain Indians or non-Indians who violate those laws.  Courts have long recognized the right of law enforcement officers to cross jurisdictional lines when in hot pursuit of a violator.  The court said this doctrine should apply to sovereign tribal nations as well.  “The Lummi Nation Police Department has authority under the Lummi Nation’s sovereign authority and under the Washington Mutual Aid Peace Officers Powers Act of 1985, chapter 10.93 RCW, to enforce its laws by continuing the ‘fresh pursuit’ of suspects off the reservation and then detaining these suspects until authorities with jurisdiction arrive.”

My opinion?  I’m not surprised.  Recently, the WA Supremes have deciding other “hot pursuit” cases in similar fashion.  Indeed, in State v. Rivera-Santos, a recent case which my blog covered earlier this month, the WA Supremes decided that a defendant, who drove under the influence of alcohol in both Washington and Oregon, could be convicted of a DUI in both states without violating his constitutional rights IF law enforcement was engaged in hot pursuit across state lines.

Additionally, I’ve found the criminal justice system is extra tough on defendants who “elude” law enforcement with high-speed chases.  Eluding is a fairly serious felony, especially if the defendant already has felony convictions on their criminal record.

True Stories of False Confessions: New Book Explains Why People Confess to Crimes They Didn’t Commit.

Interesting read, this one.

Would you confess to a crime you didn’t commit?  Plenty of people have.  A new book, edited by Rob Warden and Steven A. Drizin, the directors of Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) at Northwestern University School of Law, is full of articles and book excerpts detailing false confessions made by innocent men and women.

True Stories of False Confessions” makes clear why false confessions happen all too often. The book details dozens of cases in which men and women of varied ages, races and education levels confessed to crimes they didn’t commit. The accounts are divided into categories bearing such titles as “brainwashing,” “inquisition,” “child abuse” and “exhaustion.”

Together, these cases reveal a disturbing phenomenon that the criminal justice system should address.  With the variety of people described in the book, it’s clear there is not one type of person susceptible to falsely confessing. “Your common sense might tell you that you don’t want to confess,” Drizin said. “But after hours and hours of intense grilling by police, you’ll say anything to stop the questioning. 

“There are untold numbers of these cases,” Warden said. “The examples in the book are just a few in which there have been exonerations. Each story was chosen because a talented journalist happened to write a compelling story about it. There are many, many other cases that simply didn’t come to the attention of an interested writer.”

Among writers whose works appear in the book are John Grisham, Alex Kotlowitz, Dana L. Priest, Sydney H. Schanberg, Maurice Possley, Steve Mills, John Conroy, Don Terry and Thomas Frisbie.

The Center on Wrongful Convictions receives approximately 200 credible requests for legal assistance each month, according to Warden, who says that more than a third of the requests are from men and women who confessed but claim that their confessions were false.  Founded 10 years ago, the center has been instrumental in 37 exonerations, more than half of which involved confessions that proved to be false.

Hate to say it, but in my line of work, false confessions happen all of the time.  

Police officers obtain unlawful confessions through thtreats, promises, etc.  They place many defendants under duress.  They browbeat.  For hours and hours.  Whatever it takes.  The solution?  Requiring police to electronically record interrogations.

‘Nuff said . . .

State v. Kyllo: When It Makes Sense, Argue Self Defense

Interesting opinion is great teacher for defense attorneys.

State v. Kyllo arises out of Division Two Court of Appeals, and concerns whether Kyllo received effective counsel in his trial for second degree assault of a fellow inmate. Kyllo appealed on the grounds that his attorney made several errors, primarily related to jury instructions about his self-defense claim.

On June 12, 2004, while an inmate at the Cowlitz County jail on other charges, defendant Kenneth Kyllo was involved in a fist fight with another inmate during the course of which Kyllo bit the other inmate’s ear off. Kyllo was charged with second degree assault and he claimed he acted in self-defense. Defense counsel proposed a self-defense jury instruction that stated:

A person is entitled to act on appearances in defending himself, if that person believes in good faith and on reasonable grounds that he is in actual danger of great bodily harm, although it afterwards might develop that the person was mistaken as to the extent of the danger. Actual danger is not necessary for the use of force to be lawful.

Kyllo was convicted on the charge of second degree assault. On appeal Kyllo asserted ineffectual assistance of counsel, arguing that the instruction above improperly lowered the State’s burden of proof. The Supreme Court agreed, with Justice Barbara Madsen writing a unanimous opinion. The Court held that the jury instruction misstated the law, and that the jury should have been informed that a person is entitled to act in self-defense when he reasonably apprehends that he is about to be injured—“One is not required to believe he is about to be grievously harmed or killed.”

The Court held that Kyllo was denied effective assistance of counsel, and remanded the case for a new trial.

My opinion?  Excellent decision.  Reminds defense attorneys to stay cognizant of the jury instructions they provide.  For those who don’t know, a jury instruction is an instruction given by the court to a jury at the conclusion of presentation of all evidence in a trial, and after the lawyer’s closing arguments, to advise the jury of the law that applies to the facts of the case, and the manner in which they should conduct their deliberations.  The attorneys prepare the instructions.

Here, the defense attorney gave the “Acting on Appearances” instruction.  The instruction presents a good starting point for the circumstances surrounding this particular case (Convict A is mad-dogging Convict B, Convict B attacks Convict A first  — and acting on Convict A’s appearances — because he believes Convict A will attack and get the advantage of surprise).  Unfortunately, the instruction, by itself wasn’t enough.

As a matter of practice, I believe both a self defense instruction AND and “Acting on Appearances” instruction work best in combination with each other.  Speaking from my own trial experience, everyone on the street embraces self defense.  It allows us to fight back when we’re attacked.  Simple.  However, the soft-spoken pacifists out there (who are INCREDIBLY hard to spot at jury selection) are downright offended by the “Acting on Appearances” instruction.  Many juries simply cannot promote violence beyond the context of self defense.  Yet even a pacifist will fight to save their own life.

When it makes sense, argue self defense . . .

State v. Rivera-Santos: Why Crossing State Lines – Intoxicated – Is Double Trouble

Should police officers stop pursuit when car chases cross State lines?

We’ve all seen the 70’s police chase movies: rebellious anti-hero leads police on wild car chase, anti-hero crosses state line, the police immediately stop chasing, anti-hero gets out of car, smokes a cigarette in front of enraged officer, the movie ends . . .

. . . unfortunately, if you believe in this Hollywood ending, think again.

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Fairhurst, the WA Supreme Court determined that the defendant, who drove under the influence of alcohol in both Washington and Oregon, could be convicted of a DUI in both states without violating his constitutional rights.

Rivera-Santos led police on a chase that started on the Washington side of I-5 and ended on the Oregon side. He was found to have a blood-alcohol content level of .17 percennt (more than twice the legal limit), and convicted by an Oregon court of driving under the influence. He was also charged with a DUI in Clark County District Court, but Rivera-Santos argued that it should be dismissed under the constitutional protections against double-jeopardy (i.e. being punished twice for the same crime).

Justice Fairhurst wrote that convicting Rivera-Santos in Washington would not be double-jeopardy, as it was a separate crime.  He drove while drunk in Oregon, and was punished for that by an Oregon court. He also drove while drunk in Washington, and a Washington court could punish him for that separate crime.

My opinion?  If it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, then it must be a duck.  Said differently, this legal decision looks like double jeopardy, smells like double jeopardy, therefore it must be double jeopardy.

For those who don’t know, “Double Jeopardy” happens when defendants are prosecuted twice for the same offense.  It’s unconstitutional.  The Double Jeopardy Clause protects against three distinct abuses: [1] a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal; [2] a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction; and [3] multiple punishments for the same offense.’ U.S. v. Halper, 490 U.S. 435, 440 (1989).

Here, the WA Supremes stated that Mr. Rivera-Santos committed two different crimes in two different states.  Fine, I can agree with that.  HOWEVER, I disagree with their decision that charging these crimes is not double jeopardy.  Why do I disagree?  Because these “two crimes” arose from the same facts and circumstances.  Mr. Rivera-Santos did not steal candy from a 7-11 in Oregon, cross State lines, and then steal candy from a 7-11 in Washington.  The crime of DUI is, essentially, driving while intoxicated.   Although Mr. Rivera-Santos drove across State lines while intoxicated, he was DUI only one time during that crossing.  Therefore, he should only be punished once.   Anything more is double jeopardy.

Gotta disagree with the WA Supremes on this one . . . 🙁