Monthly Archives: October 2009

State v. Patton: WA Supreme Court Acknowledges Search and Seizure Protections Afforded by Arizona v. Gant.

Excellent decision.  WA Supremes held that an automobile search which happens after arrest is not justified unless the defendant is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of search and the search is necessary for officer safety or to secure evidence of the crime of arrest.

Randall Patton was wanted on a felony warrant.  A Skamania County Sheriff Deputy spotted him. Patton was on his property and leaning into his own car through the window, rummaging with something on the seat.  The Deputy told Patton he was under arrest.  Patton fled, but was soon apprehended inside a trailer. Deputies searched the car and found methamphetamine. Patton challenged that the search violated his state and federal constitutional rights because it was not a valid search incident to arrest. The trial court suppressed the evidence but was reversed by the Court of Appeals.

The Court found that Patton was arrested when the officer “manifest[ed] an intent to take [him] into custody” while Patton was standing by his car. Nevertheless, “the search incident to arrest exception is narrow and should be applied only in circumstances anchored to the justifications for its existence.”  The court elaborated their reasoning with the following:

The question before us, then, is whether it would stretch the search incident to arrest exception beyond its justifications to apply it where the arrestee is not a driver or recent occupant of the vehicle, the basis for arrest is not related to the use of the vehicle, and the arrestee is physically detained and secured away from the vehicle before the search. We believe it would.

Congratulations to Justice Jim Johnson, who found the case identical to Arizona v. Gant, decided earlier this year by the United States Supreme Court.   In Gant, the U.S. Supremes held that a search conducted by police officers after handcuffing the defendant and securing the scene violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Bellingham Police Enforce Bicycle Laws More Heavily

With the onset of worsening weather conditions and fewer hours of daylight, a new “education and enforcement” effort is under way to help bicyclists and cars better share the road.

Under the new program, police officers are encouraged to treat bicyclists equal to drivers when it comes to stopping and ticketing people for traffic violations. Officers will specifically be looking for lighting violations, which include improperly equipped bicycles, and traffic violations, such as failing to obey stop signs and stop lights.

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission provides a free brochure on its Web site which outlines safety tips for bicyclists as well as the laws bicyclists must follow:

My Opinion?  I’m not buying it.  Can we say, “New and creative way to ticket people and generate revenue for empty City coffers?”  Personally, I don’t see the need for “education and enforcement” of bicycle laws.  No accidents have happened.  There’s no great increase of bicyclists (I’d think fewer, given worse weather conditions).  There’s no growing agitation between bicyclists and motorists.  If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it.

My greatest concern is that police have more incentive to pull bicyclists over and conduct a DUI investigation. Section 45.61.502 of the Revised Code of Washington, which details driving under the influence and penalties, refers to people driving a vehicle. A vehicle, as defined in section 46.04.670, “includes every device capable of being moved upon a public highway and in, upon, or by which any persons or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, including bicycles.”

Not good for bicyclists . . .

State v. King: Out-Of-Jurisdiction Police Cannot Arrest Unless Emergency Exists

Excellent opinion.

Tyler King was riding his motorcycle southbound on Interstate 5 north of Vancouver city limits when he was stopped and issued a criminal citation for reckless driving by Vancouver police officer Jeff Starks. King had stood up on the pegs of his motorcycle, looked at the vehicle he was approaching, and  accelerated to pass the vehicle. King and Starks both testified at the trial, offering different interpretations of the facts. Starks offered opinion testimony that King’s driving had been reckless, which King’s attorney did not object to at trial but then raised on appeal. King also challenged that the officer was outside of his jurisdiction without an interlocal agreement and without satisfying the statutory emergency exception.

The Supreme Court held that Officer Starks did not have jurisdiction to issue the criminal citation. They reasoned that Stark’s  interpretation of King’s actions would not have constituted “an emergency involving an immediate threat to human life or property.”

King did not nearly hit another car, nor run a light, nor weave across traffic lanes. He did not pop a wheelie, cut off another car, nor, for that matter, drive in reverse along the shoulder. At most, King glared at the driver of the large truck, stood on his foot pegs for three to five seconds, and accelerated at high speed past the truck. As aforementioned, Starks could not verify that King accelerated away at what he thought was 100 m.p.h. Even so, the officer testified King slowed down as he approached other traffic and pulled over immediately when Starks signaled him to do so.

The majority concludes that the trial court was wrong to simply take the definition of reckless driving and assume that it “automatically fit within the emergency exception.” The majority also suggests that the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that the opinion testimony issue was foreclosed by the lack of an objection at trial.

My opinion?  Again, good decision.  Reckless Driving does not always involve racing, road rage, emergency situations or life-threatening behavior.  Let’s be frank: some people simply enjoy horsing around while driving!  The Supremes rightfully disagreed with the trial court and saw the situation for what it was: people slightly agitated with each other’s driving, a brief increase in speed, and it’s over.  Nobody goes crazy, and/or gets mad, violent or injured.  Period.  It’d be a miscarriage of justice to allow out-of-jurisdiction officers to arrest people based on those circumstances.

Visiting Hours Reduced At Whatcom County Jail

As if being incarcerated wasn’t bad enough.

Budget cuts + jail fights = less visitation.

Are Civil Rights being violated?  Does reducing hours amount to cruel and unusual punishment?  Probably not.  There’s no Constitutional right to have visitors.  It’s also difficult to label this as cruel/unusual punishment when unfortunate economic circumstances lead the Sheriff’s Office to lay off jail staff who assist visitation.

Nevertheless, the situation is loathsome.  I represent many clients housed in Whatcom County jail.  Many of them cannot make bail.  Some of them have family and friends who consistently visit.  It’s important.  Visitors are the only lifeline to the “free world” these inmates have.  And now, these guys — the ones who aren’t fighting — are suffering because of decreased budgets and hotheaded inmates.

9th Circuit’s Search & Seizure Outline

Call me a masochist.  I read this stuff before bed . . .

. . . and it’s actually interesting.

This outline is AMMUNITION for pretrial motion practice.  If you, a potential defendant, were held in custody by police, arrested, questioned, and/or your property (house & car) were searched; then your attorney should argue pretrial motions to suppress.  Pretrial motion practice protects your individual rights while providing the primary defense for your case.  Any attorney worth their salt should argue pretrial motions on your behalf.

The federal public defenders in Oregon drafted the outline.  They appear before the U.S Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.  This court carries appellate over many federal district courts along the west coast; Washington included.

The outline was updated from two years ago.  Among the many new cases, the big news from the Supreme Court is the decision in Gant overruling prior decisions that had divorced the scope of vehicle searches incident to arrest from the rationale of officer safety. The Ninth Circuit provided important guidance on computer searches in the en banc decision in Comprehensive Drug Testing. Two district court cases from last summer provide a reminder of the practical importance of motion practice for our clients: Judge Jones and Judge Haggerty granted motions to suppress in Freeman and Izguerra-Robles, litigated by AFPDs Ellen Pitcher and Nancy Bergeson, respectively.

Again, great bedtime reading.  A “must have” for attorneys arguing pretrial motions.

State v. Iniguez: How Were the Defendant’s Speedy Trial Rights NOT Violated?

Can’t agree with the Supremes on this one . . .

Following his arrest on First Degree Robbery, Ricardo Iniguez remained in custody pending a joint trial with his codefendant.  An 8-month delay between arraignment and trial took place.  During this time, the State moved for a total of four trial continuances, the last of which the State sought because it learned — belatedly — that a key witness was out of town.  Iniguez objected to all continuances.  The trial court denied his objections and pretrial motions.  At trial, the jury found Iniguez guilty.  He appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed Iniguez’s conviction.  The court held the eight-month delay between arrest and trial was prejudicial and violated Iniguez’s constitutional right to speedy trial.

However, the WA Supremes decided the delay did not violate the time-for-trial court rule, CrR 3.2, and did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment or Const. art. I, § 22 constitutional right to a speedy trial.

The Court reasoned that Article I, Section 22 of the state constitution does not offer greater protections than the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Using the six-part Gunwall test, the Court determined there was no clear reason to find greater protections in the state constitution, so the two provisions should be applied similarly.

Also, under the four-factor Blakely analysis, the Court also reasoned that although the circumstances of the delay were substantial enough to presume harm to Iniguez, the level of violation of Iniguez’ speedy trial rights wasn’t enough to justify dismissing his case.

The Court ruled 5-4 against Iniguez, holding there was no constitutional violation of his right to a speedy trial.

My opinion?  My thoughts are similar to dissenting Judge Sanders.  I agree with the majority opinion that the length of delay in this case — coupled with the fact that Iniguez spent all of it in custody — gave rise to a presumption of prejudice.  The defendant’s trial delay was nearly nine months.  The delays arose because of the State’s need to interview witnesses, joinder with the co-defendant, scheduling conflicts, and the late discovery of the unavailibility of a key witness one week prior to trial.  None of the delays were caused by Iniguez himself.  Indeed, he objected to continuing his case at every opportunity!  Finally, Iniguez was prejudiced because he was in jail during this entire process.  This is very substantial.  Incarceration carries detrimental effects: loss of job, disruption of family life, idleness, etc.  Time spent in jail is simply dead time.

How were Iniguez’s Speedy Trial rights NOT violated?

Again, bad decision . . .

State v. Stately: Vehicular Homicide By Disregard Is NOT A Violent Offense; Some Defendants Eligible for First Offender Waiver.

Court of Appeals is ON POINT with this one . . .

About a week before her 18th birthday, Yaunna Stately drove a car while intoxicated.  Unfortunately, she caused an accident that killed her best friend.  Stately was charged — and later convicted — of Vehicular Homicide by Disregard under RCW 46.61.520(1)(c).  At sentencing, the State recommended 17 months of incarceration.  However, Stately argued she was entitled to a first-time offender waiver under former RCW 9.94A.650 because her crime was not defined as a violent offense.  The trial court agreed.  Stately was sentenced under the first-time offender waiver to 30 days of incarceration, 12 months of community custody, and 4,000 hours of community restitution (community service).

For those who don’t know, a “first-time offender” is any person who has no prior felony convictions.  At sentencing, the court may waive the imposition of a sentence within the standard sentencing range.  The sentence imposed under the first-time offender provision is not an exceptional sentence but is, rather, a waiver of the standard sentence range.

On appeal, the Prosecution argued that Stately was not eligible for a first-time offender waiver because she committed a violent offense.

However, the Court of Appeals thought different.  It reasoned that there are three types of vehicular homicide, all currently class A felonies.  Subsection (xiv) lists the first two types, homicide by intoxication and recklessness, but does not include the third type, homicide by disregard.  Former RCW 9.94A.030(50)(a)(xiv).

The court further reasoned, “If we read the statute to define Vehicular Homicide by Disregard as a violent offense simply because it is a class A felony, then subsection (xiv) would be superfluous.  We presume, however, that the legislature does not include superfluous language and we interpret statutes to give meaning to each section.  Here, it is impossible to harmonize the statute’s terms in subsection (i) with its terms in subsection (xiv).  The later subsection, relating specifically to vehicular homicide, is more specific than subsection (i), which relates generally to all class A felonies.  Applying the specific-general doctrine, the specific terms of subsection (xiv) prevail and Stately’s Vehicular Homicide by Disregard conviction is not a violent offense”  (emphasis supplied).

My opinion?  Again, excellent decision.  It’s pleasing when our legal system takes an academic approach to cases by methodically reviewing the WORDING and LEGISLATIVE INTENT of statutes.  Fortunately, that’s exactly what happened here.  The court avoided a huge miscarriage of justice by refusing to allow the general rule of “violent offense” swallow legislative exceptions to the rule.

State v. Kenyon: Courtroom Congestion Is No Reason For Delay

Great opinion from WA Supremes on the Speedy Trial Rule . . .

On February 15, 2006, James Ryan Kenyon was charged with six counts of unlawful possession of a firearm and was incarcerated while awaiting. After multiple delays his case eventually went to trial in August—well beyond the time limits provided by the speedy trial rule (CrR 3.3).

For those who don’t know, under the speedy trial rule, a defendant who is detained in jail must have a trial set within 60 days of arraignment. If a defendant is not brought to trial within the rule’s time limits, the court must dismiss the charges with prejudice so long as the defendant objects within 10 days after notice of trial date is mailed. Some periods of time are excluded when computing the date for trial. For example, continuances granted by the court are excluded, as well as “unavoidable or unforeseen circumstances” that are beyond the control of the court or of the parties.

Kenyon argues his right to a speedy trial was violated as no court was available to hear his case. The State argues the trial court properly followed the scheduled and that his attorney asked for many continuances. The trial court held the delay was “unavoidable” as the judge was presiding over another case and the other judge was on vacation. The Supreme Court however, has said that courtroom congestion—as opposed to scheduling conflicts or trial preparation—is not a valid reason for delay.

The Court determined that despite the allowance for “unavoidable or unforeseen circumstances,” the speedy trial rule still requires trial courts to document the details of unavailable judges and courtrooms. The failure to do so in this case violated Kenyon’s right to a speedy trial and the Court dismissed the charges with prejudice.

My opinion?  Clearly — and rightfully —  the Supremes gave teeth back to the  Speedy Trial Rule.  In short, trials must happen within a certain period of time; and if they don’t, and/or if the case is not continued correctly, then the case should be dismissed.  It’s that simple.  However, for the last few years (decades?) our Appeals courts have taken exception to the general rule; often to the degree where where the exceptions have swallowed the rule.  Needless to say, I’m extremely happy the WA Supremes decided Kenyon in this manner.