Monthly Archives: March 2010

State v. Eaton: A Defendant’s Sentence Cannot Be Enhanced For Involunatry Acts

Good decision.

WA Supremes decide a defendant must act volitionally – with intent – to put himself within a zone that requires an upward sentencing enhancement.  An enhancement should not apply for drugs the defendant possessed when arrested and brought to jail.

Thomas Eaton was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) and taken by police to the Clark County Jail.  At the jail, Eaton was searched by staff who discovered a small bag of methamphetamine taped to his sock.  The State charged Eaton with DUI and Possession of Methamphetamine and sought a sentencing enhancement for possessing a controlled substance in a jail or prison.  A jury convicted Eaton on both charges and found by special verdict that Eaton possessed methamphetamine while in a jail.  The trial court imposed an enhanced sentence.

The WA Supremes overturned the sentencing enhancement.  They reasoned that once Eaton was arrested, he no longer had control over his location.  From the time of arrest, his movement from street to jail became involuntary: involuntary not because he did not wish to enter the jail, but because he was forcibly taken there by State authority. He no longer had the ability to choose his own course of action.  Nor did he have the ability through some other course of action to avoid entering the area that would increase the penalty for the underlying crime.

My opinion?  Again, excellent decision.  It’d be different if Eaton knew he was going to jail and tried sneaking meth within. However, those circumstances did not exist.  He was arrested for DUI  – a different matter althogether – and immediately booked into jail.  He never voluntarily brought the drugs into the jail itself.  He merely happened to possess them when arrested for DUI.

WA Changes Execution Method

Washington state has changed its method of execution from a three-drug cocktail to a one-drug system, according to paperwork filed Tuesday with the state Supreme Court.

The three-drug method uses sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Only sodium thiopental, followed by a saline flush, is used in the one-drug policy.  In case the first dose does not kill the inmate, an additional 5 grams of sodium thiopental will be made available at the time of execution.  The change in the lethal injection protocol comes despite the fact that a lawsuit challenging the former protocol is before the Washington Supreme Court.  The State moved to dismiss that portion of the lawsuit and go forward with executions.

My opinion?  I’m no proponent of the Death Penalty.  The government should not kill its own citizens.  However, until the Death Penalty is abandoned, it seems the one-drug executions are more appropriate and humane.  Three injections seems cruel, unusual and Draconian.

Break The Law And Your New “Friend” Might Be The FBI

Law enforcement invades social networking websites.

Let’s be frank: it was only a matter a time before the Feds started conducting investigations using social networking sites.  Indeed, I’ve had former clients busted for prostitution because they sell their services on Craigslist, and the police acted as “Johns” to set up a sting.
Be careful!

State v. Hammock: Home-Made Guns Are Still Firearms

This post is dedicated to NRA members.

WA Court of Appeals Division II decided that a hollowed-out bolt, in which a bullet is inserted, and when used with a hammer to strike the bullet,  IS a firearm.

After an extended period of using drugs and arguing with William Ford, defendant Hammock handed his girlfriend, Melissa McKee, a .22-caliber bullet, a hollowed-out bolt with a hexagonal head, and a ball peen hammer, and told her to shoot Ford.  Hammock had previously used the device to discharge a bullet.

Hammock inserted the shell into the head end of the bolt.  McKee placed the  non-head end of the  bolt against Ford’s head, struck the bullet with the ball peen hammer, discharged the bullet into Ford’s head.  Ford did not die immediately.

The following deatils are gruesome.  About 20 minutes later, Hammock jumped over the bed without warning  and repeatedly hit Ford  in the head  with a hammer.  Ford remained conscious for several more hours.  Later Hammock exited the room and returned with a metal object similar to a meat cleaver and struck Ford in the head two or three times.  Ford remained alive and conscious, so Hammock knotted an extension cord around Ford’s neck and placed a white plastic bag over Ford’s head.  Hammock also struck Ford again with the metal object once or twice.  Ford ultimately died from a gunshot wound to the head, blunt force impacts to the head, and ligature strangulation due to an extension cord knotted around his neck.

The State charged Hammock First Degree Murder, and a bevy of drug-related charges.  A forensic scientist with the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory testified that the .22-caliber bullet is a “rimfire” cartridge, meaning that its primer, the explosive, is around the rim of the cartridge. The primer ignites the gunpowder that provides the gas that propels the bullet.  The scientist was able to discharge a bullet from the bolt by striking the rim of the cartridge with a ball peen hammer.  The jury found Hammock guilty of all charges, including possession of a deadly weapon.

Court of Appeals reasoned that the bolt, hammer, and bullet, when considered together, constitute an instrument of offensive combat.  Hammock inserted the bullet into the bolt, handed it back to McKee, and told her to shoot Ford.  McKee put the bolt up to Ford’s head, struck it with a hammer, and discharged the bullet into Ford’s head.  Ford died partly from this gunshot wound to the head.  This constitutes an “instrument” used to injure or kill someone.  Additionally, the Court held that the bolt system meets the definition of “device” as well under former RCW 9.41.010(1).  Under Webster’s Dictionary, a “device” is “something that is formed or formulated by design and usage.

Consequently, the Court upheld Hammocks guilty verdict.

My opinion?  As I said above, I’m dedicating this post to NRA members, gun enthusiasts, and 2nd Amendment buffs.  Although I’m clearly NOT provding legal advice – I cannot do that over the internet – this bit of public information should put gun enthisiasts on pause.  Home-made guns are still firearms; even if the moving parts are separated from each other.  Period.

State v. Dow: Corpus Delicti vs. RCW 10.58.03

Good case.

WA Supremes held that RCW 10.58.035 does NOT change the corpus delicti rule that the State must prove every element of an alleged crime by evidence independent of the defendant’s statement.

 Defendant Keith Ian Dow was charged with with first degree child molestation.  The victim was a three year old female, and too young to testify.  Consequently, her statements to others about the alleged offense were inadmissible.  No persons other than Dow and the child were present at the time of the alleged offense.  During a recorded police interview, Dow made statements regarding the events surrounding the alleged molestation.  The trial court found these statements to be exculpatory and not an admission.  The State sought to introduce Dow’s statements as substantive evidence that he committed the crime charged.  Dow moved to exclude these statements, arguing they were inadmissible for lack of  corpus delicti.  The trial court agreed.  Dow’s case was dismissed.  The State appealed.  The case found its way to the Supremes.

Some background is necessary: the corpus delicti doctrine generally is a principle that tests the sufficiency or adequacy of evidence, other than a defendant’s confession, to corroborate the confession.  The purpose of the rule is to ensure that other evidence supports the defendant’s statement and satisfies the elements of the crime.  Where no other evidence exists to support the confession, a conviction cannot be supported solely by a confession.  The purpose of the corpus delicti rule is to prevent defendants from being unjustly convicted based on confessions alone.  Historically, courts have grounded the rule in judicial mistrust of confessions.

Along comes RCW 10.58.035. It allows a statement to be admitted into evidence if there is substantial independent evidence establishing the trustworthiness of the statement.   The following factors determine whether the statement is trustworthy:

(a)  Whether there is any evidence corroborating or contradicting the facts set out in the statement, including the elements of the offense;

(b)  The character of the witness reporting the statement and the number of witnesses to the statement;

(c)  Whether a record of the statement was made and the timing of the making of the record in relation to the making of the statement; and/or

(d)  The relationship between the witness and the defendant.

Here, the WA Supremes reasoned that even if the statements are admissible, no other evidence exists to establish the corpus delicti independent of Dow’s statement. Further, corpus delicti cases have always required sufficient evidence independent of a defendant’s confession to support a conviction.  RCW 10.58.035 does nothing to change this requirement. The State concedes it lacked evidence.  Indeed, the only evidence the State purported to have is Dow’s statement, which is insufficient under any standard.

Consequently, the WA Supremes upheld Dow’s dismissal.

My opinion?  I like the decision.  The WA Supremes dutifully followed corpus delicti and held people shouldn’t be charged with crimes unless evidence exists.  I fear, however, that even though the Court did not allow RCW 10.58.035 to swallow the corpus delicti rule, such decisions may come few and farther in between.  The statute was MADE to chip away at corpus delicti.  Period.  Perhaps it didn’t apply to Dow’s case because his statement was the ONLY evidence the State had.  Future defendants in future cases, however, might not be so lucky.

My prediction?  Future courts may find that if a scintilla of evidence beyond the defendant’s statement exists, then the statute kicks into effect and does away with corpus delicti.  Keep your eyes peeled . . .

Bellingham Police Suffer Cuts To Salaries, Hours

The Western Front, WWU’s student newspaper, wrote this interesting article:

A citywide hiring freeze has spurred Bellingham police to call on the City Council and the mayor, asking them to replenish the number of officers on duty.  However, it appears Mayor Pike is not as receptive as the Police Guild hopes.

The amount of reported crimes went down 4 percent last year, Pike said. Because the Police Department has 2.5 percent fewer deputies, the overall workload for city police is actually lower now than it was a year ago, he said.

Pike also said the city does have money in reserves, but it would not be prudent for the city to go ahead and spend all of it.

“No, we don’t have the resources to just, on an ad hoc basis, add costs to the city,” Pike said. “There is a process that has been in play for a long time, which the guild is a part of. This is, in my view, an end-run to that process: to get special treatment, which I don’t think is appropriate.”

My opinion?  I’m impressed that Mayor Pike sees the reality of the situation.  Crime is down.  Why hire more police?  There’s plenty of police agencies in Whatcom County.  Let’s not forget, the Sheriff’s Office and the Border Patrol; along with Everson, Ferndale, Sumas, and Blaine Police Departments.

If it ain’t broke, then don’t try to fix it . . .