Monthly Archives: April 2010

Seattle Mayor Vetoes Aggressive Panhandling Bill

Seattle, you should be proud.

Last week, the Seattle City Council considered an unnecessary and divisive ordinance empowering the police to give out $50 tickets to people who panhandle. Similar measures have been introduced in other cities. While the measure passed by a 5-4 margin, four Council members, Bruce Harrell, Nick Licata, Mike O’Brien, and Tom Rasmussen, recognized this law could be used to improperly target poor people and people of color while doing nothing to improve public safety. They voted against it, and Mayor Mike McGinn vetoed the measure on Friday.

My opinion?  Sure, nobody likes being panhandled.  But criminalizing it?  C’mon, I’m sure taxpayers don’t want money spent jailing panhandlers!!!  Additionally, the civil rights violations and exposure to liability makes this bill extremely undesirable.  The Mayor and Seattle Council “got it,” and voted/vetoed intelligently.  Let’s thank these champions for taking a courageous stand for civil liberties!

State v. Hall: WA Supremes Determine The “Unit of Prosecution” For Multiple Charges of Witness Tampering.

WA Supremes decided that an incarcerated defendant’s numerous phone calls to a witness constituted only one charge of Witness Tampering.

Defendant Isiah Hall threatened his girlfriend and her lover with a gun after finding them together in her apartment.  He flees the scene and drives away in a car owned by his friend, Desirae Aquiningoc.  Police later confront Aquiningoc about lending her car to Hall.  She said that Hall was her boyfriend, that he lived with her, that he had borrowed her car on that January 14 to visit his mother.  Later, police find Hall at his home and arrest him.

Based on what happened at Salazar’s apartment, Hall was charged with Burglary First Degree Burglary and Assault Second Degree and held in jail pending trial.  While in jail, Hall attempted to call Aquiningoc over 1,200 times. During those phone calls, some of which were played for the jury, Hall attempted to persuade Aquiningoc that his legal woes were her fault and that she had a moral obligation not to testify or to testify falsely.  The phone calls were recorded.  The State charged Hall with four counts of Witness Tampering.  Hall goes to trial.  The trial judge treated each count of Witness Tampering as a separate unit of prosecution.  Hall appeals.  The case winds its way to the WA Supreme Court.

The legal issue was whether Witness Tampering is a continuing offense or whether it is committed anew with each single act of attempting to persuade a potential witness not to testify or to testify falsely.

The WA Supremes reasoned that a “unit of prosecution” can be either a single act or a course of conduct.  Here, the plain language of the statute supports the conclusion that the unit of prosecution is the ongoing attempt to persuade a witness not to testify in a proceeding.  They further reasoned that, in the alternative, each conversation is a separate crime and, in this case for example, could lead to as many as 1,200 separate crimes.  “Such an interpretation could lead to absurd results, which we are bound to avoid when we can do so without doing violence to the words of the statute,” said the Court.  “It seems unlikely the legislature intended that a person could be prosecuted for over a thousand crimes under the circumstances presented here.”  Consequently, the Court held, under the facts of this case, Hall committed one crime of Witness Tampering, not three.

My opinion?  Makes sense.  It DOES seem absurd to stack multiple charges in this case.  After all, a unit of prosecution can either be a single act or a course of conduct.  It seems more realistic to view Halls many calls as a continuing course of conduct.  You can’t label the calls as single acts because he didn’t change his plans, motive, or modus operandi.

Good decision.

State v. Jones: Rape Shield Statute vs. Defendant’s Right to Testify

Interesting case.

Washington’s “Rape Shield Statute” does not stop a defendant from offering evidence or cross-examining a victim about the events on the night of the alleged sexual encounter, including the victim’s sexual conduct with other individuals during a wild sex party.

Defendant Christopher Jones was charged with first and second degree rape after his niece, K.D., claimed that Jones put his hands around her neck and forcibly raped her.  At trial, the jury acquitted Jones of first degree rape but could not reach a decision on second degree rape.  Jones was tried again for second degree rape along with the aggravating factor of being an individual in a position of trust to the victim.

Jones wanted to present evidence that K.D. consented to sex during an all-night sex party.  The party included one additional woman and two additional men, cocaine and alcohol.  During this party, K.D. consented to sex with all three men (which included Jones).  The judge, citing the rape shield law, would not allow Jones to introduce such evidence because it was only being introduced to attack K.D.’s credibility.

Furthermore, during the trial, the prosecutor noted that Jones was compelled to give a DNA sample (did not do so voluntarily) and that he refused to clear up matters with the police.  At the end of trial, the judge backtracked a little and claimed that it allowed Jones to present evidence that the sex was consensual (but without mentioning the sex party).   Jones was convicted and appealed.  Jones claimed that the trial court erred when it refused to allow him to present evidence of the sex party and for the prosecutor’s inappropriate comments with respect to speaking with police and giving a DNA sample.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, but the Washington Supreme Court reversed.

First, the court reasoned that the trial court violated Jones’ 6th Amendment rights by refusing to allow Jones testify about the sex party.  “Jones’s evidence, if believed, would prove consent and would provide a defense to the charge of second degree rape.”  Furthermore, since no State interest can possibly be compelling enough to stop the introduction of evidence of high probative value, the trial court violated Jones’ Sixth Amendment rights when it barred his testimony.

Second, the Court held the Rape Shield Statute did not apply.  Washington’s rape shield law provides:

Evidence of the victim’s past sexual behavior including but not limited to the victim’s marital history, divorce history, or general reputation for promiscuity, nonchastity, or sexual mores contrary to community standards is inadmissible on the issue of credibility and is inadmissible to prove the victim’s consent except as provided in subsection (3) of this section, but when the perpetrator and the victim have engaged in sexual intercourse with each other in the past, and when the past behavior is material to the issue of consent, evidence concerning the past behavior between the perpetrator and the victim may be admissible on the issue of consent to the offense.

Here, the Court decided the Rape Shield Statute protects victims from testifying about past sexual behavior.  In this case, however, Jones was attempting to introduce evidence of present sexual behavior.  Thus, to deny such evidence under the rape shield law would be to read out the term past.   Furthermore, since the evidence that Jones sought to be introduced involved Jones’s defense and version of what occurred the night of the crime, the denial of such evidence was NOT harmless error.  Jones is entitled to a new trial.

My opinion?  Under the circumstances, the court made a well-reasoned decision.  Their interpretation of the Rape Shield Statute appears correct: although one cannot admit evidence of the victim’s past sexual history, the statute does not prevent present sexual history from being admitted into evidence.  This evidence seems especially relevant when the victim is engaged in exploits in the manner described in this case.  Good decision.

Extra Police On The Prowl For Speeders

Be aware . . .

Padilla v. Kentucky: Noncitizens Entering Guilty Pleas + Bad Legal Advice = DEPORTATION!

Interesting case.  Defense attorneys representing aliens charged with crimes have a constitutional obligation to tell the client that a guilty plea carries a risk of deportation.

Mr. Padilla, a lawful permanent resident of the United States for over 40 years, faced deportation after pleading guilty to drug distribution charges in Kentucky.  He claimed his attorney not only failed to advise him of this consequence before he entered the plea, and also told Padilla not to worry about deportation since he had lived in this country so long.  Padilla says he would have avoided pleading guilty and gone to trial had he not received bad advice from his attorney.

In deciding the issue, the U.S. Supremes applied the two-part test from Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668.  The test analyzes whether (1) counsel’s legal advice fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) there exists a reasonable probablity that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different.

Here, Padilla proved his defense attorney gave misleading advice.  The Supremes reasoned that defense attorneys MUST inform a client whether his plea carries risk of deportation.  Changes to immigration law have dramatically raised the stakes of a noncitizen’s criminal conviction.  They further reasoned that, recently, immigration reforms have expanded the class of deportable offenses and limited judges’ authority to alleviate deportation’s harsh consequences.  The importance of accurate legal advice for noncitizens has never been more important.

My opinion?  Good decision.  Mr. Padilla was rightfully granted relief for his attorney’s bad legal advice.  Under the law, immigrants can be deported if they are convicted of crimes which expose them to serving a year or more jail time.  Practically speaking, this applies to all gross misdemeanors and felonies.  Simple misdemeanors are exempt because their exposure is typically only 90 days in jail.

This opinion warns defense attorneys to correctly advise immigrant clients of the consequences of entering guilty pleas.

Justice Stevens Retiring From Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens the court’s oldest member and leader of its liberal bloc, is retiring.

Throughout his tenure, which began after President Gerald Ford nominated him in 1975, Stevens usually sided with the court’s liberal bloc in the most contentious cases — those involving abortion, criminal law, civil rights and church-state relations. He led the dissenters as well in the case of Bush v. Gore that sealed President George W. Bush’s election in 2000.

President Barack Obama now has his second high court opening to fill.

Justice Stevens, I salute your service to the bench.  Thank you for providing years of service and steadfst commitment toward deciding some of the nation’s most controversial legal issues.

How To Protect Your Rights On Facebook

Think twice before posting those party pictures on Facebook.  Check out this story from the LaCrosse Tribune:

In short, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student Adam Bauer has nearly 400 friends on Facebook. He got an offer for a new one about a month ago. “She was a good-looking girl. I usually don’t accept friends I don’t know, but I randomly accepted this one for some reason,” the 19-year-old said.

He thinks that led to his invitation to come down to the La Crosse police station, where an officer laid out photos from Facebook of Bauer holding a beer — and then ticketed him for underage drinking.

He was among at least eight people who said Wednesday they had been cited for underage drinking based on photos on social networking sites.

*       *       *       *       *       *      *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

My opinion?  First things first, there’s certainly nothing good to be said about these sorts of law-enforcement tactics. Police always have better things to do than roam the Internet looking for pictures of naughty college kids and there’s no excuse for invading people’s privacy to make a couple petty arrests. The very notion of officers assuming fake identities on Facebook is just inherently repugnant and serves only to destroy their relationship with the very people they’re supposed to be protecting.

That said, it’s also worth keeping in mind that you have a 5th Amendment right not to post incriminating pictures of yourself on Facebook. It’s just an unfortunate reality that police do creep around on the web an awful lot for no particularly good reason and you never know where their prying eyes might land. This means you should think about what you’re posting, and keep an eye out for other people incriminating you as well. Simply untagging yourself from a couple questionable photos could be all it takes to save you a huge hassle down the road.

In my experience, this issue goes beyond what may or may not have taken place in one photo on one particular night. Seriously, I’ve known – and heard of – people who got passed over for a job because their prospective employer found unflattering photos online. Worse, I know of instances in which online photos were used to attack someone’s character in an otherwise unrelated criminal case. The bottom line is that posting pictures online has much broader implications than simply showing your friends what a kick-ass weekend you had.

Finally, remember that if you’re ever confronted with a photo that shows you in a compromising situation, you don’t have to incriminate yourself. Rarely will the photo itself be sufficient evidence to convict you of anything. What they’re really looking for is the confession that they hope will come spilling out of your mouth after they show you what they’ve got. If you keep your mouth shut and ask for a lawyer, chances are they’ve got nothing.

BTW, I’m not offering legal advice by posting this subject matter.  It’s offered for educational purposes only.   😉

Take care,


Washington Supreme Court To Review Firing of Medical Marijuana Patient


The Washington Supreme Court has agreed to review a case in which an employee was fired solely for her lawful use at home of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

 The case arose from the 2006 firing of authorized medical marijuana patient Jane Roe (who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity) from a company called TeleTech Costumer Care Management. Roe was hired by TeleTech to be a customer service consultant, which required answering phones and responding to e-mails. She informed TeleTech about her medical use of marijuana during the hiring process, providing the company with a copy of her physician’s authorization. However, when Roe’s pre-employment drug screen tested positive for THC, an active ingredient of marijuana, she was fired. Roe had worked at TeleTech for over a week without issue. Roe filed suit in Kitsap County in 2007.  The ACLU of Washington had filed an amicus memorandum urging the court to review the case in order to ensure that the rights of individuals under our state’s medical marijuana law are adequately protected.

 A 2009 Court of Appeals decision in the case (Roe v. TeleTech) held that Washington’s medical marijuana law only protects someone from criminal prosecution and provides no protection in employment situations. Washington’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act was adopted by the state’s voters in 1998 to enable individuals suffering from specified medical conditions to use marijuana with the recommendation of their physician.

 Alison Holcomb, the Director of the ACLU’s Washington Drug Policy, weighed in: “It is important that employers respect the private medical choices employees make in consultation with their physicians. As long as the job is not safety-sensitive and the employee’s performance is not impaired, patients should not be forced to choose between a physician-authorized treatment and gainful employment.”

 Jane Roe is represented by Michael Subit of Frank, Freed, Subit & Thomas, LLP.  The ACLU-WA’s friend-of-the-court memorandum was written by Drug Policy Director Alison Holcomb and Policy Advocate Mark Cooke.

 Good luck, ACLU.  Godspeed.

Berghuis v. Smith: Defining the Hardship of Obtaining an Impartial “Cross Section” of the Jury Community

Interesting case.  As pro-defense as I am — and insofar as the U.S. Supremes rule against the defense — they nevertheless drafted a tight, well-reasoned opinion about jury selection from a cross-section of the community.

The defendant was an African-American man charged with Second Degree Murder and Felony Firearm Possession.  He goes to trial.  At voir dire, the jury panel was composed of 60 and 100 individuals, only 3 of whom, at most, were African American.  At that time, African-Americans constituted 7.28% of the County’s jury-eligible population, and 6% of the pool from which potential jurors were drawn.  An all-white jury was selected.  The trial court rejected Smith’s objection to the panel’s racial composition.  The all-white jury convicted Smith of the crimes.  He was sentenced to life in prison.

For those who don’t know, the 6th Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to be tried by an impartial jury drawn from sources reflecting a fair cross section of the community.  Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522 (1975).  The issue was whether, under the circumstances, the defendant’s right was violated by the all-white jury’s conviction.

The Court reasoned that a defendant raising a violation of the “fair-cross-section” requirement of the Sixth Amendment must establish that any existing underrepresentation was due to “systematic exclusion” of the group in the jury-selection process. Practices, such as excusing people who merely alleged hardship or simply failed to show up for jury service, reliance on mail notices, a failure to follow up on nonresponses, the use of 15-months old residential addresses, and the refusal of police to enforce court orders for the appearance of prospective jurors, are insufficient to establish “systematic exclusion.”  Consequently, the U.S. Supremes upheld Smith’s conviction.

My opinion?  Polyannish as it sounds, this opinion shows why it’s SO IMPORTANT for citizens to show up for jury duty.  Juries are the last bastion of objective, impartial justice.  We all experience moments when we are wrongfully accused; not because we intentionally did something wrong, but merely because we look/think/act outside the norms of the majority.  That’s exactly why juries MUST reflect a fair cross section of the community.  That “cross section,’ however, can only happen if YOU – the citizen – do your part and answer the call to serve on a jury.  Your lone perspective adds depth.  Your life experience – which, amazingly, might be similar to the defendant’s/petitioner’s/plaintiff’s – adds insight to their arguments.