Monthly Archives: October 2014

State v. Westvang: Ferrier Warnings, Arrest Warrants & Questionable Searches of a Home.

Division II of the Court of Appeals just decided that Ferrier Warnings (discussed below) are NOT necessary when police officers obtain consent to enter a home in order to execute an arrest warrant on a fugitive.

Police were searching for a fugitive named Scott Miller, who had a warrant for his arrest. Officers received a tip that Miller was at Ms. Westvang’s home. They arrived at her home. The  officers informed Ms. Westvang that they were looking for Miller. She said he was not there. Officer Sawyer asked permission to search her home and look for Miller. Although Officer Sawyer did not give full Ferrier Warnings, he informed Westvang that she did not have to consent to the search.

Westvang consented to the search and led officers through her living room, kitchen and bedroom. They did not find Miller. However, after returning to the living room, the officers saw a desk upon which were substances recongnized as meth and marijuana, as well as small plastic baggies; a digital scale with a white crystalline substance, and $105 in U.S. currency. Ms. Westvang was arrested for Possession of a Controlled Substance With Intent To Deliver. Although Westvang’s attorney argued a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence because the officers failed to provide Ferrier warnings, the judge denied her motion. At trial, Westvang was convicted. She appealed.

Some background is necessary. In State v. Ferrier, the WA Supreme Court announced a rule to protect occupants who may not be aware of the right to refuse consent to a search or to limit its scope and duration. The court stated the following:

“When police officers conduct a “knock and talk” for the purposes of obtaining consent to search a home, and thereby avoid the necessity of obtaining a warrant, they must, prior to entering the home, inform the person from whom consent is sought that he or she maylawfully refuse to consent to the search and that they can revoke, at any time, the consent that they give, and can limit the scope of the consent to certain areas of the home. The failure to provide these warnings, prior to entering the home, vitiates any consent given thereafter.”

Importantly, and after Ferrier was decided, the WA Supreme Court has since ruled under State v. Ruem that Ferrier warnings are not required when law enforcement officers seek consent to enter a home and execute an arrest warrant. Instead, Ferrier warnings are required only when law enforcement officers are conducting a “knock and talk”: entering the home without a search warrant to search for contraband or evidence of a crime.

Here, the officers were not required to give Ms. Westvang any Ferrier warnings because they were not requesting entry to her home to search for contraband or evidence of a crime pursuant to a “knock and talk.” The officers observed Westvang’s consent to enter her home to execute and arrest warrant. Therefore, no Ferrier warnings were required. Based on this reasoning, the WA Court of Appeals affirmed Westvang’s conviction.

My opinion? Cases like this are never easy. Consent walks hand-in-hand with duress. It’s very difficult for the average citizen to say “No” to law enforcement. Instinctively, we believe that refusing to cooperate with an officers request to search will only hinder their duties and bring harsher consequences for failing to cooperate. In these cases, and as soon as possible, it’s always wise to respectfully deny their questions and contact an attorney regarding your legal rights.

State v. Merrill: Victim’s Rights to Deny a Defense Attorney’s Interview

Interesting opinion.

Division III decided that  an attorney may be sanctioned for directly contacting a crime victim after the crime victim has exercised her rights under RCW 7.69.030(1) to have an advocate present at any prosecution or defense interview.

The facts were such that defense attorney Mr. Harget was representing the defendant, Lucas Merrill, who was charged with assaulting members of the Gertlar family. The Gertlar family signed a “Notice of Victim’s Intent to Rely on RCW 7.69.030(10). Through the document, the Gertlars exercised their right to have a victim’s advocate present at any prosecution or defense interviews and demanded that any conduct, interview, or correspondence be arranged through the victim/witness office of the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office.

Despite the family’s wishes to have a DV advocate present, Mr. Harget nevertheless contacted the victim’s family in an attempt to discuss the case. This happened not once, but twice. The victim’s family brought this to the attention of the Prosecutor; who in turn informed the court. Ultimately, Mr. Harget was sanctioned by the trial court. He appealed the sanctions.

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s sanctions. It reasoned that a trial court has the inherent authroity to sanction lawyers for improper conduct during the course of litigation, but that generally requires a showing of “bad faith.” Furthermore, the court is encouraged to make an explicit finding of bad faith before imposing such sanctions. Finally, sanctions may be appropriate if an act affects the integrity of the court, and if left unchecked, would encourage future abuses.

The court further reasoned that, when invoked, victims of violent crimes have the right to have a victim advocate present during an interview by defense counsel or the prosecution under RCW 7.69.030(10). However, the right given by the statute “applies if practical, and if the presence of the crime victim advocate or support person does not cause any unnecessary delay in the investigation or prosecution of the case.”

Here, the Court of Appeals found Mr. Harget’s actions supported the sanctions against him.

My opinion? This is a very tricky case to dissect. I’ve interviewed dozens of crime victims – the good, the bad and the ugly – during my career. Some victims do not want to be interviewed. When this happens, I’ll usually argue a legal brief that states the necessity of conducting witness interviews for the matter at hand. I’ll couch my arguments in the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and also cite helpful statutes and cases from Washington State.

It’s highly necessary to interview victims. Sometimes, victims change their minds about the incident in question after thinking about it. Sometimes, they recant. Sometimes, they want the case dismissed and the No-Contact Orders to be rescinded. Sometimes, victims have alterior motives; or their version of the facts is inconsistent with other evidence, or they don’t have much opportunity to witness/observe the totality of the incident. A defense attorney must know these things before proceeding to trial. After all, a defense attorney can be found to be ineffective if they don’t interview witnesses and victims! So yes, I fully understand Mr. Hagley’s dilemma.

On this same note, I understand the concerns of the victim’s family’s as well. I’m sure they simply wanted to be left alone, and not contacted by Mr. Hagley at all.

Interesting case.

Bellingham Police Want to Increase DUI Arrests By 50%.

We were warned . . .

Drunk drivers will be targeted en force over the next year as Bellingham puts extra officers on the streets with state grant money. Bellingham Police Department received a grant from the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission for extra DUI patrols starting Wednesday, Oct. 1 and lasting through Sept. 30, 2015. The department will try to increase its DUI arrest rate by more than 50 percent.

To do so, each enforcement officer will try to arrest one impaired driver every four hours, and crack down on other crash-related behavior. The grant goals follow statewide “Target Zero” goals to reduce and eventually eliminate fatal and serious injury crashes.

Statewide, the yearly goal is to have 24 fewer deaths from crashes and 120 fewer serious injuries.  To kick off the program, Bellingham police will work with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a high visibility DUI enforcement patrol Friday, Oct. 3. Officers will focus on city and county streets with the highest number of injury and fatal crashes.

My opinion? Unbelievable. “The department will to try to increase its DUI arrest rate by more than 50 percent.” Wow. In other words, if you’re driving downtown Bellingham during certain hours, expect to get pulled over. Period.