Monthly Archives: November 2014

WA Attorney General Says Police Do NOT Need Consent to Record Citizen Activities With Body Cameras

Bad decision.

Conversations between law enforcement and members of the public may be recorded on police body cameras without citizen consent, according to an opinion issued today by Washington State Attorney General’s Office. The opinion is linked below, as well as news articles describing the recent decision:

The AG’s opinion said conversations between law enforcement and the public are generally considered public, even if they take place inside a private residence. Washington law requires two-party consent to record private conversations, but that standard does NOT apply to public ones.

Legal precedent is less clear about an officer recording a conversation between two members of the public, since no case law addresses the subject directly. But the AGO said the Washington State Supreme Court has “strongly indicated” conversations between two people are not private when they know a police officer is present.

Recently, Bellingham Police officers are being outfitted with body cameras which would record all official interactions with citizens, even inside private residences (please read my related blog titled, “Bellingham Police Start Using Body Cameras” below)

The main issues of the AG’s opinion are stated below:

  1. The Washington Privacy Act, RCW 9.73, does not require the consent of a law enforcement officer to use body cameras attached to police uniforms. A local collective bargaining agreement, however, might limit or prohibit such use.
  2. Conversations between law enforcement officers and members of the public are not generally considered private for purposes of the Privacy Act.
  3. As a general matter, the Privacy Act does not require a law enforcement officer to cease recording a conversation at the request of a citizen, because such conversations are not private to begin with.
  4. In order to use a recording as evidence in a criminal or civil case, the recording would be subject to the same laws and rules governing all evidence, including the requirement that the chain of custody be established to prove no tampering has occurred. Laws relating to the retention and disclosure of public records, including records retention schedules, would govern retention and disclosure of recordings.
  5. RCW 9.73.090 does not limit the use of body cameras to the use of such cameras in conjunction with vehicle-mounted cameras.   

My opinion? I was on board with the body cameras until the AG’s Office basically gave police officers permission to circumvent the privacy rights of citizens. Look, the average citizen on the street does NOT assert their Constitutional right to refuse to speak to police officers. Nor does the average citizen refuse to grant an officer’s request to search the citizen’s home or car. Police can be very persuasive in exercising their authority. So this AG opinion said conversations between law enforcement and the public are generally considered public? Even if the conversations are NOT consensual and take place inside a private residence? Unbelievable! Bad decision.

Bellingham Police Start Using Body Cameras

Finally, a step in the right direction.–277984681.html

In an effort to reduce use-of-force complaints, Bellingham Police officers are now wearing cameras to record audio and video of their interactions with the public. The department is among the first to use the new equipment that now allows citizens to see crimes from an officer’s perspective.

Officers are wearing two cameras — one on their chests and another mounted on collars, glasses or hats.

The Bellingham Police Department has provided officers with guidelines for when they should activate the cameras. Some include traffic stops, arrests, or situations involving aggressive suspects.

Police don’t need to ask for permission to record  if they’re in public but they will tell you if the camera is on. However, if an officer is in a private residence he or she is required to get the homeowner’s permission to record.

My opinion? Excellent decision. My hat is off to the Bellingham Police for making a pro-active decision toward this effort. I strongly believe having body cameras makes EVERYONE — both cops and citizens — behave better. even better, the cameras should provide evidence of whether police misconduct happens in some cases. Very good.

My only concern is the privacy issues. Will police will secretly turn these cameras on when searching people’s houses? And if so, can the police attempt to use the surveillance video captured by the cameras as evidence of possession of contraband/weapons? As long as police are informing citizens that conversations and searches are being recorded (and as long as the police get the citizen’s consent to search ON CAMERA) then the searches are probably not intrusive and/or violations of a citizen’s constitutional rights. We’ll see.

State v. Reeves: Retail Theft Charges Dismissed With Knapstad Motion

Good case. Recently, the WA Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision to grant a defendant’s Knapstad motion to dismiss a charge of Retail Theft With Extenuating Circumstances.

The Defendant was accused of using  a pair of ordinary pliers to remove an anti-theft secutory device at a store. He was caught and charged with Retail Theft With Extenuating Circumstances. His attorney argued a Knapstad motion to dismiss on the basis that ordinary pliers were not “an item, article, implement or device designed to overcome security systems including, but not limited to, lined bags or tag removers. The judge granted the motion and reasoned that including common tools into the definition of devices designed to overcome security systems would render every act of removing a security device an extenuating circumstance. The State appealed.

Some background on Knapstad motions is necessary. In State v. Knapstad, 107 Wash.2d 346 (1986), the Supreme Court created a procedure similar to summary judgment in a civil case, under which a criminal defendant can, by way of pre-trial motion, challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence. In essence, if the prosecution cannot show by competent affidavit that it has a prima facie case of guilt on all elements, the court must dismiss the charge. In evaluating sufficiency of evidence, the court looks at the undisputed material facts already in the court record from the finding of probable cause, and ascertains whether as a matter of law, the prosecution has established a prima facie showing of guilt. For more information on Knapstad Motions, please read my Legal Guide titled, “Dismissing Cases Through Knapstad Motions.”

Likewise, some background on the felony charge of Retail Theft With Extenuating Circumstances. Under former RCW 9A.5.360(1)(b), an extenuating circumstance for retail Theft charges includes being in possession of an item, article, implement, or device designed to overcome security systems including, but not litmited to, lined bags or tag removers.

 Here, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal pursuant to the defendant’s Knapstad motion. They reasoned the criminal statute was ambiguous about the definition of the class of “tools” which created the aggravating factor of “Retail Theft.”

Also, the “Rule of Lenity” made another basis for upholding the trial court’s decision: “Because the language of former RCW 9A.56.360(1)(b) is ambiguous, we first turn to the principles of statutory construction, the legislative history and the statutory scheme to determine the legislature’s intent. If this analysis still does not clearly show the legislature’s intent, the Rule of Lenity requires us to interpret the statute in Reeve’s favor.” Here, the Court ruled that the principles of statutory construction and an analysis of the legislative history and statutory scheme do not resolve the ambiguity of the statute in the State’s favor. For these reasons, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision.

My opinion? Good decision. Both the trial court and the court of Appeals got it right.

State v. W.R.: Defendants Do NOT Need to Prove Consent in Rape Cases

Good opinion.

Overruling the decisions in State v. Camara and State v. Gregory, the WA Supreme Court held that it violates due process to make the defendant prove the alleged sexual act in question was consensual when the crime charged is Rape in the Second Degree by Forcible Compulsion.

The defendant, a minor named W.R., was found guilty at his bench trial of Rape in the Second Degree by Forcible Compulsion. The event in question was a sexual encounter between W.R. and J.P. that occurred on January 2, 2011, while J.P. was visiting her aunt, who resided with W.R. and his sister. J.P. was also a minor at the time. Throughout trial, the juvenile court judge found W.R. lacked credibility. Consequently, the court explained that the State had proved rape in the second degree beyond a reasonable doubt and that W.R. had failed to prove the defense of consent by a preponderance of the evidence.

W.R. appealed, arguing the juvenile court erred in allocating to him the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the act was consensual.

The WA Supreme Court granted review of the case on this one issue: When the State charges the defendant under a rape statute that includes “forcible compulsion” as a necessary element of the crime, does due process forbid requiring a criminal defendant to prove consent by a preponderance of the evidence?

The court reasoned that once a defendant asserts a consent defense and provides sufficient evidence to support the defense, the State bears the burden of proving lack of consent as part of its proof of the element of forcible compulsion. It analyzed the decision in State v. Camara and other cases which applied a “negates” analysis. In short, the Court held that when a defense necessarily negates an element of the crime, it violates due process to place the burden of proof on the defendant. It stated, “The key to whether a defense necessarily negates an element is whether the completed crime and the defense can coexist.”

Furthermore, the court said other courts have recognized that when a person consents to sexual intercourse, such consent negates forcible compulsion. In addition, the defendant cannot be burdened with proving consent by a preponderance of the evidence, as the burden must remain on the State to prove forcible compulsion beyond reasonable doubt.

We hold that consent necessarily negates forcible compulsion. For this reason, due process prohibits shifting the burden to the defendant to prove consent by a preponderance of the evidence. While the defendant may be tasked with producing evidence to put consent in issue, such evidence need only create reasonable doubt as to the victim’s consent. Our prior decisions in Camara and Gregory are inconsistent with this holding; we thus must explain why these cases must be overruled.

My opinion? Good decision, on many levels. It’s satisfying that the WA Supremes overruled bad caselaw and reasoned their way back to the one of the oldest standards in American jury trial jurisprudence: it is the State, and not the defendant, who carries the burden. Making the defendant carry this burden violates due process.

Although it appears Camara and Gregory tried to carve out an exception to this general rule in much the same way a defendant must prove self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence if charged with Assault, making a defendant prove consent in rape and sex cases is far too difficult to prove. This is especially true when the Rape-Shield statute suppresses information about a victim’s past sexual history. Good decision, WA Supremes.