Monthly Archives: September 2015

New App Tries Reducing Drunk Driving Deaths


A news article from NR Today, an Oregon newspaper, reported the Oregon Department of Transportation is pushing a new smartphone application that hopes to help impaired drivers get home safely. Read more here.

In short, the app, titled SaferRide, is a mobile phone program developed by the NHTSA and allows users to call a taxi or a friend. It shows the app users their location so they can easily be picked up.

New data from NHTSA shows that drunk driving deaths declined by 2.5 percent in 2013. Yet, even with this decrease from the previous year, 10,076 people died in crashes involving a drunk driver in 2013 — one death every 52 minutes. December 2013 was the month with the lowest number of drunk driving fatalities, 733 lives lost.

“This app easily and simply helps someone who is impaired get a ride or summon friends and do what it takes to get home safely,” said Dan Estes, DUII program manager for ODOT, in a release. “This app can accomplish a lot, and people need to know it’s available.”

Impaired driving can come from alcohol, over the counter or prescription drugs, illegal or recreational drugs, or other substances.

Representatives from ODOT, Clackamas County, Washington County, Oregon Impact, the City of Portland, OLCC, TriMet, OHSU ThinkFirst, AAA, Oregon Health Authority and Trauma Nurses Talk Tough came up with the idea while brainstorming ideas to tackle Oregon’s rise in crashes.

The app is available for Android devices on Google Play and Apple devices on the iTunes store.

Stingray “Spy” Devices

This undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows the StingRay II, manufactured by Harris Corporation, of Melbourne, Fla., a cellular site simulator used for surveillance purposes. (AP Photo/U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

Intimidating, no?

This suitcase-sized device, called Hailstorm or Stingray, is a controversial cellular phone surveillance device manufactured by the Harris Corporation. It is designed to sweep up basic cellphone data from a neighborhood and identify unique subscriber numbers. That data is then transmitted to the police, allowing them to locate a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message. It’s the newest, most advanced technology in spyware which essentially allows police to observe, record and otherwise pinpoint your cell phone activity. And, of course, a growing number of police departments are purchasing these devices.

Stingrays cost as much as $400,000 and acts as a fake cell tower. The system, typically installed in a vehicle so it can be moved into any neighborhood, tricks all nearby phones into connecting to it and feeding data to police. In some states, the devices are available to any local police department via state surveillance units. The federal government funds most of the purchases, via anti-terror grants.

These devices are used to spy on people’s words, locations and associations. Stingrays can capture everything from metadata (who called whom, when, and sometimes from where) to the content of calls.

A news article from USA Today titled, Cellphone Data Spying: It’s Not Just the NSA describes how numerous police agencies across the country refuse to admit whether they’ve used Stingrays in surveillance. According to the article, most police agencies deny public records requests, arguing that criminals or terrorists could use the information to thwart important crime-fighting and surveillance techniques. Police maintain that cellphone data can help solve crimes, track fugitives or abducted children or even foil a terror attack.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has investigated the use of Stingrays and has also successfully identified 54 agencies in 21 states and the District of Columbia that own Stingrays. Many agencies continue to shroud their purchase and use of Stingrays in secrecy.

A growing number of courts and legal authorities are increasingly wary on whether Stingrays violate citizen’s rights against unlawful search under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For example,  in FROM SMARTPHONES TO STINGRAYS: CAN THE FOURTH AMENDMENT KEEP UP WITH THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY? attorney Brittany Hampton wrote a Note in the University of Louisville Law Review which discussed the questionable use of the Stingray devices by police agencies.

In her article, Ms. Hampton argues that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their movements when using their cellphones; therefore, the use of the Stingray constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. She also discusses the need for the United States Supreme Court to develop a clear warrant requirement for the monitoring of an individual using the Stingray device. Ultimately, Hampton advocates a warrant requirement for utilizing the Stingray devices for police tracking purposes because the warrantless use of the Stingray is an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

My opinion? I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Hampton, the ACLU and other legal experts on this issues. Using Stingrays is an unlawful search. Quite frankly, the government should not have carte blanche secret access to people’s cell phone use and information. It’s overly intrusive and distasteful that the government can, without warning, essentially use people’s cell data as pretextual evidence to investigate our whereabouts, listen to our conversations and ultimately charge us with crimes.

Even worse – and speaking as a criminal defense attorney – it’s disturbing that police agencies can use the information obtained from Stingrays as probable cause to obtain search warrants of people’s homes and seize evidence therein. Moreover, if I move to suppress the evidence gained from the search warrant as the fruits of an unlawful search, local police agencies deny and circumvent my Motions to Compel Evidence and Public Disclosure Requests by simply having the feds conduct the Stingray search. This is bad.

Stay tuned . . .


Have Plea Bargains Superseded Jury Trials?

Lady Justice, law, court

“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

~Thomas Jefferson

How did the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a public jury trial in all criminal prosecutions become useless and outdated?

Seattle criminal defense attorney Kelly Vomacka answered these questions during her presentation at  the 7th Annual Smoke Farm Symposium on Aug. 22, 2015. Smoke Farm is a program center and events venue run by the Seattle-based nonprofit organization Rubicon Foundation.

Titled, “Plea Nation: Dispelling the Illusion That the US Criminal Justice System Sorts the Guilty from the Innocent,” Vomacka spoke to the trend that today’s criminal defendants are waiving their right to jury trials and entering plea bargains.

Studies show that 97% of criminal cases in the U.S. result in plea bargains that do not determine guilt or innocence. Only 3 percent go to trial by jury.  Vomacka also discusses incarceration issues, the risks of trial verdicts, the numerous “gaps” (race, communication, socio-economic status, etc. – between defendants and their lawyers, pleading guilty to get out of jail, etc.

Very interesting presentation.

New DUI Court Helps Native Americans

An Albuquerque, New Mexico court is taking bold and progressive steps in stopping Native Americans from committing DUI.

The newly established Urban Native American Drug Court uses nine months of treatment and supervision instead of incarceration to deter alcoholism. In order to qualify, each defendant must be Native American and have been convicted of more than two DWIs.

“The idea is to try to incorporate some of the traditional beliefs into healing and wellness,” Judge Maria Dominguez said.

Officials said the biggest challenge is a fear of losing their spirituality. David Lente, a Native American substance abuse counselor in Albuquerque, provides the therapeutic component of the program by integrating activities cultural activities, like talking circles and community service projects. The hope is to reconnect Native American defendants with the positive aspects of their culture.

Court officials said drug court, as a whole, is a much more effective tool than jail time. They said only 6 percent of those who participate end up getting arrested again for drunken driving.

My opinion? This program is an excellent progressive step forward. Typically, alcohol abuse is symptomatic of something much worse taking place within the abuser. They may be suffering with physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual health issues and using alcohol to self-medicate. Kudos to Judge Dominguez in the continued success of this program.

State v. O’Dell: Court May Consider Defendant’s Youth at Sentencing

In State v. O’Dell,  the Washington Supreme Court held that a defendant’s youthfulness can support a lower prison sentence.

About 10 days after his 18th birthday, O’Dell had sex with 12-year-old A.N. The two met up on Sunday afternoon, along with a mutual friend, to drink wine and smoke cigars in the woods. Apparently, she, the friend, and O’Dell made plans to meet up again later that night but that the friend did not join them as planned. She and O’Dell sat in the woods to wait for their friend and, after a few minutes of talking, O’Dell forcibly raped her.

Sean O’Dell was convicted of Rape of a Child Second Degree. At O’Dell’s sentencing hearing, the defense requested a lighter sentence because, as he said it,  “The defendant’s capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct, or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law, was significantly impaired by youth.”

The defense also argued that when O’Dell committed his offense, he “was still in high school, associating with school age persons” and “was not some mid-twenties man hanging out at the local high school or trolling the internet for young people.”

Finally, the defense quoted portions of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roper v. Simmons, which held that it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on a juvenile. Roper relied on research, by various medical and psychiatric associations, indicating that juveniles are more susceptible to negative influences and impulsive behavior and therefore less morally culpable for their crimes relative to adults.

Despite Defense Counsel’s arguments, the trial court sentenced O’Dell to 95 months of prison and said that it could not consider age as a mitigating circumstance.

O’Dell committed this offense 10 days after his 18th birthday. As stated by his defense attorney, “had the incident happened two weeks prior, and assuming the State could not convince the Court to prosecute O’Dell as an adult, he would be facing 15-36 weeks in a well-guarded juvenile detention facility … rather than 78-102 months in an adult prison.”

On appeal, O’Dell challenged his 95-month sentence. He argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to consider O’Dell’s own relative youth as a basis to depart from the standard sentence range.

The WA Supreme Court ruled that the trial court erred when it refused to consider O’Dell’s youth as a mitigating factor justifying a lower sentence. First, it reasoned that all defendants 18 and over are, in general, equally culpable for equivalent crimes. But it could not have considered the particular vulnerabilities – for example, impulsivity, poor judgment, and susceptibility to outside influences – of specific individuals. The trial court is in the best position to consider those factors.

Second, the WA Legislature defining an adult felony offender as “18 and over” did not have the benefit of psychological and neurological studies showing that the parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to develop well into a person’s 20’s:

These studies reveal fundamental differences between adolescent and mature brains in the areas of risk and consequence assessment, impulse control, tendency toward antisocial behaviors, and susceptibility to peer pressure. Until full neurological maturity, young people in general have less ability to control their emotions, clearly identify consequences, and make reasoned decisions than they will when they enter their late twenties and beyond.

Finally, the Court concluded, in light of what we know today about adolescents’ cognitive and emotional development, the defendant’s youth may, in fact, relate to a defendant’s crime that it is far more likely to diminish a defendant’s culpability; and that youth can, therefore, amount to a substantial and compelling factor justifying a lighter sentence. “For these reasons, a trial court must be allowed to consider youth as a mitigating factor when imposing a sentence on an offender like O’Dell, who committed his offense just a few days after he turned 18.”

The WA Supreme Court remanded O’Dell’s case for re-sentencing.

My opinion? Good decision. The defense attorney was very intelligent to provide the court with studies showing that young offenders have less ability to control their emotions and impulses. This is very true. Indeed, this reasoning is exactly why the Washington Legislature adopted the Juvenile Justice Act in 1977 and treats young offenders differently than adult offenders.

Here, although the Defendant was categorically denied Juvenile Court because he was 18 years old, he was barely 18 years old when he committed the offense. He’s much closer to being a child than an adult. And until a young person turns 25, their brains haven’t fully developed. Good decision.

State v. Martines: WA Supreme Court Finds Defendant Guilty of DUI on Blood Test Case

Bad news.

In State v. Martines, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the WA Court of Appeals Division I. I blogged about this case last year in State v. Martines: More Good Caselaw on Blood tests Taken After DUI Arrests. There, the WA Court of Appeals version of State v. Martines held that the blood test performed on Martines was an unlawful warrantless search. The Court of Appeals also reasoned that drawing blood and testing blood constitute separate searches, each of which requires particular authorization, and that the warrant here authorized only a blood draw.

The original Martines opinion appeared strong. It was rooted in the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Missouri v. McNeely; which requires police officers to obtain search warrants for blood draws in DUI cases when exigent circumstances do not otherwise exist. It also followed Washington State legalizing marijuana, thus necessitating stronger regulations and monitoring of blood tests performed during DUI investigations.

The WA Supreme Court decided differently in a short, scathing opinion signed by all justices.

First, the Court held that a warrant authorizing the testing of a blood sample for intoxicants does not require separate findings of probable cause to suspect drug and alcohol use so long as there is probable cause to suspect intoxication that may be caused by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.

Second, the Court  further held that the search warrant lawfully authorized testing Martines’s blood sample for intoxicants because it authorized a blood draw to obtain evidence of DUI. In other words, the search of Martines’s blood did not exceed the bounds of the search warrant when a sample of Martines’s blood was extracted and tested for intoxicants anyway.

My opinion?

Bad decision. I’m amazed the WA Supremes didn’t discuss Missouri v. McNeely at all. Not once. McNeely profoundly and significantly evolved search and seizure law concerning blood draws in DUI investigations. Indeed, McNeely was the underpinnings for Division One Court of Appeals case State v. Martinez. Yet the WA Supremes ignore McNeely as if it didn’t exist. Ignoring case precedents violates stare decisis, plain and simple.

Hopefully, this case gets appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for further review.


State v. Brock: WA Supreme Court Reverses Search of Backpack Case

In State v. Brock, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision to reverse the Defendant’s convictions for 10 counts of Identity Theft in the Second Degree, 3 counts of Forgery, and violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

Last year, in State v. Brock: The “Time for Arrest” Doctrine, I blogged about how the Court of Appeals reversed Brock’s conviction, agreeing with Brock that it was not a valid search of his person under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. The court reasoned that under the “Time for Arrest” doctrine, Brock did not have actual, exclusive possession of the backpack “immediately preceding” arrest and reversed Brock’s conviction on that basis.

Well, the WA Supreme Court decided different.

The Court reasoned that the “Time for Arrest” doctrine didn’t apply because the Defendant’s backpack was a part of his person at the time of arrest:

“Under these circumstances, the lapse of time had little practical effect on Brock’s relationship to his backpack. Brock wore the backpack at the very moment he was stopped by Officer Olson. The arrest process began the moment Officer Olson told Brock that although he was not under arrest, he was also not free to leave. The officer himself removed the backpack from Brock as a part of his investigation. And, having no other place to safely stow it, Brock would have to bring the backpack along with him into custody. Once the arrest process had begun, the passage of time prior to the arrest did not render it any less a part of Brock’s arrested person.”

Based on that the WA Supremes reversed the Court of Appeals and decided the search was a valid search incident to arrest.

My opinion? Obviously, I agree with Justice McCloud’s dissenting opinion. He stated that the majority opinion ignores the strict limitations imposed on law enforcement during a Terry stop, confuses the justifications for a Terry frisk with the justifications for a search incident to arrest, and “conflicts with our precedent holding that a full custodial arrest is a prerequisite to any search incident to arrest.”

Justice McCloud couldn’t have said it better in the tongue-in-cheek retort in the last sentence of his dissent:

“I fear the majority’s new rule will only invite further expansions of our ‘narrow’ and ‘jealously guarded’ exception to the warrant requirement.”