Monthly Archives: October 2019

Inventory Searches, Automatic Standing, & Stolen Vehicles.

Image result for meth in car

In State v. Peck, the WA Supreme Court found that persons found in possession of a stolen vehicle may challenge the search of that vehicle.  However, closed containers, other than items that “possess the same aura of privacy as a purse, shaving kit, or personal luggage” and locked containers, may be opened  during an inventory search of a stolen vehicle.  The search, of course, must not be used as a pretext for an investigatory search.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Two Kittitas County sheriffs deputies responded to a suspected theft in progress at a home in rural Ellensburg. When the deputies arrived, they discovered two individuals outside the home, along with a pickup truck stuck in the driveway’s unplowed snow. The deputies handcuffed the two men and eventually learned that they were Mr. Peck and Clark Tellvik. Two more deputies then arrived. One of them entered the pickup truck’s license plate into a law-enforcement database and learned that the truck had been reported stolen.

Officers impounded the vehicle. They searched the pickup without obtaining a search warrant because they believed that Peck and Tellvik did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a stolen vehicle. Police discovered methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia inside the vehicle.

Peck and Tellvik were charged with several crimes, including possession of a stolen vehicle and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The defendants moved to suppress the contraband found in the black zippered nylon case. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, finding the inventory search to be proper and finding no evidence of pretext. A jury subsequently convicted each defendant of the charged drug possession and stolen vehicle offenses. Peck and Tellvik were subsequently convicted. Both appealed their controlled substance convictions. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress. The WA Supreme Court granted review.

ISSUES

  1. Whether defendants have standing to challenge the scope of a warrantless inventory search of a vehicle when that vehicle is stolen.
  2. Whether a proper inventory search extends to opening an innocuous, unlocked container of unknown ownership found in a stolen vehicle associated with defendants who were apprehended while burglarizing a home.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

  1. Defendants have standing to challenge the scope of a warrantless inventory search of a vehicle, even when that vehicle is stolen.

First, the WA Supreme Court held the defendants have standing to challenge the search. It reasoned that a defendant has automatic standing to challenge a search if (1) possession is an essential element of the charged offense and (2) the defendant was in possession
of the contraband at the time of the contested search or seizure. And a defendant
has automatic standing to challenge the legality of a seizure even though he or
she could not technically have a privacy interest in such property.

“Peck and Tellvik have automatic standing to challenge the inventory search,” said the Court. It reasoned that the first prong of the test was satisfied because both were charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Furthermore, the second prong is satisfied because Peck and Tellvik were in possession of the truck up until the time of the search. “As such, Peck and Tellvik have automatic standing to
challenge the warrantless inventory search of the black zippered nylon case.”

2. A proper inventory search extends to opening an unlocked container of unknown ownership found in a stolen vehicle.

The WA Supreme Court began by saying that warrantless searches are unreasonable. Despite that rule, a warrantless search is valid if one of the narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. One of those narrow exceptions is a noninvestigatory inventory search. Inventory searches have long been recognized as a practical necessity.

“To be valid, inventory searches must be conducted in good faith and not as a pretext for an investigatory search.”

The court explained that Inventory searches are also limited in both scope and purpose. They are permissible because they (1) protect the vehicle owner’s (or occupants’) property, (2) protect law enforcement agencies/officers and temporary storage bailees from false claims of theft, and (3) protect police officers and the public from potential danger. Unlike a probable cause search and search incident to arrest, officers conducting an inventory search perform an administrative or caretaking function.

The Court reasoned that under these circumstances, it was proper for police to do more than merely inventory the unlocked nylon case as a sealed unit. First, the police knew the vehicle was stolen. Second, Peck and Tellvik were arrested while in the process of burglarizing a home and were observed taking items from the home and its surroundings. Responding officers testified that a purpose in conducting an inventory search of the truck was to determine ownership of both the truck and its various contents. Third, the search was not pretextual. And finally, the innocuous nature of the container at issue is important: a nylon case that looked like it contained CDs does not possess the same aura of privacy as a purse, shaving kit, or personal luggage.

“Here, where the vehicle was stolen, Peck and Tellvik were arrested immediately outside of a home that they were currently  burglarizing, and the trial court explicitly found no evidence of pretext, the search was proper.”

The WA Supreme Court concluded that under the facts of this case, the search was a lawful inventory search. Accordingly, it reversed the Court of Appeals and upheld the denial of the motion to suppress. Justices Gordon McCloud, Madsen, Yu, and Chief Justice Fairhurst dissented.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving vehicle searches. It is imperative to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who will defend your rights.

The Role of the Prosecutor

The Role of the Prosecutor

Ever wondered about the role of a prosecutor and their work within the community? Check out our new video!Thank you to the Karpel Foundation and the San Diego County District Attorney Office for their support in making this video.

Posted by National District Attorneys Association on Thursday, August 8, 2019

Have you ever thought about the role of a prosecutor and their work within the community?

Well, look no further. The National District Attorneys Association released a video titled, “The Role of the Prosecutor.”

Overall, it’s a good video. It accurately shows how prosecutors go about presenting cases against individuals who are suspected of breaking the law, initiating criminal investigations, conducting trials and recommending the sentencing of offenders.

Although defense attorneys and prosecutors are adversaries in the criminal justice system, it’s extremely important for them to develop and maintain cordial relationships. According to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, “The overwhelming majority (90 to 95 percent) of cases result in plea bargaining.”

Plea bargains are agreements between defendants and prosecutors in which defendants agree to plead guilty to some or all of the charges against them in exchange for concessions from the prosecutors. These agreements allow prosecutors to focus their time and resources on other cases, and reduce the number of trials that judges need to oversee.

In plea bargains, the defense lawyer and prosecutor discuss the case, and one or the other proposes a deal. The negotiations can be lengthy and conducted only after both parties have had a chance to research and investigate the case. Or, they can be minute-long exchanges in the courthouse hallway. Prosecutors usually agree to reduce a defendant’s punishment. They often accomplish this by reducing the number of charges of the severity of the charges against defendants. They might also agree to recommend that defendants receive reduced sentences. In this process, good criminal defense attorneys are persuasively effective at explaining the facts, the law and their defense theory.

Great criminal defense attorneys, however, have decent working relationships with prosecutors. These relationships are built on years of mutual respect and working on cases together in a straightforward, honest, ethical manner.  Often, prosecutors know nothing more than the police reports and criminal histories of the defendants they bring charges against. They lack context and insight into why the parties involved criminal investigations behave certain ways. Based on that working relationship, great criminal defense attorneys are adept at humanizing their clients and persuading an otherwise hardened prosecutor to consider the deeper complexities of a case.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. It’s important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney like myself who appreciates the role of the prosecutor and works with them on a regular basis.

Violent Crime Decreases – Except Rape

Image result for sex assault increases

Excellent article by Jamiles Lartey and Weihua Li of the Marshall Project describes new evidence showing that despite the overall drop in violent crime, rape rises for the sixth straight year.

The 2018 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), released Tuesday, is managed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Justice Department. According to the authors, the data suggests that the violent crime rate in the U.S. remains on a decades-long downward trend, falling by 3.9 percent in 2018. Overall, the violent crime rate has plunged by more than 50 percent since the early 1990s. The drops came across categories of violent offenses, including murder, non-negligent manslaughter and robbery, and property crimes like burglary, larceny and vehicle thefts, while aggravated assault numbers remained about flat.

However, rape and sexual assault crimes are increased slightly for 2018. This follows consistent trends that sexual assault crimes have risen for the last six years.

So why the increase?

Apparently, in 2013, the FBI changed its outdated parameters of rape—then defined as the forcible “carnal knowledge of a female”—to a more modern definition structured around consent, rather than force. Ever since, the rate has been on a steady surge, up more than 18 percent in that period.

“It’s not yet clear why rapes have risen so swiftly. It’s a notoriously underreported crime and many have theorized that the changing social atmosphere, including the #metoo movement and increased awareness around campus rape, may be prompting survivors to report at a higher rate.”

Kristen Houser, a spokesperson for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said another possible outcome of that social and cultural change is assault survivors being better able to simply understand that what they’ve experienced was in fact a crime.

“We may well have more ability to recognize experiences for the crimes that they are and be able to name them, which I don’t think has been true historically. And that’s a result of more people talking about it, reporting on it, reading it, etc.,” Houser said.

Contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a sexual assault. These charges are debilitating. Simply being charged negatively impacts reputations, employment opportunities and freedom. Therefore, it’s imperative to hire an experienced and effective defense attorney who will conduct proactive investigations, argue pretrial motions and defend your rights at trial.