Monthly Archives: January 2020

Felony Voting Rights Bill Pending in WA Legislature

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Excellent article in the Tacoma News Tribune by reporter James Drew describes how Senate Bill 6228 would make about 9,000 felons eligible to vote is moving ahead in the Washington state Legislature, as Democratic senators vow to expand democracy by removing a barrier they say is rooted in systemic racism.

Senate Bill 6228 would make felons automatically eligible to vote once they are released from state prison. Under current law, they are eligible once they have completed community custody — formerly known as probation — and that can take several years.

“The very essence of community custody is to get people back on the right track, to reintegrate them into society and to reduce the chances of re-offending,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Patty Kuderer, a Bellevue Democrat. “Restoring the right to vote and the right to participate in our democracy is an important tool for that reintegration process.”

“Until someone can show me that there’s a good reason to deprive someone of the right to vote because of the commission of a crime, then I will rethink that. But for now, I have seen zero evidence for that.”    ~Senator Patty Kuderer.

Stressing that her bill addresses a “major equality and social justice issue,” Kuderer said blacks and Native Americans are overly represented in the criminal justice system. As a result, they are “disproportionately stripped of their voting rights, diminishing their representation,” she said.

A Senate committee on Friday approved the bill, putting it one step closer to a vote by the Democratic-controlled Senate. If it becomes law, the measure would take effect in 2021.

Senate GOP Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, is opposed to the bill, saying it removes an incentive for felons to fulfill obligations under community custody such as making restitution to crime victims. The bill states that sanctions for violating community custody requirements or failure to pay court costs, restitution to victims, or fines and fees would not take voter eligibility away from a former inmate.

Samuel Merrill, clerk of the criminal justice working group for the Olympia-based Quaker Voice on Washington Public Policy, said whites after the Civil War and Reconstruction adopted laws targeting former slaves for felonies to deprive them of their voting rights. The practice continued into the voter suppression laws under Jim Crow — “vestiges of which continue today,” Merrill said.

Supporters of the bill include the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the state Department of Corrections, the ACLU of Washington, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Meth Hurts Opioid Treatment

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The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment  published a new study which found that methamphetamine use was associated with more than twice the risk for dropping out of treatment for opioid-use disorder.

The origins of the study are interesting. Apparently, Judith Tsui, a UW Medicine clinician specializing in addiction treatment, was seeing more and more patients she was treating for opioid-use disorder also using methamphetamines, a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system.

She would start the patients on buprenorphine, a medication to treat opioid use disorder, but they would often drop out. So she and colleagues wanted to see if this was a common problem. They conducted a large study (799 people) at three sites — Harborview Adult Medicine Clinic in Seattle and Evergreen Treatment Services in Olympia and Grays Harbor.

“This study confirms anecdotally what we sensed,” said Tsui. “The next step is to build into treatment models how we can help those patients who struggle both with opioids and methamphetamines to be successful.”

“A substantial proportion of these patients are homeless and may use meth to stay awake at night just to stay safe and keep an eye on their belongings.”              ~Judith Tsui, UW Medicine Clinician

Dr. Tsui also said patients also tell her the streets are flooded with the drug and it’s hard for them to say no. Some patients have requested treatment with prescribed stimulant medications like Adderall and Ritalin to help them stop using methamphetamines.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges for illegal possession and/or distribution of unlawful drugs. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. In many cases – including drug cases in particular – the legality of how law enforcement officials obtained the evidence used to support the State’s case is a central and debatable issue. If the government’s conduct violated a person’s rights, the evidence is deemed inadmissible. And without the necessary evidence to prove the criminal charges, the judge may dismiss the State’s case.

Support Legislation Ending Felony Charges for Missing a Court Hearing

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Did you know that a person who misses just one court hearing can be charged with Bail Jumping and be convicted of a new felony simply for missing that court hearing?

Fortunately, legislation proposed by WA Representative Mike Pellicciotti could possibly end this travesty.

THE PROBLEM

When the Legislature enacted the “Bail Jumping” statute, the intent wasn’t to criminalize every missed court date or failure to appear (FTA), rather lawmakers wanted to give the courts a tool to deter people charged with serious crimes from fleeing.

The legislature gave discretion to prosecutors to add a felony charge if someone “jumped bail.” Sadly, this prosecutorial discretion is being overused. The charge of “Bail Jumping” has now led to a long list of unintended consequences that disproportionately harm Washington’s low income and most marginalized citizens.

Research shows that most people charged with “Bail Jumping” were not intentionally avoiding court. Many had difficult life circumstances that made it hard or impossible to attend a court hearing on a particular day. They were not fleeing from the court, and they wanted to resolve their cases.

Research also shows that many people who miss court are experiencing difficulties with transportation, childcare, job disruption, homelessness, health problems, mental illness and other challenges related to poverty. Under current “bail jumping” laws, Washington disproportionally and unjustly allows for longer criminal sentences for people who are low-income or experiencing a crisis for the charge of “Bail Jumping” even though that was never the legislature’s intent.

THE SOLUTION

WA HB 2231 is legislation would would amend the current Bail Jump statute in two ways: (1) it makes bail jumping a misdemeanor, and (2) it requires the state to prove that a person received written notice of the court date that the person missed.

Here is a position paper about the bill. It is supported by the WDA, ACLU, WACDL, the Northwest Community Bail Fund and numerous other organizations.  This bill sponsored is by Mike Pellicciotti of the (Democratic Party). He is a member of the Washington House of Representatives, representing District 30-Position 1.

My opinion? This is great legislation.

Please contact my office if you face felony charges which include Bail Jumping. It is a nasty, unjust felony charge. They are often used by prosecutors to coercively leverage a plea. Although there are substantive defenses to the charge, those who face barriers getting to court are frequently subject to this coercive manner of resolving cases that results in an unjust and disproportionate number of convictions for the most vulnerable.

Sexsomnia

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In State v. Pratt, the WA Court of Appeals held that Sexsomnia is an abnormal activity, similar to sleepwalking, that involves people engaging in sexual acts during sleep.  However, the trial court’s exclusion of expert testimony regarding sexsomnia did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to present a defense because no psychological evaluation could determine whether the defendant suffered from sexsomnia at the time of the offense or that the defendant had the disorder.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The State charged Mr. Pratt with child molestation in the first degree based on an allegation by the juvenile victim MB that Pratt had sexually assaulted her while they were both sleeping in a tent for her cousin’s birthday sleepover party. The party occurred at the home of Pratt’s aunt and uncle. MB is the daughter of Pratt’s aunt’s stepsister.

Before trial, Dr. C. Kirk Johnson, a psychologist, evaluated Pratt to determine if he suffered from a sleep disorder called sexsomnia. Sexsomnia is an abnormal activity, similar to sleepwalking, that involves people engaging in sexual acts during sleep. Johnson concluded that a possible explanation for Pratt’s actions included sexsomnia, but he could not confirm it happened.

At a pretrial evidentiary hearing, Pratt indicated he wanted Johnson to testify as an expert at trial about sexsomnia. Although Johnson could not conclude that Pratt had the disorder, he would testify that sexsomnia exists. Pratt wanted to use this testimony to support his general denial defense. Pratt wanted to argue at trial that if a person is asleep, they cannot be guilty because any touching would not have been done for the purpose of sexual gratification. Pratt viewed being asleep as a general denial.

The State moved to exclude the testimony on grounds of relevance. The judge was concerned that calling an expert to testify about sexsomnia could amount to “a back door diminished capacity.” The judge granted the State’s motion to exclude.

Pratt waived a jury. At a bench trial, court found Pratt guilty as charged. Over the State’s and the victim’s objections, the court imposed a SSOSA disposition. The State appealed the sentence. Pratt cross-appealed the exclusion of Dr. Johnson’s testimony.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Court of Appeals reasoned that in order to be eligible for a SSOSA sentence, a defendant must have a connection with the victim which is independent of the crime. Here, Pratt was not eligible for a SSOSA sentence because it is clear that Pratt did not have an “established connection” with MB. Other than the sexual molestation, their only connections involved Pratt giving MB a skewer with marshmallows and asking MB her name.

Second, regarding the defense of Sexomnia, the Court of Appeals reasoned that under State v. Utter, Washington courts have recognized a defense of involuntary action due to sleepwalking where, at the time of the crime, the offender was clearly unconscious.

Furthermore, the defense of involuntary action as a result of being asleep, therefore, should not be treated as one of diminished capacity. Instead, involuntariness due to sleep is an affirmative defense that must be proved by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence.

In this case, however, the Court of Appeals reasoned that Dr. Johnson could not testify that Pratt suffered from sexsomnia either on the night of the sexual molestation or ever.

“The fact that this disorder exists is irrelevant without some tendency to make the existence of sexsomnia of consequence to the determination of the action more probable than it would without the evidence. No nexus existed between Pratt, sexsomnia, and his actions on the night of the molestation.”

Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly excluded Johnson’s testimony because it was irrelevant to both the general denial defense and to a defense of lack of volition. With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed Pratt’s conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime and the defense involves being unconscious due to sleepwalking, and/or experiencing a medical condition called “slow wave sleep.” I’ve successfully obtained dismissal of criminal charges for prior clients who were asleep and/or unconscious during the commission of crimes. Expert testimony might be necessary to educate the jury of a possible Diminished Capacity defense.