Monthly Archives: June 2020

No Mask? Criminal Charge!

Wearing a mask isn't a form of oppression: opinion - Business Insider

Last Friday, in the wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Governor Inslee and the state’s secretary of health have issued a public health order mandating the use of face coverings and/or masks.

Inslee said during a news conference that masks are required in indoor settings, as well as outdoor settings if social distance rules cannot be maintained.

Those who willfully violate the mandate will face a misdemeanor charge, Inslee said.

 

“It is imperative that we adopt further measures to protect us all,” Governor Inslee added. “This is the way we need to look at this, we just cannot wish this virus to go away. We have to use tools that are available to us that we know work.”

The only individuals not required to adhere to the policy are those who are deaf or hard of hearing, children under the age of five, people who are eating, and those in other “common sense” situations.

Many protesters across the states have been pictured defying social distancing guidance without masks or face coverings. Online, the debate about mask effectiveness still plays out, with some claiming masks are not effective – or enforceable under US law.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges for not wearing a mask during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Hiring a competent, experienced defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Consecutive v. Concurrent Sentencing

Consecutive vs. Concurrent Sentencing in Kentucky - Baldani Law Group

Clients often ask, “What’s the difference between consecutive and concurrent sentences?”

Quite a lot, actually!

The question applies to Clients facing criminal charges from numerous jurisdictions. For these clients, sometimes the best approach is to seek a global resolution. This can happen if the prosecutors of the different jurisdictions are willing to coordinate their efforts toward a plea bargain involving reductions and dismissals of some criminal charges in exchange for guilty pleas to other charges.

Naturally, a big question in these negotiations is whether the defendant shall serve their jail time under a consecutive sentence or a concurrent sentences. Here’s some definitions:

Concurrent sentences: When sentences run concurrently, defendants serve all the sentences at the same time. This outcome is favorable to the defendant.

Consecutive sentences: When sentences run consecutively, defendants have to finish serving the sentence for one offense before they start serving the sentence for any other offense. This sentence outcome is not favorable to the defendant.

To illustrate the point, in State v. Brown the WA Court of Appeals recently held that firearm enhancements must be served consecutively in cases in which the defendant was 18-years or older when s/he committed the crimes.

BACKGROUND FACTS

A jury convicted Mr. Brown of four counts of first degree robbery, one count of attempted first degree robbery, two counts of second degree assault, and one count of attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle. Five of the convictions included firearm enhancements, which are increased sentencing penalties.

At sentencing, the State recommended a sentence of 381 months. The State recommended five firearm enhancements ran consecutively to each other and to Mr. Brown’s base sentence of 129 months. The trial court imposed the State’s recommended sentence. Brown appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals raised and dismissed Mr. Brown’s arguments on appeal. It reasoned that under the Sentencing Reform Act – and specifically, RCW 9.94A.533(3)(e) – all firearm enhancements require prison time and shall run consecutively to all other sentencing provisions, including other firearm or deadly weapon enhancements.

“Brown’s sole claim is that he is entitled to resentencing because the sentencing court erroneously believed it lacked the discretion to depart from the required term of confinement for a firearm enhancement. We disagree.” ~WA Court of Appeals

To support its reasoning, the WA Court of Appeals relied on State v. Brown (no relation) a WA Supreme Court case which held that Washington law deprives sentencing courts of the discretion to impose an exceptional sentence with regard to firearm enhancements.

“In any event, a decision by the Washington Supreme Court is binding on all lower courts of the state,” reasoned the WA court of Appeals. “This court does not have the
authority to overrule Brown.”

With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Brown’s lengthy prison sentence.

My opinion? Again, if a defendant is convicted of a number of crimes that carry lengthy prison terms, the difference between consecutive and concurrent sentences can be tremendous. The same factors that judges tend to consider when deciding on the severity of a sentence (for example, a defendant’s past record) also affect their decisions on whether to give concurrent or consecutive sentences.

As you can see, however, some criminal statutes require that the sentence for the crime in question be served consecutively to any other crime committed in the same incident.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving the possibility of concurrent or consecutive sentencing. It’s crucial to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the law.

Illegal Search At Starbucks

In Starbucks incident, Philly cops and employees acted 'in ...

In State v. Martin, the WA Court of Appeals held that the fruits of a warrantless search of a sleeping individual in a Starbucks store should have been suppressed because the officer was not conducting a criminal trespass investigation when he removed a metal utensil that was sticking out of the defendant’s pocket.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On December 11, 2017, Officer Bickar responded to a 911 call from a Starbucks employee, requesting assistance with the removal of a sleeping person inside the store. When Bickar arrived, he saw Martin sleeping in a chair. Bickar gestured to the Starbucks employee and received a responsive gesture from the employee that Martin was the person identified in the 911 call.

When Bickar approached Martin, he noticed Martin was wearing multiple jackets that had pockets. Bickar attempted to wake Martin, first by raising his voice and then by squeezing and shaking his left shoulder. Martin remained unresponsive.

Bickar noticed the end of a metal utensil sticking out of Martin’s pocket. Bickar worried that the metal utensil could be a knife or another utensil sharpened into a weapon. Bickar also expressed concerns about sharp needles.

Without feeling the outside of the pocket, Bickar removed the utensil. The utensil was a cook spoon, had burn marks on the bottom, and a dark brown residue on the inside. At that point, Bickar determined that he had probable cause to arrest Martin for possession of drug paraphernalia and continued searching Martin. While searching Martin, Bickar found methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and other drug paraphernalia. Martin was arrested.

Martin moved to suppress all evidence collected as a result of the unlawful detention and search. The court heard testimony from Officer Bickar and denied Martin’s motion to suppress.

Martin proceeded to a stipulated bench trial on the charge of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. The court found Martin guilty. The court sentenced Martin to 30 days of confinement. Martin appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Court held that the search was not a valid Terry search. It explained that while Terry does not authorize a search for evidence of a crime, officers are allowed to make a brief, non-intrusive search for weapons if, after a lawful Terry stop, a reasonable safety concern exists to justify the protective frisk for weapons so long as the search goes no further than necessary for protective purposes.

“A reasonable safety concern exists, and a protective frisk for weapons is justified, when an officer can point to ‘specific and articulable facts’ which create an objectively reasonable belief that a suspect is ‘armed and presently dangerous.

Here, however, the Court of Appeals found the search was not a justifiable under Terry:

“This search fails to meet the requirements under Terry. Starbucks is open to the public. The record does not support the trial court’s finding that Bickar was conducting a criminal investigation for trespass because there is no evidence in the record that Starbucks had trespassed Martin from the premises. Also absent from the record is evidence supporting Bickar’s claim that Martin sleeping created a reasonable safety concern.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Consequently, the Court held the search was not lawful under Terry because there was no reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed, there was not a reasonable safety concern, and the search exceeded the lawful scope of a frisk.

The Court also rejected the State’s arguments that the search was lawful under the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement. It explained that the community caretaking exception applies when (1) the officer subjectively believed that an emergency existed requiring that he or she provide immediate assistance to protect or preserve life or property, or to prevent serious injury, (2) a reasonable person in the same situation would similarly believe that there was a need for assistance, and (3) there was a reasonable basis to associate the need for assistance with the place searched.

“Officer Bickar did not subjectively believe an emergency existed and a reasonable person in the same situation would not believe there was a need for assistance,” said the Court. “Furthermore, even if the community caretaking exception applied to this search, a simple pat-down on the outside of Martin’s coat pocket would have alleviated any concern that the metal utensil was a sharp object or weapon.” Consequently, the Court held that removing the spoon violated Martin’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

With that, the Court of Appeals vacated Martin’s conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges in the aftermath of a questionable search and seizure of their home, car or person. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.

Forged Bank Applications

Victim of union forgery files lawsuit

In State v. Smith, the WA Court of Appeals held that a bank account application is a “written instrument” under Washington’s forgery statute.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Smith’s convictions arose from his involvement in certain transactions with his two half-brothers. The transactions involved creating auto dealer businesses and using invalid social security numbers to obtain loans from credit unions to purchase cars from the auto dealers. The men then would deposit the loan amount into a bank account for one of the auto dealer businesses but would not actually complete the car sale.

Eventually, Mr. Smith was charged and convicted of one count of first degree theft, two counts of forgery, and one count of money laundering. He appealed his convictions.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

  1. Legal Principles

The court held the State gave sufficient evidence of forgery. It reasoned that under the forgery statute, “A person is guilty of forgery if, with intent to injure or defraud: (a) He or she falsely makes, completes, or alters a written instrument or; (b) He or she possesses, utters, offers, disposes of, or puts off as true a written instrument which he or she knows to be forged.” Also, the court reasoned that under the common law, a “written
instrument” is defined as a writing that has legal efficacy. Under this definition, “a writing can support a forgery charge only if the writing would have legal efficacy if genuine.”

       2. Legal Sufficiency of Bank Account Applications

The Court gave the statutory definition of a “written instrument” as (a) Any paper, document, or other instrument containing written or printed matter or its equivalent; or (b) any access device, token, stamp, seal, badge, trademark, or other evidence or symbol of value, right, privilege, or identification.

Under this definition, the Court reasoned that a bank loan application fits the definition of a written instrument:

“In general, bank account applications initiate a contractual relationship between the bank and the depositor that, once accepted by the bank, create rights in and impose obligations on both parties. Depositors give money to the bank in exchange for the bank’s services. The bank services the depositor’s account in exchange for fees and the use of the depositor’s funds.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Also, the Court reasoned that the “Certificate of Authority” portion of the bank application provided that anyone who signed the application certified that he or she was authorized to act with respect to the account and any agreements with Wells Fargo, to make payments from the account, and to give instructions to Wells Fargo regarding the transaction of any business relating to the account.

“Therefore, the bank account applications at issue here provided the foundation of legal liability and had legal efficacy under the forgery statute,” said the Court. “Accordingly, we hold that sufficient evidence supports the conclusion that Smith’s bank account applications had legal efficacy.”

        3. The State Established That Bank Account Applications Were Falsely Completed.

Next, the Court rejected Smith’s arguments that even if the bank account applications had legal efficacy, the State failed to establish that they were falsely completed. It reasoned that a social security number is a form of identification, and Smith’s use of the Indiana child’s social security number misrepresented that someone with that social security number was opening a bank account.

“Smith also did not have the authority to use the social security number of the child in Indiana. Accordingly, we hold that sufficient evidence supports the conclusion that Smith falsely completed the bank account applications.” ~WA Court of Appeals

      4. The Trial Court Lawfully Declined the Defendant’s Proposed Jury Instruction.

The Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not err in declining to give Smith’s legal efficacy jury instruction because the legal efficacy of Smith’s bank account applications was a question of law for the trial court.

Under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, a criminal defendant is entitled to a jury determination of every element of the charged offense. As a result, the trial court must instruct the jury on all elements of the offense.

The Court reasoned that questions of law are for the court, not the jury, to resolve, and that legal efficacy of an instrument involves issues that are uniquely within the province of the court. “This is particularly true for a document like a bank account application,” said the Court. “The jury would have no basis for determining whether a bank account application has legal efficacy. Such a determination requires a legal analysis that could be performed only by the trial court.” Consequently, the Court of Appeals held that the legal efficacy of Smith’s bank account applications was a question of law for the trial court. “Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err in declining to give Smith’s legal efficacy jury instruction.”

With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed Smith’s convictions.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. Hiring an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Washington Supreme Court Issues Open Letter Confronting Racial Injustice

An open letter to white people—from a white coach with young black ...

Great article by Mike Scarcella by Law.com discusses how the nine justices of the Washington Supreme Court recently issued an extraordinary open letter to the legal community urging lawyers to take steps to confront racial injustices in society and in the law.

“Recent events have brought to the forefront of our collective consciousness a painful fact that is, for too many of our citizens, common knowledge: the injustices faced by black Americans are not relics of the past. We continue to see racialized policing and the overrepresentation of black Americans in every stage of our criminal and juvenile justice systems. Our institutions remain affected by the vestiges of slavery: Jim Crow laws that were never dismantled and racist court decisions that were never disavowed.”

~WA Supreme Court

Among other things, the Court also said “the legal community must recognize that we all bear responsibility for this on-going injustice, and that we are capable of taking steps to address it, if only we have the courage and the will.”

According to Scarcella, the Washington Supreme Court has been heralded for its diversity. The justices’ letter, a rare public statement from a court about current events, rocketed across social media as lawyers weighed the implications of the court’s declaration, which comes amid national outrage over the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. An officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes while he was handcuffed and on the ground has been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers also face criminal charges for their alleged roles in Floyd’s death.

Kudos to the WA Supreme Court for recognizing that racial injustice exists, and that we, as a legal community, are bound to address it and eradicate it.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. Hiring a competent and experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Police Reform Legislation

House Democrats to propose reforms targeting police misconduct ...

Great article by Jacob Pramuk of CNBC reports that House Democrats unveiled a bill to overhaul police practices as Americans mass daily to protest excessive use of force and systemic racism.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate released the legislation two weeks after the death of George Floyd, the black, unarmed man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The killing sparked nationwide furor over sustained brutality against black Americans. His death added to a string of recent killings of black men and women that has led to perhaps the biggest reckoning over racism in the U.S. in decades.

Before introducing the bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and other top Democrats will first gather in the Capitol in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time an officer knelt of Floyd’s neck.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) kneel with Congressional Democrats during a moment of silence to honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and othe

The Democratic legislation would make sweeping changes designed both to deter police use of force and hold officers more accountable for abuses. The federal bill comes as changes start at the local level: most of the Minneapolis city council committed to disbanding and replacing the city’s police force Sunday, while New York City will consider a range of law enforcement reforms.

The bill “establishes a bold, transformative vision of policing in America,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. She said Americans should not have to witness “the slow murder of an individual by a uniformed police officer.” Bass added that the bill has more than 200 co-sponsors in both chambers of Congress.

Here’s some of what congressional Democrats’ bill would do, according to summaries obtained by NBC News and the Associated Press:

  • Reform “qualified immunity” for officers, making it easier for people whose constitutional rights were violated to recover damages
  • Change the federal standard of criminal police behavior from “willful” to acting “knowingly or with reckless disregard,” to address the difficulty of prosecuting officers
  • Start a federal registry of police misconduct and require states to report use of force to the U.S. Justice Department
  • Ban police use of chokeholds and carotid holds, and condition funding for state and local departments on barring the practices
  • Stop the use of “no-knock” search warrants in drug cases in the U.S., while also making state and local money contingent on stopping use of the warrants
  • Give the Justice Department subpoena power to carry out “pattern and practice” investigations into police department conduct
  • Provide state attorneys general with grants to carry out pattern and practice probes and create a process for independent investigations into uses of force
  • Require training on racial bias and implicit bias at the federal level, and condition state and local funding on offering training
  • Curb transfers of military-grade weapons to state and local police
  • Classify lynching as a federal hate crime

According to NBC News, the legislation offers money for only two components: the requirement to track and report use of force and the investigations by state attorneys general, according to NBC News.  The Democratic plan did not meet many activists’ demands to slash — or entirely cut — police funding.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that “in the Senate, Democrats are going to fight like hell” to pass the legislation. He called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the bill to the Senate floor and hold a debate on it “before July.”

A White House spokesman did not immediately comment on whether President Donald Trump would back the legislation. On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “the president must not stand in the way of justice.”

Inslee Appoints First Black Woman Justice to Serve on WA Supreme Court

Inslee appoints Judge G. Helen Whitener to the Washington State ...

In April, Gov. Jay Inslee announced today the appointment of Justice G. Helen Whitener to the Washington State Supreme Court. She replaces Justice Charles Wiggins, who retired from the bench last month.

Whitener has been a judicial officer since 2013. From 2013 to 2015, she served as a judge on the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. Inslee then appointed her to the Pierce County Superior Court in 2015, where she has worked as a judge for over five years, retaining her seat in a 2015 election and winning re-election to a full term in 2016. Before becoming a judge, Whitener litigated criminal cases for 14 years as both a prosecutor and defense attorney.

Whitener is known for her commitment to justice and equity. She serves as co-chair of the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission and as a member of the Civil Legal Aid Oversight Committee. She continues to garner recognition for her work to advance the cause of justice. Last year, Whitener was awarded the Washington State Bar Association’s C.Z. Smith Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award, the King County Washington Women Lawyers President Award, the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association’s Diversity Award and the Seattle University School of Law’s Woman of the Year Award.

In joining a supreme court that has recently driven major criminal justice reform, and that is generally progressive but often divided, Whitener could determine how boldly it proceeds in years ahead.

Her appointment has drawn attention for boosting the representation of marginalized groups. She is a Black, gay, and disabled immigrant from Trinidad. With her appointment, Washington’s Supreme Court is the most diverse appellate court in the country.

Last year, a Brennan Center for Justice report found that most states’ high courts are “overwhelmingly white and male,” including 24 all-white state supreme courts, and 13 states that have “never seated a person of color as a justice.”

Whitener has often explained that a diverse judiciary — one that fully reflects the population it serves — is essential to maintaining trust and confidence in the rule of law.

“I believe as a marginalized individual, being a Black, gay, female, immigrant, disabled judge, that my perspective is a little different,” she said in February. “So I try to make sure that everyone that comes into this courtroom feels welcome, feels safe, and feels like they’ll get a fair hearing.”

Inslee appoints first Black woman justice to serve on WA Supreme ...

Congratulations, Justice Whitener!



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