All posts by Alexander Ransom

New Law Offers Prison Alternatives for Mentally Ill

Mentally Ill Inundate State Prisons | Connecticut Public Radio

Reporter Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network wrote an article reporting that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a measure that will soon offer an alternative to prison for people with a serious mental illness who commit a crime.

Under the new law signed Monday by Inslee, judges will have the option to sentence a person to community supervision and treatment in lieu of prison. Washington already offers sentencing alternatives for certain drug offenders and certain sex offenders.

The program — which takes effect July 25 —will be open to individuals who are convicted of a felony crime that is not a serious violent offense or a sex offense. The person would have to be willing to participate in the sentencing alternative, the court would have to determine the individual would benefit from community-based supervision and treatment, and the opinion of the person’s victim would also be considered.

If the person were to violate the conditions of the sentencing alternative, they could be sent to prison to serve their sentence.

My opinion? Excellent idea. Data suggests that people in the criminal justice system are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than the general population. Our sentencing should be sensitive to these problems.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime and mental health is an issue. Substantive defenses such as Diminished Capacity are helpful. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Right to Present A Defense

Criminal Defendant Constitutional Rights- New Mexico Criminal Law

In State v. Cox, the WA Court of Appeals held that the trial court mistakenly excluded evidence pursuant to the Rape Shield Statute  that the victim flirted with the defendant and sat on his lap at the party where the unlawful sexual contact occurred.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The incident occurred in the early morning hours at the complaining witness’s house after her birthday party. The complaining witness testified that after she fell asleep in her bed, she was awakened by the defendant digitally raping her. The State presented evidence that Mr. Cox’s DNA was found on the complaining witness’s undergarments.

Mr. Cox denied the accusation entirely and testified that the complaining witness was intoxicated and that he had rejected her advances. Nevertheless, he was charged and convicted of Rape in the Second Degree.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that the Rape Shield Statute does not apply to behavior that is contemporaneous with the alleged rape. Here, the victim flirted with the defendant and sat on his lap at the party. That evidence should not have been suppressed. In addition, the statute does not apply to evidence, which was offered to explain how the victim’s intoxication affected her behavior and memory of that night and that there may have been an innocent explanation for the DNA transfer.

“The excluded evidence in this case was not past behavior; it was contemporaneous with the alleged rape. Nor was it being introduced to show consent. And while it was being introduced to discredit the victim’s credibility, the focus was on her level of intoxication, not on allegations of promiscuity. Thus, application of the Rape Shield Statute in these circumstances was untenable and an abuse of discretion.” ~ WA Court of Appeals.

The Court also decided the trial court wrongfully suppressed evidence of the alleged victim’s behavior with the Defendant at the party:

“Evidence that the victim was highly intoxicated, acting in a manner that was uncharacteristically flirtatious, and sitting on Mr. Cox’s lap in a dress, was ‘highly relevant’ to his theory of the defense. The prejudicial value of this evidence, if any, was low.” ~ WA Court of Appeals.

Also, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the trial court erred by sustaining an objection to a hypothetical question that defense posed to the State’s DNA expert during cross-examination. Here, Mr. Cox tried to present expert testimony evidence that it was possible for his DNA to be transferred to the complaining witness’s underwear through innocent, non-sexual contact such as sitting on his lap. The Court of Appeals disagreed, and held that an expert witness may be cross-examined with hypotheticals yet unsupported by the evidence that go to the opponent’s theory of the case.

“The lap-sitting incident provides an explanation as to how Mr. Cox’s DNA might have been transferred to the complaining witness. The witness’s inability to recall this incident calls into question her ability to remember other events from that night. And her flirtatious behavior with Mr. Cox supports his version of events.” ~ WA Court of Appeals.

Next, the Court of Appeals reasoned the trial court’s exclusion of the Defendant’s reputation evidence on the particular character trait of sexual morality was wrong. “Contrary to the trial court’s position, “this type” of evidence is explicitly
admissible under ER 404(a)(1),” said the Court.

With that, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court’s errors mentioned above were not harmless. It reversed Mr. Cox’s conviction and remanded for a new trial.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a Sex Offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Deliberate Cruelty

Burning Red Flare Held Up At Night by RockfordMedia | VideoHive

In State v. Burrus, the WA Court of Appeals held there was sufficient evidence the defendant demonstrated deliberate cruelty to the victim when he poured gasoline on the victim, lit a flare and set the victim on fire.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Burrus poured gasoline on victim Mr. Busch and threw a lit flare at him, causing him to catch fire. Busch suffered second and third degree burns on 30 percent of his body. The State charged Burrus with attempted first degree murder with the aggravating factor that his conduct manifested deliberate cruelty. The jury found Burrus guilty as charged.

Based on the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty, the trial court imposed an exceptional  upward sentence. The trial court found that the aggravating factor of deliberate cruelty was a compelling reason to justify an exceptional sentence and imposed a sentence of 300 months.

On appeal, Mr. Burrus argued the the trial court erred in imposing an exceptional sentence based on the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty.

COURT’S RATIONALE & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals stated that under the Sentencing Reform Act, generally, a court must impose a sentence within the standard range. A court may depart from the guidelines and impose a higher sentence if it finds substantial and compelling reasons. The existence of an aggravating factor may support an exceptional sentence.

Next, the court addressed the issue of whether the lack of comparative evidence meant there was insufficient evidence to supported the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty.

“Burrus says insufficient evidence supports the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty,” said the Court of Appeals. “He contends that because the State failed to provide comparative evidence of typical attempted first degree murders, the jury had insufficient evidence to determine whether the facts here were atypical.”

However, the Court of Appeals disagreed with Burrus and held that the State is not required to provide the jury with examples of typical attempted first degree murders:

“It is within a jury’s capability, based on their common sense and common experience, to determine that dousing a person in gasoline, lighting them on fire, and then leaving them to burn is deliberately cruel.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Consequently, the Court also reasoned that Mr. Burrus cannot assert a vagueness challenge to the deliberate cruelty aggravator, either.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

 

COVID Increases Overdoses

Coronavirus US: DEA seizes $1M worth of heroin, Fentanyl labeled ' coronavirus' bio-hazard, 'Black Mamba' in Bronx drug bust - ABC11 Raleigh-Durham

Great article by Brian Mann from NPR says that researchers have seen a significant rise in overdose deaths from street drugs laced with deadly synthetic opioids including Fentanyl.

“We’ve seen a very significant rise in mortality,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, who spoke Thursday as part of an on-line gathering of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The trend contributed to a stark rise in overdoses that left more than 90,000 Americans dead during the 12-month period ending in September 2020, according to the latest data.

According to preliminary figures released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, synthetic opioid fatalities rose by an unprecedented 55% during the twelve months ending in September 2020. Deaths from methamphetamines and other stimulants also surged by roughly 46%, an increase Volkow said is linked to fentanyl contamination. In all more than 90,000 Americans died from overdoses in the latest 12-month period for which preliminary data is available. That compares to roughly 70,000 drug deaths during the same period a year earlier.

As the CDC has updated its fatal overdose estimates during the pandemic, the upward trend has shown no sign of slowing. As recently as October, data suggested the country was on track for at least 75,000 overdose deaths in 2o2o. That would have been a grim new record, but the latest figures make it clear the toll will be far higher. Preliminary data for the full year won’t be available until mid-summer.

Studies have also shown a significant increase in the number of Americans using alcohol or drugs to cope with the pressures of the pandemic. One team of CDC researchers found roughly 13% of people surveyed either began using drugs during the pandemic or increased their use of illicit substances.

“COVID-19 has made us aware how negative the stigmatization of substance use disorders has been over time,” Volkow said.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face Drug Offenses or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Senate Passes Bill to Recriminalize Drug Possession

Washington State Supreme Court Rules Drug Possession Law Unconstitutional In 5-4 Decision

Great article by Sara Gentzler of the News Tribune reports that the Washington State Senate approved a bill Thursday that would make drug possession a gross misdemeanor and require diversion to treatment for a person’s first two offenses.

The measure comes in response to the WA State Supreme Court’s so-called Blake decision in February that made the state’s simple drug possession law unconstitutional.

While the proposal captured enough votes to move over to the House of Representatives for more consideration, it did not amass broad support and laid bare disagreements among lawmakers.

A majority of justices on the state Supreme Court found the state’s law was unconstitutional because it didn’t require prosecutors to prove an accused person knowingly or intentionally had drugs. The decision, known as State v. Blake, was released in the middle of the legislative session to immediate, widespread impact.

The 28-20 Senate vote on Thursday reflected the lack of consensus among legislators in how best to proceed

The original, struck-down law made possession of controlled substances a class C felony. The amended bill that passed out of the Senate would take that down to a gross misdemeanor.

The first two times someone is arrested for possession, the bill would require them to be diverted to a treatment program. If they’re arrested for possession again, treatment would be encouraged but not required.

The bill also would allow court commissioners to help resentence people convicted under the law that was deemed unconstitutional. The bill now moves to the House, where Democrats this week introduced their own proposal to address the Supreme Court decision.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Openly Carrying A Sword

Austin, TX now with open carry swords - Album on Imgur

In Zaitzeff v. City of Seattle, the WA Court of Appeals held that while a sword is  constitutionally protected as an “arm,” the Defendant’s conviction for violating a Seattle’s Ordinance prohibiting the carrying of a dangerous weapon was valid.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In May 2018, Mr. Zaitzeff walked around Green Lake Park with a sheathed sword hanging from his neck. A citizen called 911. The caller said Zaitzeff was wearing a thong, approaching women, and taking photos of them. When police officers arrived, they confirmed he had a sword, which measured about 24 inches long.

Zaitzeff acknowledged he was aware of the ordinance against fixed blade knives and that he was not hunting, fishing, or going to or from a job requiring a sword. The officers took the sword and cited him.

The City charged Zaitzeff with Unlawful Use of Weapons under SMC 12A.14.080(B). Zaitzeff moved to dismiss the charge, challenging the ordinance as unconstitutional as applied to his case. The Seattle Municipal Court denied the motion, concluding that the sword is not a constitutionally protected arm. Zaitzeff went to trial. Despite arguing a Necessity Defense that he carried the sword because he was assaulted in the past, the court found Zaitzeff guilty as charged.

Zaitzeff appealed to King County Superior Court. However, the court concluded that sufficient evidence supported the conviction. Zaitzeff appealed to the WA Court of Appeals on the issues of the constitutionality of the ordinance and his ability to present a defense. The Court of Appeals granted review.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals held that the federal and state constitutions protect Zaitzeff’s sword as an arm:

“Historically, swords have been weapons of offense used to strike at others. And while law-abiding citizens do not typically carry swords for lawful purposes today, as further discussed below, swords were common at the time of founding . . . As law-abiding citizens traditionally used swords for self-defense, we conclude that both constitutions protect Zaitzeff’s sword as an arm.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Nevertheless, the Court also engaged a lengthy constitutional analysis and held that Seattle’s ordinance was reasonably necessary to protect public safety and welfare. Furthermore, the ordinance was substantially related to the goal of preventing sword-related injuries and violence:
“The ordinance does not severely burden his constitutional rights as it allows the defendant to purchase a sword and, in a secure wrapper, carry it home, carry it to be repaired, and carry it to abodes or places of business.” ~ WA Court of Appeals.
Next, the WA Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s rejection of Zaitzeff’s Necessity defense. It reasoned that Zaitzeff’s concession that there was no one imminently threatening him that particular day prevented him from proving his defense.
Woth that, the Court of Appeals upheld Zaitzeff’s conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

COVID-19 Increased Crime

Crime and the Coronavirus: What You Need to Know | SafeWise

Informative article by reporters Emma Tucker and Peter Nickeas of CNN finds that the U.S. saw a significant crime rise across major cities in 2020 during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Worse, it doesn’t appear to be letting up.

Major American cities saw a 33% increase in homicides last year as a pandemic swept across the country, millions of people joined protests against racial injustice and police brutality, and the economy collapsed under the weight of the pandemic — a crime surge that has continued into the first quarter of this year.

Sixty-three of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw increases in at least one category of violent crimes in 2020, which include homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, according to a report produced by the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Raleigh, North Carolina, did not report increases in any of the violent crime categories.
It’s nearly impossible to attribute any year-to-year change in violent crime statistics to any single factor, and homicides and shootings are an intensely local phenomenon that can spike for dozens of reasons. But the increase in homicide rates across the country is both historic and far-reaching, as were the pandemic and social movements that touched every part of society last year.
A PERFECT STORM OF FACTORS
Experts point to a “perfect storm” of factors — economic collapse, social anxiety because of a pandemic, de-policing in major cities after protests that called for abolition of police departments, shifts in police resources from neighborhoods to downtown areas because of those protests, and the release of criminal defendants pretrial or before sentences were completed to reduce risk of Covid-19 spread in jails — all may have contributed to the spike in homicides.
Covid-19 seemed to exacerbate everything — officers sometimes had to quarantine because of exposure or cases in their ranks, reducing the number of officers available for patrol, investigations or protest coverage. It was difficult-to-impossible to keep physical distance during protests.
Through the first three months of 2021, a number of major cities have indicated they are still experiencing high rates of violent crime, according to Laura Cooper, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “Some cities are set to outpace last year’s numbers,” she said.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Lawsuit Seeks COVID-19 Vaccines for Inmates

Opinion | Stop Unnecessary Arrests to Slow Coronavirus Spread - The New York Times

Excellent article by Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times reports that  a legal-aid group in Washington state has sued the state Department of Corrections, demanding that all state prison inmates immediately receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The class-action lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court by Columbia Legal Services also seeks an order banning direct contact with incarcerated people by DOC employees and contractors who refuse vaccines.

The lawsuit claims the state’s refusal to promptly vaccinate about 15,000 inmates violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. It also claims the coronavirus infection rate in prisons is more than eight times higher than in the general population.

According to the article, since the pandemic began in March 2020, more than 6,000 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and 14 people have died, department officials said. More than 1,000 workers have tested positive and two have died.

Department of Corrections spokesperson Jacque Coe said the agency will continue to follow the state Department of Health’s (DOH) published vaccine phase schedule. Coe said the schedule would allow for vaccinations for “all incarcerated individuals and staff in corrections facilities, based upon supply of the vaccine received” as of March 31.

“We will be working with the Office of the Attorney General to assess and respond to the lawsuit by Columbia Legal Services.” ~ Department of Corrections Spokesperson Jacque Coe.

The lawsuit names plaintiffs Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor inmate Candis Rush, Clallam Bay Corrections Center inmate Gregory Steen and Monroe Corrections Center inmate Justin Autrey. They claimed that prison employees do not follow social distancing guidelines and have refused vaccinations.

Columbia Legal attorney Tony Gonzalez said the Department of Corrections should work with “authentic, respected voices in the community to help spread accurate information and build trust around the vaccine.”

My opinion? Excellent. I hope the lawsuit gets somewhere. Incarcerated people are infected by the coronavirus at a rate more than five times higher than the nation’s overall rate, according to research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The death rate of inmates (39 deaths per 100,000) is also higher than the national rate (29 deaths per 100,000).

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Lesser Included Offense

What is LESSER INCLUDED OFFENSE? What does LESSER INCLUDED OFFENSE mean? - YouTube

In State v. Coryell, the WA Supreme Court held that a defendant is entitled to a lesser included offense instruction under the Workman test when a jury could reasonably find, based on evidence submitted and the jury’s decision about whether it is credible or not, that the defendant committed only the lesser offense.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Coryell and his girlfriend Hart’Lnenicka lived together. One morning, the couple argued. Hart’Lnenicka accused Coryell of cheating on her with an ex-girlfriend. While they were talking, Coryell was playing a video game, and Hart’Lnenicka unplugged the game console, threatening to break it. Coryell took the console from Hart’Lnenicka and set it on the coffee table. At some point, Coryell pushed Hart’Lnenicka to the ground. Eventually, police responded and arrested Coryell.

The parties gave different versions of the incident. Ms. Hart’Lnenicka told police that Coryell kicked her out of the apartment, choked her, thrown her to the ground, and slammed her head into the laundry room doors. Coryell confirmed the sequence of events but denied ever grabbing Hart’Lnenicka around the neck. Ultimately, Coryell was charged with Assault Second Degree and Assault Fourth Degree.

At trial Officer Malone also stated that he saw no Petechial Hemorrhaging in the photographs presented at trial and that he observed no signs of it on Hart’Lnenicka on the day of the alleged assault. Nevertheless, the trial court declined to give the requested fourth degree assault instruction.

The jury convicted Coryell on both counts. Coryell appealed his conviction. Although the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision denying a lesser degree instruction, the WA Supreme Court granted review.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court began by saying that RCW 10.61.003 provides that where an offense consists of different degrees, “the jury may find the defendant not guilty of the degree charged in the indictment or information, and guilty of any degree inferior thereto.” Additionally, a defendant “may be found guilty of a lesser included offense, the commission of which is necessarily included within that with which he or she is charged in the indictment or information.”

“The reason lesser included instructions are given is to assist the jury in weighing the evidence, determining witness credibility, and deciding disputed questions of fact,” said the Court. “If the evidence permits a jury to rationally find a defendant guilty of the lesser offense, a lesser included offense instruction should be given.”

Consequently, the Court held that the trial court erred when it denied a lesser degree instruction on fourth degree assault:

“The evidence supported an inference that Coryell assaulted, but did not strangle, his girlfriend, and thus, he was entitled to a lesser degree instruction. This is consistent with the test in Workman and with the legislature’s directive in RCW 9A.04.100(2), which provides, ‘When a crime has been proven against a person, and there exists a reasonable doubt as to which of two or more degrees he or she is guilty, he or she shall be convicted only of the lowest degree.'”

Accordingly, the WA Supreme Court vacated Coryell’s conviction.

My opinion? Great decision. It’s fair to allow the defense to argue different theories of what happened based on the lack of evidence. Here, the lack of Petechial Hemorrhaging suffered by the victim raises reasonable doubt on the issue of whether she was strangled.

However, the lack of evidence does not mean she was not a victim of a lesser offense – here, Assault Fourth Degree. The defense should be allowed to argue this point and request a lesser-included jury instruction accordingly. I’m very pleased the WA Supremes finally put in writing that Assault Fourth Degree is a lesser-included offense to Assault Second Degree.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Assault or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Pot Sales Boomed in Washington During COVID-19 Pandemic

Here comes 'Big Marijuana' and the Republican hypocrites | Higher Ground | Detroit | Detroit Metro Times

A new Leafly report shows that national sales boomed during the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020, including in Washington, leading to growth in revenue and jobs.

Also, Leafly’s more recent Jobs Report shows that nationally, cannabis sales saw a 71% surge between 2019 and 2020. And Americans bought $18.3 billion worth of pot products in 2020, according to the report.

“Despite a year marked by a global pandemic, spiking unemployment, and economic recession, the legal cannabis industry added 77,300 full-time jobs in the United States,” Leafly’s 2021 jobs report says. “That represents 32% year-over-year job growth, an astonishing figure in the worst year for US economic growth since World War II.”

Legalization of marijuana in some form or another is rapidly catching on in most U.S. states. While some states that recently legalized recreational or medicinal use of marijuana added more jobs than Washington in 2020, its industry has continued to grow steadily since 2012, the report says.

Washington’s cannabis sales increased by 17% in 2020, with customers spending $1.42 billion on marijuana products, leading to a boom in employment, the report says. The state has 19,873 cannabis industry jobs, which is 524 more than 2019.

As one of the pioneering states in the sale of recreational marijuana, Washington has the fifth-most cannabis jobs and some of the highest sales number in the U.S., according to the report.

WHY THE SURGE?

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States in March, many in the cannabis industry worried about a massive industry-wide shutdown. Instead, governors in most states declared cannabis an essential product. Dispensaries and retail stores responded by offering online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery as Covid-safe options for their customers.

Customers, in turn, responded by stocking up for those weeks of stay-at-home advisories. After a brief dip in late-March revenue, most stores saw a significant bump in April—and then the bump became a plateau.

My opinion? Whether it or not it ends up being a coping mechanism for COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like cannabis has become how many people are making it through.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face Drug Charges or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.