WA State Cracks Down on Organized Retail Theft

What is Organized Retail Crime

King5 News reports that the Organized Retail Crime Theft Task Force was recently formed. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson says the Task Force will focus on sophisticated, organized crime rings and work to stop them.

According to the Retail Industry Leaders Association, organized theft cost Washington’s retailers around $2.7 billion last year.

Given the magnitude of losses, State Attorney General Bob Ferguson says it’s vital that multiple agencies and retailers work together because organized retail theft is simply too big for one organization to take on alone.

“No one retail store, no one prosecutor, no one attorney general, no one US Attorney can solve the problem. It’s just way too big. I found in my experience, from working with other task forces and other contexts, that sharing of information helps with enforcement, helps with prevention, raises the profile of the issue, and gets folks in the room to make sure we go after the bad guys, hold them accountable, and the provide the resources we need to help retailers and small businesses who’re dealing with these challenges.” ~State Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Organized crime could look like three men coordinating an early morning break-in, or it could occur on a smaller scale, like at the downtown Seattle Target, where police arrested a man after he stole alcohol 22 times over the course of a few days.

However, one of the biggest concerns of the task force is stolen baby formula, which is then resold on secondary sites like Amazon and becomes a risk for parents.

“That means that parents who unwittingly buy stolen formula on the secondary market may be putting their babies at significant risk if the thieves, for example, fail to store the product at the appropriate temperatures, or if the thieves manipulated the packaging, such as exchanging the expiration date,” Ferguson said.

He said the task force hopes to have an immediate impact statewide.

“We’re all stepping up to address what really is a true crisis in our state (and) … has significant implications for businesses and for the people of our state,” said Ferguson.

In Washington, Organized Retail Theft is a Class C Felony. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Theft or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

“Operation Dry Water” Works to Reduce Boating Under the Influence

Operation Dry Water Launches

According to Kiro 7, police are looking for alcohol and drug-impaired boaters this Fourth of July weekend.

Washington State Parks supports a nationally coordinated effort called Operation Dry Water.  This large-scale effort works to reduce boating-under-the-influence (BUI) accidents and fatalities. As part of the campaign, emphasis patrols are conducted annually around the Fourth of July. Independence Day is known for increased boating activities, use of alcohol, and an increase in the number of boating accidents and fatalities. Operation Dry Water includes the Coast Guard and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. There will be an increase in patrols on Puget Sound waters.

Similar to DUI, a BUI outlaws the use any substance that impairs a person’s ability to operate a vessel in the state. A “vessel” includes kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and other watercraft. It is also illegal to operate a vessel with a blood alcohol content level of 0.08 or higher, the same as a vehicle.

Below are some things for boaters to know:

  • State law allows law enforcement officers to require boaters suspected of operating a boat while intoxicated to submit to a breath or blood test.
  • Refusing to submit to a test is a civil infraction with a maximum fine of $2,050.
  • The penalty for operating a boat under the influence is a gross misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and 364 days in jail.
  • Additionally, a BUI is considered a prior offense if there are later convictions for driving under the influence (DUI).

In 2021, more than 570 local, state and federal agencies participated in Operation Dry Water, which resulted in nearly 640 BUI arrests and more than 42,440 citations and warnings for safety violations that were issued.

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

Lawsuit: Washington State Patrol Misused Breathalyzer Tests, Misconstrued Readings

Datto Lawsuit: Ex-Employee Took Trade Secrets to ConnectWise

A recently filed lawsuit claims that the Washington State Patrol official responsible for ensuring the consistency and reliability of breath-test machines violated the rights of drunk driving suspects who later had their licenses revoked.

I discussed this in an earlier blog where a panel of District Court judges had already found breath machine results inadmissible in all Kitsap County cases. The four District Court judges tossed the breath machine results in all drunken-driving cases before the court. The judges also found that Fiona Couper, the WA State Patrol Forensics Lab, “submitted false or misleading testimony by declaration in tens of thousands of cases.” About 81,000 people were tested over the past decade.

THE LAWSUIT

The lawsuit was filed by David LaCross on behalf of plaintiff Nicholas Kori Solis, 29, of Bremerton. The respondent is Ms. Couper. The lawsuit claims that Ms. Couper filed false statements vouching for the legality of the machines and “deprived the plaintiff of due process.”

The lawsuit specifically criticizes Washington’s procedures for revoking drunk driving suspects’ licenses. This process is administrative, not criminal, and the breath test results are admitted to prove the driver was impaired to allow the state to revoke their driver’s license. The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money for damages, among other remedies.

BACKGROUND

Mr. Solis was arrested March 19 by a State Patrol trooper who observed him driving 88 mph on Highway 3. In addition to signs of impairment, the trooper tested Solis using the Dräger breath test machine. The machine found Solis had a blood alcohol content reading of about .10. Solis was charged with DUI in Kitsap County District Court. He pleaded not guilty and entered a diversion agreement with prosecutors.

LEGAL ISSUE

The legal issue is whether Washington’s BAC machine accurately processed the results of breath tests. The state limit for blood alcohol content is .08. As the machines perform the required calculations, however, they produce results that contain more than two digits.

State law says the numbers are to be “rounded” but instead the software had been “truncating” them, or cutting off the numbers at a certain decimal point, a fact the judges found Couper knew or should have known.

The practical results of truncation vs. rounding can actually benefit defendants – as rounding a number could result in it increasing and showing a person was perhaps more intoxicated, something that cannot happen when the numbers are simply cut off.

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

U.S. Supreme Court Expands Gun Rights

Gun Bans and Regulations: From a Second Amendment Advocate – The Wildezine

In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for Self-Defense. Their ruling marks a major expansion of gun rights after a series of mass shootings. It’s also a ruling likely to lead to more people legally armed.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The state of New York passed a law requiring a person to show a special need for self-protection in order to to receive a license to carry a firearm outside their home. Robert Nash and Brandon Koch challenged the law after New York rejected their concealed-carry applications based on failure to show “proper cause.” A federal district court dismissed their claims, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court took the issue up on appeal.

LEGAL ISSUE

Does New York’s law requiring that applicants for unrestricted concealed-carry licenses demonstrate a special need for self-defense violate the Second Amendment?

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Holding: New York’s proper-cause requirement for obtaining an unrestricted license to carry a concealed firearm violates the Fourteenth Amendment. It prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion and said the following:

“The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not “a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees. The exercise of other constitutional rights does not require individuals to demonstrate to government officers some special need. The Second Amendment right to carry arms in public for self- defense is no different. New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms in public.” ~Justice Thomas, United States Supreme Court

With that, the Supreme Court reversed the lower federal court’s holding.

The Court’s split was 6-3 with the court’s conservatives in the majority and liberals in dissent. Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion. Justice Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion, in which Chief Justice Roberts joined. Justice Barrett filed a concurring opinion. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Sotomayor and Justice Kagan joined.

In a dissent joined by his liberal colleagues, Justice Stephen Breyer focused on the toll from gun violence. He wrote that since the beginning of this year, there have already been 277 reported mass shootings — an average of more than one per day. He accused his colleagues in the majority of acting “without considering the potentially deadly consequences” of their decision. He said the ruling would “severely” burden states’ efforts to pass laws “that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds.”

Several other conservative justices who joined Thomas’ majority opinion also wrote separately to add their views.

Justice Samuel Alito criticized Breyer’s dissent, questioning the relevance of his discussion of mass shootings and other gun death statistics. Alito wrote that the court had decided “nothing about who may lawfully possess a firearm or the requirements that must be met to buy a gun” and nothing “about the kinds of weapons that people may possess.”

“Today, unfortunately, many Americans have good reason to fear they will be victimized if they are unable to protect themselves.” The Second Amendment, he said, “guarantees their right to do so.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, noted the limits of the decision. States can still require people to get a license to carry a gun, Kavanaugh wrote, and condition that license on “fingerprinting, a background check, a mental health records check, and training in firearms handling and in laws regarding the use of force, among other possible requirements.”

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

Kitsap Judges’ Ruling Could Invalidate DUI Convictions Statewide

How Does a Breathalyzer Work? And Should You Refuse One?

Journalist reports that the Kitsap County District Court invalidated the results of a breathalyzer test (BAC Test) used by police. This ruling could have state-wide implications in thousands of DUI cases.

All four judges of the court agreed the state toxicologist violated state law when she approved software for the Dräger breathalyzer. This device is commonly used to test a person’s blood-alcohol level. The Dräger breathalyzer has been in the field since 2015 and is now used by nearly every law enforcement agency in the state.

Background Facts

On May 9, 2020, Mr. Keller was involved in a single-vehicle crash in Bremerton. Court records showed a Kitsap County sheriff’s deputy responded and smelled alcohol on Keller’s breath. He gave Keller a field sobriety test and Keller submitted to a blood alcohol test in the field using the portable Dräger breathalyzer. The test resulted in a 0.132 blood alcohol level. The legal limit in the state is .08.  Keller was arrested and is awaiting trial for DUI. On pretrial motion, his defense attorneys argued a  CrRLJ 3.6 Motion to Suppress the BAC Test. And apparently, they were successful.

How the Dräger Functions

The Dräger machine takes four samples of a person’s breath and then calculates the median, the center point of all four results.  It then provides a median number that is truncated to several decimal points. State law said the machine needs to truncate to four decimal points and then round up or down to three decimal points. Because the rounding was not part of the final calculation, any result the machine produced using the software approved by the state toxicologist violated state law.

The Court’s Ruling & Analysis

The judges reasoned that the Washington State Patrol oversees the State Toxicology Lab and is responsible for distributing the Dräger breathalyzer with the proper software to all local law enforcement in the state. However, the software approved by then-state toxicologist did not follow the calculations mandated by state law.

The judges issued two rulings. First, they wrote an 89-page ruling explaining their decision to their findings that the software did not follow state law. Second, they issued a court order stopping the use of results of the Dräger machine as evidence in all cases in Kitsap County.

Kudos to the defense attorneysGeorge Bianchi and Tom Weaver. They fought hard for justice. Thankfully, other defense attorneys in other counties can use the Kitsap County ruling in their own DUI cases. The state toxicologist approved software that was used in the Dräger machine across the entire state of Washington. Clearly, the software did not have the proper calculations and is presently being used by prosecutors and police.

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

Whatcom County Jail Tightens Booking Restrictions

Riverside County jails are so crowded, car thieves and drug dealers are being sent home

Journalist David Rasbach of The Herald reports the Whatcom County Jail has stopped booking people suspected of low-level offenses.

JAIL POPULATIONS HAVE INCREASED

in a letter to local leaders, Sheriff Bill Elfo explained the main reason behind less bookings was an increase in the jail population.

“Since the beginning of 2022, populations at both the Downtown Jail and Work Center have steadily climbed despite increased booking restrictions that were put into place in October of 2021.” ~Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo.

According to recent reports, the current jail population has grown 28% in the last three months. And it’s grown 44% larger than six months earlier.

Today’s population shows an increase over the previous two years during the COVID-19 Pandemic. We’re at or above the levels seen the two summers before the pandemic.

OFFENDER CHARACTERISTICS HAVE CHANGED

“In addition to the number of offenders, the characteristics of the offender population has also changed,” Elfo wrote. He states that approximately 83% of the jail population is now being held on suspicion of a pending felony offenses. Additionally, approximately 42% of the people housed in the jail have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness. Adding to the despair, 80% have an existing substance use disorder.

These behavioral issues has led to an increase in assaultive or self-harming behavior. As a result, fewer people in the jail can be housed with others.

OVERWORKED JAIL CORRECTIONS STAFF

In addition to a growing jail population, Elfo reported that workloads for corrections staff ARE stretched past all reasonable limits due to COVID protocols. There’s also an increasing need for care of vulnerable people housed in the jail, growth of the Medication for Opioid Use Disorder program, more fights and assaults among the jail population and of staff and problems created by an aging and sometimes failing facility.

Whatcom County is currently trying to fill 11 correction deputy vacancies, or approximately 16% of the full-time staff that it is budgeted for. According to Elfo, this has created the need for mandated unvolunteered overtime and mandatory callbacks to work. The current workloads, a perceived sense of apathy and new demands have taken their toll.

To help mitigate some of the challenges Elfo mentioned in the letter, he reported that Whatcom County is negotiating to contract for 45 beds in Snohomish County. Elfo wrote that he anticipated an agreement soon and would submit an interlocal agreement and supplemental budget request to the Whatcom County Executive and county council in June.

My opinion? It’s in our best interests for Whatcom County to construct a new, better jail. We must hire more jail deputies and train them to manage today’s jail population. And we must improve conditions for all, including the jail staff who oversee the incarcerated.

Buck up, taxpayers.

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

Proposed Federal Law Prohibits “Stealthing,” Non-Consensual Condom Removal

Is stealthing sexual assault? | WHP

Excellent article by journalist  Anne Branigin reports that “Stealthing,” the act of removing a condom during intercourse without the other partner’s consent, is gaining attention among lawmakers.

Fair warning: the following subject matter discusses sexual offenses. Sexual assault is both a common and a very serious crime. It is investigated by the police with an intensity second only to that of homicide and manslaughter.

Yes, there are defenses to these charges that are discussed later in this blog. However, sexual consent should always be clearly communicated. There should be no question or mystery. Silence is not consent. And it’s not just important the first time you’re with someone. Couples who’ve had sex before also must to consent before engaging the act every time.

“Stealthing” Defined.

“Stealthing,” is the practice of a man removing a condom during sexual intercourse without consent, when his sex partner has only consented to condom-protected sex. While victims of stealthing tend to be clear about its harms, what has been less clear is how to define it. Is it assault? And could — or rather, would — the law do anything about it?

Fedeal Legislation is Proposed to Outlaw “Stealthing.”

This month, federal legislation was introduced offering clarity and a legal remedy for survivors of stealthing. One bill introduced last month would explicitly name stealthing as a form of sexual violence and create a legal pathway for victims to sue perpetrators for damages and relief. A separate bill, called the Consent Is Key Act, would encourage states to pass their own laws authorizing civil damages for survivors by increasing funding for federal domestic violence programs in states that pass those laws.

The federal legislation mirrors a first-of-its-kind California law passed in October. That law expanded the definition of sexual battery in the state’s civil code to include removing a condom without verbal consent. The U.S. House bill defines stealthing as removing any “sexual protection barrier” without the consent of each person involved in the sexual act.

“Stealthing is a grave violation of autonomy, dignity, and trust that is considered emotional and sexual abuse,” reads the House bill, titled the Stealthing Act of 2022.

What Do Studies on Stealthing Suggest?

In the last several years, a number of researchers have attempted to quantify how many people experience nonconsensual condom removal.

In one Melbourne study, which surveyed more than 2,000 people visiting a local clinic over a three-month period in 2017, nearly one in three of the women surveyed said they had been “stealthed” at some point in their life. About 19 percent of men who had sex with other men said this had happened to them. Another 2019 study — which recruited women 21 to 30 with “increased sexual risk characteristics”— found that 12 percent of respondents said a partner engaged in stealthing (nearly half said they had experienced some form of coercive resistance to condoms).

One narrow 2019 study that recruited 626 men who were “inconsistent condom users” between the ages of 21 and 30 found that 10 percent said they had removed a condom without their partner’s consent; men with greater hostility toward women and more severe sexual aggression had “significantly higher odds of engaging in nonconsensual condom removal behavior,” the study’s author wrote.

Is Stealthing a form of Sexual Assault?

The growing narrative says “Yes.” Katie Russell, a spokesperson for the advocacy and support organization Rape Crisis, said the following:

“Ultimately what we’re talking about is rape . . . It’s not something that’s a bit cheeky or naughty to try to get away with — this is something serious that can have really damaging impacts for other person’s whole life and health.” ~Katie Russell, Spokesperson for Rape Crisis.

Defenses to Sex Crimes.

Sex crimes are very serious and being accused of committing one should be taken very seriously. While there aren’t very many, there are a few defenses to such an accusation: he or she is innocent; he or she engaged in consensual sexual activity, or he or she can’t be held guilty due to mental disease or defect.

  1. Actual Innocence.

Like all crimes, the most widely used defense is innocence. To prove innocence, an individual must generally be able to prove that it would be a physical impossibility to be guilty since they were at another location at the time or by providing a credible alibi. It’s the burden of the prosecution to prove that a defendant is guilty. The defendant will want to establish reasonable doubt. If he or she can do so then under the law the jury should acquit him or her.

In cases concerning an alleged victim’s intoxication, RCW 9A.44.030 offers a defense if the defendant reasonably believed that the victim was not mentally incapacitated and/or physically helpless. Again, this statutory defense exists if the alleged victim is drunk/intoxicated beyond the point of consent. The defendant must prove this defense by a preponderance of the evidence.

          2. Consensual Act.

Consent is also a substantive defense. If a defendant can prove that the act was consensual, a crime does not exist. Consent means that at the time of the act of sexual intercourse and/or contact, there are actual words or conduct indicating freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse/contact.

However, it’s important to understand whom – and who cannot – provide legal consent. Those without legal capacity cannot consent no matter what. This includes minors. If an individual engages in sexual activity with a minor, it is statutory and there can be no legal consent – even if there is verbal consent. The fact that majority of assailants are known to the victims and that a large numbers of cases are associated with drinking alcohol complicates the picture.

Hire an Attorney As Soon As Possible When Facing a Potential Sex Offense.

Merely being charged with a sexual offense is devastating. An allegation of sexual misconduct can cost someone their employment, their family, their loved ones and their home. 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.

Offender Scores Include Bail Jumping Even When the Underlying Conviction Was Dismissed Under State v. Blake

Felony Sentencing Guidelines | California Felony Attorney

In State v. Paniagua, the WA Court of Appeals held that convictions for Bail Jumping are appropriately included in the offender score even when the offender failed to appear at a scheduled hearing for a pending charge of Blake-related Drug Offense.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This appeal considered one of many consequences attended to the Washington Supreme Court’s landmark decision in charge of State v. Blake. The decision held Washington’s possession of a controlled substance criminal statute unconstitutional. In turn, Washington courts have removed, from offender scores, earlier convictions for possession of a controlled substance.

This appeal travels further down the path and asks whether a court should remove, from the offender score, a former conviction for bail jumping when the offender failed to appear at a scheduled hearing while on bail pending charges for possession of a controlled substance.

Victor Paniagua only challenges his sentence for his 2018 convictions for Homicide and other crimes. The relevant facts begin, however, with earlier convictions.

In 2007, the State of Washington convicted Victor Paniagua with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. In 2011, the State again convicted Paniagua with possession of a controlled substance and the additional charge of bail jumping. The bail jumping charge arose from Paniagua’s failure to appear at a court hearing on the 2011 possession charge.

In June 2018, a jury found Victor Paniagua guilty of second degree murder, second degree assault, unlawful possession of a firearm, and witness tampering. The trial court calculated Paniagua’s offender score at 8 for the murder and assault charges. It also calculated a 7 for the unlawful firearm possession and witness tampering charges. The offender score calculation included one point each for the 2007 and 2011 possession of a controlled substance convictions and one point for the 2011 bail jumping conviction. As a result, the
court then sentenced Paniagua to 453 months’ total confinement.

After the issuance of State v. Blake, Mr. Paniagua requested resentencing. He argued the superior court should resentence him and reduce his offender score by three points. Ultimately, the superior court deducted only two points from Paniagua’s offender score. The superior court resentenced Paniagua to 412 months’ total confinement.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court began by saying that State v. Blake held that Washington’s drug possession statute violated the due process clause. The statute penalized one for passive, innocent, or no conduct without requiring the State to prove intent.

“The Washington Supreme Court also did not address, in State v. Blake, the retroactivity of its decision,” said the Court of Appeals. “Nevertheless, the State and other courts have operated on the assumption that Blake should be applied retroactively. If a statute is unconstitutional, it is and has always been a legal nullity.”

Next, the Court of Appeals decided whether the bail jumping conviction was invalid on its face. When a defendant is convicted of a nonexistent crime, the judgment and sentence is invalid on its face. Here, however, the State did not convict Mr. Paniagua of a nonexistent crime when convicting him of bail jumping. “The crime remains in existence today,” said the Court of Appeals. “The conviction is not facially invalid.”

Next, the court raised and dismissed Paniagua’s arguments that the State convicted him of bail jumping while facing charges brought pursuant to an unconstitutional statute:

“Still, he cites no decision supporting the proposition that being convicted or held, under an unconstitutional criminal statute, renders escaping from jail or bail jumping permissible. To the contrary, under the universal rule, the unconstitutionality of a statute under which the defendant was convicted or charged does not justify escape from imprisonment . . . We find no decision addressing bail jumping when facing charges under an unconstitutional statute.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

With that, the Court of Appeals affirm the superior court’s inclusion of Victor Paniagua’s 2011 conviction for bail jumping in his offender score and affirmed his resentencing.

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.

High Court: Race Must be Considered in Determining Legality of Police Stops and Seizures

Center for the Study of Race and Law | University of Virginia School of Law

In State v. Sum, the WA Supreme Court held that  a person’s race – and law enforcement’s long history of discrimination against people of color – should be taken into account when determining the legality of police seizures.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The case concerns Palla Sum, a person of color who identifies himself as Asian/Pacific Islander. Mr. Sum was sleeping in his car in Tacoma one morning in April 2019 when police came upon him. Deputy Rickerson An officer ran his plates. The car was not stolen. There is no indication that it was parked illegally. Nevertheless, the car attracted the deputy’s attention because “it was parked there.”

The officer knocked on the window, asked Sum questions and asked him for identification. Sum gave a false name and the officer went back to his cruiser to check records. Sum then drove off, crashed into a front lawn and was caught as he attempted to run away.

Sum was subsequently charged with Making a False Statement, Eluding and Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, after a gun was found in his car.

Sum filed a pretrial motion to suppress pursuant to CrR 3.6. He argued that he was unlawfully seized without reasonable suspicion when Deputy Rickerson requested Sum’s identification while implying that Sum was under investigation for car theft. The court denied Sum’s motion to suppress. It ruled that because Sum was not seized when Rickerson asked him to identify himself, because the did not retain Sum’s physical identification to conduct his records check. Sum was convicted of all three charges by a jury.

Although the WA Court of Appeals upheld his conviction, Sum again appealed to the WA Supreme Court. He argued  that there is no justification—aside from unacceptably ignoring the issue of race altogether—for courts considering the totality of the circumstances to disregard the effect of race as one of the circumstances affecting evaluation of police contact.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court discussed the standard of review for addressing similar cases. It reasoned that the search and seizure inquiry is an objective test. An allegedly seized person has the burden to show that a seizure occurred. It further clarified that a person is seized if, based on the totality of the circumstances, an objective observer could conclude that the person was not free to leave, to refuse a request, or to otherwise terminate the encounter due to law enforcement’s display of authority or use of physical force.

The Court also took its “objective analysis” test a step further:

“For purposes of this analysis, an objective observer is aware that implicit, institutional, and unconscious biases, in addition to purposeful discrimination, have resulted in disproportionate police contacts, investigative seizures, and uses of force against Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) in Washington.” ~Justice Mary Yu, WA Supreme Court

Furthermore, wrote the Court, if the person shows there was a seizure, then the burden shifts to the State to prove that the seizure was lawfully justified by a warrant or an applicable exception to the warrant requirement.

Next, the Court applied its now race-conscious test to the facts of the case. It reasoned that based on the totality of the circumstances, Mr. Sum was seized when Deputy Rickerson requested Sum’s identification while implying that Sum was under investigation for car theft.

“As the State properly concedes, at that time, the deputy did not have a warrant, reasonable suspicion, or any other lawful authority to seize Sum,” wrote Justice Yu. “As a result, Sum was unlawfully seized, and the false name and birth date he gave to the deputy must be suppressed. We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.”

My opinion? Good decision.

In an amicus brief, public defender and civil rights groups argued that law enforcement’s history of discriminating against people of color needs to be reflected in how the law is interpreted. The groups, including the King County Department of Public Defense and the ACLU of Washington, wrote the following:

“Centuries of violence and dehumanizing treatment of people of color have required BIPOC communities to develop survival strategies that demand over-compliance with law enforcement . . . For courts to continue to blind themselves to that reality when evaluating the freedom an individual would feel to unilaterally terminate a law enforcement contact is to further enshrine existing racial disparities into the legal system.”

Please review my Search & Seizure guide and  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.

GR 37 Challenges to Striking a Potential Juror

Why Is It So Easy for Prosecutors to Strike Black Jurors? | The New Yorker

In State v. Booththe WA Court of Appeals held that a trial court’s decision to deny a defendant’s peremptory challenge was not reversible error. Booth captured an interesting scenario where the State – and not the defendant – made a race-based challenge to the opposition’s reasons for striking a potential juror.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On August 9, 2017, Ms. Booth went to a Metallica concert in Seattle with her cousin. After the concert ended around 11:00 p.m., Booth and her cousin went to his hotel room to talk and catch up. While they were talking, Booth’s cousin—a “very big guy”— began to say things that made Booth uncomfortable. He tried to kiss her. That caused Booth to panic and flee to her car, feeling like she “just had to get out of there.” She began driving without knowing where she was going. According to Booth, she drank a single glass of wine at the concert and had another serving of wine at her cousin’s hotel.

Around 3:30 a.m., Washington State Patrol Trooper saw a car remain stopped at a traffic light the entire time the light was green. When the car drove, it was drifting over lane lines and failed to stop even after he turned on his patrol car’s emergency lights. After the car stopped and the driver rolled down her window, Trooper Roberts smelled a very strong odor of alcoholic beverages coming from within the car. Booth was driving. Her eyes were bloodshot and watery, and she had a glazed stare on her face. She struggled to answer Trooper Roberts’ questions, seeming very forgetful.

Trooper Roberts arrested Booth on suspicion of DUI. Booth did not consent to sobriety tests. Her blood-alcohol content was never measured. Trooper Roberts decided against getting a warrant for a blood draw because he thought she was  obviously intoxicated.

The case moved on to trial. Booth’s defense theory was that her appearance and behavior resulted from memories of past sexual trauma being triggered by her cousin’s unwanted physical advance. Booth sought to testify about the details of the assaults that traumatized her. The court limited Booth’s testimony about her past to stating she had a history of victimization, and it allowed testimony about her mental state after her cousin’s unwanted advance.

VOIR DIRE

During voir dire – jury selection – Ms. Booth tried to exercise a peremptory challenge to a prospective juror who is a member of a cognizable racial minority. However, the State made a General Rule (GR) 37 objection, arguing race “could” have been a factor underlying the peremptory challenge. The trial court agreed. It denied Ms. Booth’s peremptory challenge and concluded GR 37 prohibited the striking of the juror.

The jury found Booth guilty both of DUI and of refusing to submit to a breath test. Booth appealed on arguments that the trial court mistakenly refused to grant her peremptory challenge.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Ultimately, the WA Court of Appeals reasoned that peremptory challenges are not required by the federal or state constitutions. The error here does not fit within the narrow class of per se reversible errors. Also, there was no showing of any prejudice from the erroneous seating of an otherwise competent, unbiased juror. Therefore, a reversal of Booth’s conviction and a retrial of her case was not required.

The court reasoned that in order to bring a GR 37 challenge, the party alleging the violation must establish a prima facie case demonstrating that the struck juror is from cognizable racial group. The burden than shifts to the non-moving party to provide a race-neutral justification. The court than determines whether “an objective observer could view race or ethnicity as a factor in the use of the peremptory strike.” A court evaluates the reason for the peremptory under the totality of the circumstances.

The court also reasoned that in this case, defense made a motion to strike a juror, the State objected under GR 37 and the trial judge denied the peremptory strike.

Under these circumstances, the Court held that an objective observer could not find race as the basis for the motion to strike. When a juror is wrongly impaneled, it implicates the constitutional rights of the defendant. However, erroneous denial of peremptory is not a per se reversible error, as it merely results in the improper seating of a competent and unbiased juror.

“Booth does not explain how juror 6’s presence on the jury made a difference. She does not argue juror 6 could have been challenged for cause, and, in fact, the trial court explained it would not have sustained a for-cause challenge to juror 6, given his answers. And, assuming the jury found Trooper Roberts credible, his testimony provided overwhelming evidence of Booth’s guilt. Thus, Booth fails to show prejudice because the record does not suggest juror 6’s absence would have changed the outcome.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

My opinion? Interesting decision. You don’t often see the State challenging a defendant’s peremptory challenges on the basis of race. You typically see the reverse: the defendant challenging the State’s peremptory challenge as race-based.

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.