Category Archives: Bellingham Defense Attorney

Traffic Fatalities Reach High in 2022

WTSC: Traffic deaths in Washington reach 20-year high – KIRO 7 News Seattle

Preliminary reports from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) showed 745 people were killed in crashes in 2022. Apparently, the number of people killed on Washington roads has now reached levels the state hasn’t seen in decades.

The rate of the year-over-year increase is something the commission said it hasn’t seen since the 1970s.

Impairment by drugs and alcohol is involved in more than half of fatal crashes. According to a December 2022 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “Alcohol-involved crashes resulted in 14,219 fatalities, 497,000 nonfatal injuries, and $68.9 billion in economic costs in 2019….”

“During 2017 through 2021, 32 percent of fatal crashes in Washington involved alcohol positive drivers,” said WTSC Director Shelly Baldwin. “Alcohol impairment, whether alone or in combination with other drugs, continues to be a leading risk factor in traffic fatalities.”

Health and safety experts have long advocated for states to reduce the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) per se limit for DUI from 0.08 to 0.05 percent. The state of Utah and more than 100 countries have set BAC limits at 0.05 percent or less. The Washington Legislature is currently considering Senate Bill 5002, which would change the state’s limit to 0.05.

“The goal of this bill is not to increase the number of DUI arrests but to remind and encourage people to avoid driving after drinking and thereby save lives. This was the outcome in Utah, and we expect a similar impact in Washington State.” ~Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste.

At a BAC of 0.05 percent, a driver has reduced coordination and ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering, and delayed response to emergency driving situations. “The evidence is clear that a driver’s ability to drive safely and react to unexpected traffic conditions is affected when their BAC reaches 0.05 percent,” Baldwin said.

If passed, the legislation would go into effect on July 1, 2023.

The WTSC reminds all people in Washington that there are simple things we can do to prevent impaired driving like planning ahead for a sober ride home if you will be out drinking. Friends and loved ones can help to prevent DUIs by being a sober designated driver, calling a rideshare, or offering a place to sleep.

WTSC analysis shows impaired drivers are more likely to speed and less likely to wear seat belts. These factors increase crash risk and are more likely to result in death.

If passed, the legislation would go into effect on July 1, 2023. There’s also growing momentum for an update to the “Cooper Jones Act.” This legislation requires drivers involved in serious or deadly crashes to have their license re-examined.

Many factors lead to traffic fatalities. Increasing public safety is almost always a step in the right direction.  However, please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DUI, Vehicular Assault any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Proposed Bills Seek to Change Washington’s Police Pursuit Law

Washington police report rise in indifference after no-pursuit law - FISM TV

Lawmakers will soon be considering proposals to change Washington’s law that restricts police pursuits. The three legislative proposals – HB 1053SB 5352, and HB1363 – would all change the law to remove language specifying the types of offenses for which an officer can initiate a pursuit.

The bills repeal a 2021 reform that limited officers to only chasing cars where the suspect is accused of a violent offense, a sex offense, or where the officer suspects DUI.

Law enforcement leaders in Washington have said the new law is emboldening criminals to flee from officers with the belief that they will not be pursued.

“I have never seen criminals as emboldened as they are now,” said Steve Strachan, the Executive Director of the Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs (WASPC). The WASPC sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to undo the 2021 reforms. In short the letter says that offenders have been given the advantage over victims of crimes.

“Recent policies restricting pursuits made driving a car a ‘get out of jail free’ card and creates conditions that empower criminals, jeopardize public safety, and diminishes the rule of law in Washington. We can fix the pursuit law to fall in line with Washington State’s duty of care standards and enable more discretion in engaging in police vehicle pursuits in a manner that offers a balance between the risk of the pursuit versus the reasons(s) for the pursuit. Severe prohibitions on vehicular pursuits need to be reversed.” ~WASPC Letter to Lawmakers.

Supporters of the 2021 reforms, however, argue pursuits present too much of a danger and want the law left alone.

The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability (WCPA) wrote a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday urging them to leave the law as is.

“We sincerely believe that if this law is rolled back, there will be a sharp increase of fatalities of bystanders and passengers. That is a high cost, is not necessary, and the policy change cannot be explained or justified.” ~WCPA

Governor Jay Inslee said last week he is open to changes in the state’s pursuit laws, but pushed back on the idea that the 2021 reform is responsible for an increase in crime.

“It’s a myth that the police accountability laws have caused some crime rave – the fact is crime has gone up across the United States. So the fact that the legislature passed some police accountability, rightfully so, I think it hasn’t caused crime to go up in New Jersey or Minnesota. This is not the reason we’re experiencing some additional crime in our in our state. It is a national phenomena,” ~Governor Jay Inslee.

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.

Washington is the Second-Worst State to Drive

See Where Washington Ranks Among The Worst States To Drive In | Q103.3

Apparently, Washington State is one of the worst states in the U.S. to drive in, according to a new report. Personal finance website WalletHub took a look at all 50 states to determine which are the best – and the worst – to drive in. Unfortunately, Washington State landed second from last on the list.

Traffic, road conditions and the cost of vehicle maintenance are all things that can make drivers nervous. These conditions vary across states for a variety of reasons including population, weather and government investments.

THE RANKING/GRADING CRITERIA.

To rank the states, WalletHub compared them across four key dimensions: 1. Cost of ownership and maintenance, 2. Traffic and infrastructure, 3. Safety and 4. Access to vehicles and maintenance.

Researchers then broke those dimensions down into 31 relevant metrics, including things like average gas prices, the share of rush-hour traffic congestion, number of days with precipitation, road quality, traffic fatality rate, car theft rate and auto-repair shops per capita.

Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the best for drivers. WalletHub determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score.

THE RESULTS: WA STATE RANKS SECOND-TO-LAST IN WORST STATES TO DRIVE IN.

When the scores were determined, WalletHub’s report shows that Washington ranked 49th overall among 50 states, making it the second-worst state to drive in. The state ranked 47th among all states for its cost of vehicle ownership and maintenance and 39th among states for traffic and infrastructure. Both scores contributed greatly to the state finishing so low on the list.

The only state worse to drive in than Washington, according to the report, is Hawaii.

In the report, WalletHub asked experts how states can reduce the number of traffic fatalities. Dr. Arman Sargolzaei, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Southern Florida said the vast majority of U.S. traffic accidents are entirely or partially due to human error.

“A shift in responsibilities from the human driver to self-driving cars can potentially reduce accidents,” ~Dr. Arman Sargolzaei.

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

WA Supreme Court on Accessing Justice During the Pandemic: “Our Work Isn’t Done.”

COVID-19 and the Courts | RAND

In a press release, the Washington Courts describe the huge strides they’ve taken to keep courts accessible and safe during the pandemic. And in doing so, the judiciary learned a great deal about everyday challenges to equity and accessing justice for state residents. WA Supreme Court Chief Steven C. González addressed the matter in a joint session of the state Legislature.

“The pandemic made clearer than ever the inequities within our justice system, but by making them more visible, the pandemic also made them more addressable,” ~WA Supreme Court Chief Steven C. González.

The speech was broadcast live and recorded by TVW. A written State of the Judiciary report was released to lawmakers, judicial branch leaders and the public following the oral address.

González highlighted some key work and responses by the judicial branch to challenges and revelations:

  • Remote proceedings, now and future – Courts have broadly expanded remote proceedings to maintain safety during the pandemic, and in doing so learned a great deal about struggles to access courts. “Remote access has relieved the burden of travel for those unable to afford child care or to take off from work. It has allowed disabled people better, more inclusive access to justice,” Justice González said. Courts have launched remote and hybrid trials, have expanded electronic filing and use of electronic signatures, and have provided remote technology to litigants who did not have it. “Some of these pandemic necessities have become so effective, we will adopt rules to make them permanent. We’re in that process now.”
  • Racial disparities remain – The Board for Judicial Administration launched a Court Recovery Task Force to catalog pandemic revelations and adaptations and provide support and information. After the killing of George Floyd, the task force expanded its work to include examination of ongoing racial disparities in the justice system. Its final report is titled, “Re-Imagining Our Courts.” Powerful data on disparities in the justice system were also detailed in reports by The Race and Justice Task Force and the Gender and Justice Commission. “This hard data reinforces what many know from their own lived experiences, but these reports give us tangible, actionable data that we can point to as we push for improvements.”
  • Making progress – González highlighted expanded access to court interpreters enabled by the legislature, expanded use of therapeutic courts across the state which have proven successful in addressing underlying causes of criminal activity, new communication channels between state branches of government such as the new Interbranch Advisory Committee, and ongoing efforts such a Washington state court rule addressing both explicit and implicit bias in jury selection – the first in the nation to do so, and now a national model.
  • Immediate challenges – In addition to other ongoing issues, González pointed to significant concerns involving court fines and fees being used to fund so much of court operations, particularly technology system, and court security risks. “All too much of the funding for our IT systems come from district and municipal court fees and fines,” he said, which criminalize poverty. “These are disparately imposed on the poorest and most marginalized communities. This needs to change. It’s the right thing to do.” Maintaining secure, safe courts is also an issue affecting access to justice and the functions of a democratic society, he said, and court security concerns and incidents have been growing.

“We’ve travelled far along the road to justice, and we still have more to go . . . We need your help to continue that progress. I look forward to working with all of you to fulfill the great promise of our  nation of equal justice for all.” ~WA Supreme Court Chief Steven C. González.

My opinion? The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed and exacerbated inequities in our justice system. Our courts and legal service providers have been forced to curtail in-person operations. This has occurred often without the resources or technology to offer remote-access or other safe alternatives. Fortunately, our courts have takes impressive strides forward and effectively pivoted under the circumstances.

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.

Power Grid Attacks Increasing

Power grid attacks reported in Washington, across nation | king5.com

Attacks on power substations are growing. Apparently, five states in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast reveal similar incidents of attacks. Vandalism and suspicious activity were on the rise.

Federal energy reports through August – the most recent available – show an increase in physical attacks at electrical facilities across the nation this year, continuing a trend seen since 2017. At least 108 human-related events were reported during the first eight months of 2022, compared with 99 in all of 2021 and 97 in 2020. More than a dozen cases of vandalism have been reported since September.

The attacks have prompted a flurry of calls to better protect the nation’s power grid, but experts have warned for more than three decades that stepped-up protection was needed.

ATTACKS ON POWER STATIONS ARE ON THE RISE

  • At least 20 actual physical attacks were reported, compared with six in all of 2021.
  • Suspicious-activity reports jumped three years ago, nearly doubling in 2020 to 32 events. In the first eight months of this year, 34 suspicious incidents were reported.
  • Total human-related incidents – including vandalism, suspicious activity and cyber events – are on track to be the highest since the reports started showing such activity in 2011.

ATTACKS ARE REPORTD ON AT LEAST 5 STATES

Since September, attacks or potential attacks have been reported on at least 18 additional substations and one power plant in Florida, Oregon, Washington and the Carolinas. Several involved firearms.

  • In Florida: Six “intrusion events” occurred at Duke Energy substations in September, resulting in at least one brief power outage, according to the News Nation television network, which cited a report the utility sent to the Energy Department. Duke Energy spokesperson Ana Gibbs confirmed a related arrest, but the company declined to comment further.
  • In Oregon and Washington state: Substations were attacked at least six times in November and December, with firearms used in some cases, local news outlets reported. On Christmas Day, four additional substations were vandalized in Washington State, cutting power to more than 14,000 customers.
  • In North Carolina: A substation in Maysville was vandalized on Nov. 11. On Dec. 3, shootings that authorities called a “targeted attack” damaged two power substations in Moore County, leaving tens of thousands without power amid freezing temperatures.
  • In South Carolina: Days later, gunfire was reported near a hydropower plant, but police said the shooting was a “random act.”

The Department of Homeland Security has previously warned that power infrastructure is an “attractive” target for domestic terrorists. Last year, three men pleaded guilty today to crimes related to a scheme to attack power grids in furtherance of white supremacist ideology.

“We have seen attacks such as these increase in Western Washington and throughout the country and must treat each incident seriously . . . The outages on Christmas left thousands in the dark and cold and put some who need power for medical devices at extreme risk.” ~U.S. Attorney Nick Brown.

My opinion? These actions bring criminal charges far more egrigious than your standard Malicious Mischief. If caught, defendants face federal crimes of Sabotage. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a similar crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Cross-Racial Identification

Frontiers | The Own-Race Bias for Face Recognition in a Multiracial Society

In State v. Butler, the WA Supreme Court upheld a defendant’s conviction for assault and held there was insufficient evidence supporting a jury instruction for false cross-racial identification.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Mr. Butler, a Black man, was convicted of assaulting two security officers in separate incidents at two Seattle light rail stations. Both assaults were caught on camera and the assailant appeared to be the same person in both. One of the victims, who appears to be white, identified Butler as his assailant at trial. The victim had not made an out-of-court identification. The victim did not identify Butler until the CrR 3.5 hearing and then at trial.

Naturally, the primary issue at trial was the identity of the assailant. The State sought to prove Butler was the person in the videos. The State argued that Butler was of the same build and race as the assailant. He also wore the same clothes and carried the same items—including the same shoes, skateboard, and backpack.

Butler asked the trial court to instruct the jury according to the pattern jury instruction on eyewitness identifications. It includes optional bracketed language that the jury may consider the witness’s familiarity or lack of familiarity with people of the perceived race or ethnicity of the perpetrator of the act.  The trial court agreed to give the pattern jury instruction, but declined to include that optional language. Mr. Butler was found guilty at trial.

On appeal, Butler argued that the trial court denied his right to present a defense by failing to give the cross-racial identification portion of the pattern instruction. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because there was insufficient evidence supporting the instruction, and it upheld Butler’s conviction. The WA Supreme Court addressed the issue and granted review.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court acknowledges racial bias is pervasive in our society.  However, it declined the chance to adopt a model jury instruction on cross-racial eyewitness identifications or to require that instruction be given whenever the defendant requests it. The Court’s review was strictly limited to considering whether the optional language on cross-racial identification should have been given.

Although Butler argued for a violation of his Due Process right to present a defense, S.Ct. concludes Butler was able to attack AV’s credibility and pursue his defense on the unreliability of the identification with the instructions that were given.

There was no abuse of discretion in denying the requested language in the instruction because the court reasonably concluded there was not sufficient evidence in the record supporting such a jury instruction.

“We leave for another day broader questions about what steps courts should take to mitigate the significant risk that eyewitness identifications are unreliable in the cross-racial context.” ~WA Supreme Court.

CONCURRING OPINIONS – CHIEF JUSTICE STEVEN GONZALEZ & JUSTICE MARY YU

Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote a separate concurring opinion. He reluctantly concurred only because Butler did not lay a foundation for the instruction he requested. However, Justice Gonzalez also took the opportunity to offer a deeper perspective on the negative impacts of improper identification of defendants.

“Mistaken eyewitness identifications have resulted in many innocent people being wrongfully convicted in our nation . . . The particular weaknesses of cross-racial identifications have been well known and well documented for decades.” ~WA Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez

Justice Gonzalez urged our Washington Pattern Jury Instructions Committee to craft an instruction that reflects what we have learned about the weaknesses of cross-racial identification.

Justice Mary Yu also wrote a concurring separate opinion. Similar to Justice Gonzalez, she recommended that Washington adopt an instruction that fully and accurately reflects the proven weaknesses of cross-racial identification.

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.

Sentencing Enhancements For Dealing Drugs Near School Zones

Drug Problem Facing Local Campus - Newport Beach News

In State v. Richter, the WA Court of Appeals held that the Blake decision does not invalidate the enhancement for trafficking drugs within 1000’ of a school bus route stop just because a drug dealer might deal drugs without knowing he or she is close to such a stop.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Mr. Richter was convicted of three counts of delivery of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school bus route stop and one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The trial court imposed an exceptional upward sentence of 168 months based in part on former RCW 69.50.435(1)(c). The statute allows judges to double the statutory maximum sentences for drug offenses that occurred in certain locations.

Richter appeals his sentence. Among other things, he argued his sentence violated due process under the reasoning in State v. Blake, In the Blake case, the Washington Supreme Court struck down Washington’s drug possession statute, because the statute violated due process and was therefore void. The law criminalized “unknowing” drug possession. As a result,  people could be arrested and convicted even if they did not realize they had drugs in their possession.  Consequently, Mr. Richter hoped that his appeal would persuade the WA Court of Appeals to reverse his conviction for the same reasons.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals began by summarizing the Blake decision. In Blake, the WA Supreme Court declared Washington’s statute criminalizing simple possession of a controlled substance to be unconstitutional because the statute allowed conviction even if the possession was unknowing.

The Court of Appeals emphasized that Blake court held that active trafficking in drugs was not innocent conduct. States have criminalized knowing drug possession nationwide, and there is plenty of reason to know that illegal drugs are highly regulated. The Court of Appeals also emphasized that the Blake court then distinguished the unconstitutional simple possession statute from other valid strict liability crimes. Ultimately, the difference hinges on whether the statutes penalize conduct or passive and innocent nonconduct.

That, reasoned the Court of Appeals, is where Mr. Richter’s argument on appeal collapsed.

The statute imposed increased consequences for affirmative conduct, not the kind of passive nonconduct that the Blake court declared to be innocent:

“Here, although Richter may not have known that he was within a school bus route stop zone, he does not dispute that he intended to sell methamphetamine, and the delivery amounted to affirmative conduct. Therefore, the Blake court’s reasoning does not apply to this case or to former RCW 69.50.435(1) more generally.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

With that, the Court of Appeals denied Richter’s appeal on this issue.

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

Increased DUI Patrols in Whatcom this New Year’s Weekend

Celebrate safely, avoid a DWI on New Year's Eve - AvvoStories

Informative article by journalist Alyse Smith reports that Whatcom County police will increase the number of patrols through Jan. 1st. This comes with an effort to prevent “further tragedy by removing impaired drivers from Washington roads,” according to a Washington Traffic Safety Commission news release.

As traffic deaths reached a 20-year high in 2021, 2022 had an even higher number of fatalities, with 15% more deaths in 2022 from January through October alone. More than half of traffic fatalities each year involve impaired drivers, according to the news release.

“Impaired driving crashes are totally preventable. We can all do our part to keep impaired drivers off our roads so that no one has to miss their loved ones during the holiday season.” ~Mark McKechnie, Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

If you’re out driving in Whatcom County and a police officer pulls you over, there are a few things you can expect if you are driving impaired, according to Carr Lanham, Target Zero manager for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

If a police officer is attempting to pull you over, pull over and stop at the next safest location where you and the police officer can safely get off the road. You should not get out of your vehicle, but keep your hands on the steering wheel until the officer asks you to get your license, registration and proof of insurance, according to Lanham.

People arrested for DUI in Whatcom County are booked into the Whatcom County Jail, and bail is not available until they go before a judge.

The minimum consequence for a DUI arrest in Whatcom County is 24 hours in jail, and the maximum penalty is 365 days, unless it is a felony DUI arrest, according to Lanham. There is a maximum fine of $5,000, and those convicted of a DUI can also receive a 90-day suspension of license, be ordered to alcohol and drug treatment and a five-year probation, according to Lanham.

The commission also encourages drivers to avoid driving impaired, and advises drivers who know they will be drinking alcohol or using cannabis to arrange a ride home ahead of time or call a rideshare service. And if you see a driver who is driving erratically and may be impaired, the commission encourages you to call 911.

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.

Exhaust Your Peremptory Challenges

Peremptory Challenge - Free of Charge Creative Commons Legal 6 image

In State v. Talbott, the WA Supreme Court held that at trial, a defendant may not appeal the seating of a juror if the defendant could have struck that juror with a peremptory challenge. 

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2018, Mr. Talbott was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated first degree murder that occurred in 1987. The victims – Jay Cook and his girlfriend Tanya Van Cuylenborg – were a couple visiting from Canada. Their bodies were found in Snohomish County and Skagit County, respectively. Van Cuylenborg’s body displayed evidence of sexual assault. Despite a multicounty law enforcement effort to solve the murders, no arrests were made. It was not until 30 years later that law enforcement, with the assistance of a genealogist, identified Mr. Talbott as the source for DNA that was collected in 1987.

Jury Selection At Trial

During voir dire, Talbott moved to excuse juror 40 on a challenge for cause. A challenge for cause is a request to disqualify a potential juror for specific reasons. Typical reasons include an acquaintanceship with either of the parties. It also includes a juror’s prior knowledge that would prevent impartial evaluation of the evidence presented in court, bias, prejudice, or an inability to serve (such as being seriously mentally ill)

The judge denied the defendant’s motion to challenge juror 40 for cause. At the end of voir dire, the court provided both parties the opportunity to raise any additional for-cause challenges. However, both parties – the State and Defense Counsel – declined.

The parties then exercised peremptory challenges. This is one of a limited number of special jury challenges given to each party before trial.  A peremptory challenge results in the exclusion of a potential juror without the need for any reason or explanation – unless the opposing party presents a prima facie argument that this challenge was used to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex.

After the State exercised its first peremptory challenge, juror 40 moved into the jury box. Talbott never attempted to use a peremptory challenge to remove juror 40. He affirmatively accepted the panel after exercising only four of his six peremptory challenges. Talbott had at least two additional peremptory challenges that he did not use on any prospective juror. Thus, Talbott explicitly agreed to be tried by a jury that included juror 40.

Talbott was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole. He appealed, contending, among other things, that the seating of juror 40 violated his right to a fair trial by an impartial jury.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

WA Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu wrote the Court’s majority opinion, which was agreed  to unanimously by the other justices.

Justice Yu began opined that criminal defendants have the constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. However, the burden of preventing trial errors rests squarely upon counsel for both sides. State v. Farley. Therefore, even defense counsel in a criminal case must attempt to correct errors at trial, rather than saving them for appeal in case the verdict goes against them.

Next, the Court raised and dismissed Talbott’s legal arguments regarding peremptory challenges and long history of precedent cases on the issue. First, the Court rejected Talbott’s argument that State v. Clark should have been rejected in light of State v. Fire.

“He is incorrect,” wrote the Court. “Fire did not overrule Clark. The two cases address different scenarios because the appellant in Fire exhausted their peremptory challenges and the appellant in Clark did not.” Moreover, the Court wrote that the holdings of Clark and Fire were consistent with each other. It is only in dicta that the opinions seem to contradict one another. “It is this dicta in Fire that has created some confusion and uncertainty in this area of the law,” said Justice Yu.

“Thus, we take this opportunity to clarify that a party who does not exhaust their peremptory challenges and accepts the jury panel cannot appeal the seating of
a particular juror.” ~Justice Mary Yu, WA Supreme Court

My opinion? Justice Yu issued a straightforward and academic ruling. A party may not appeal the seating of a juror if the party could have struck that juror with a preemptory challenge.  Parties are obliged to use their preemptory challenges to strike jurors they unsuccessfully moved to excuse for cause.  Finally, it appears that a party may only appeal the jury’s composition if the party exhausted their preemptory challenges.

The take-away? Exercise your peremptory challenges at trial.

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.

Should Prison Inmates Get Minimum Wage for Prison Jobs?

Sell Block: The empty promises of prison labor

Excellent article by Journalist Drew Mikkelsen reports that WA State Representative Tarra Simmons wants to start paying inmates minimum wage for prison jobs.

According to the Department of Corrections (DOC), 1,600 offenders currently work in-custody jobs. They pay between 65 cents to $2.70 per hour. Inmates are paid to work in prison kitchens, they build office furniture and assemble eyeglasses.

DOC spokesperson Chris Wright said those are “one of the top hourly rates in the country.”

“This is an evolution of slavery,” said state Representative Tarra Simmons, D-Bremerton. Simmons is believed to be the first person convicted of a felony to get elected to serve in Olympia. She served a 30-month prison sentence for drug and theft charges. She worked in the kitchen, laundry room, and as a custodian. “When I was incarcerated I was paid 42 cents an hour,” said Simmons. Her proposal would place half of an inmate’s earnings into an account that could not be accessed until the inmate’s release.

“If people can leave with enough money to have transportation, for housing, clothing, food and potentially some job training, hopefully they will have a better chance at not coming back,” ~Tarra Simmons, D-Bremerton

Simmons said the issue will come up for debate in the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.

Mrs. Simmons is quite remarkable. She’s a politician, convicted felon, lawyer, and civil rights activist for criminal justice reform. In 2011 Simmons was sentenced to 30 months in prison for theft and drug crimes. In 2017, she graduated from Seattle University School of Law with honors. After law school, she was not allowed to sit for the Washington State bar exam due to her status as a former convicted felon.

Consequently, she challenged the Washington State Bar Association rules in the Washington State Supreme Court and won with the court unanimously ruling in her favor. She was later sworn in as an attorney in the State of Washington on June 16, 2018. Simmons is the executive director for a nonprofit focused on assisting those that are formerly incarcerated, known as the Civil Survival Project

Republican Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, said the inmates are enough of a tax burden on the state:

“To me, it doesn’t make much sense . . . There’s no end to what we can do with other people’s money.” ~Republican Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn

Mt opinion? Prison is big business. The state of Washington saves millions by paying inmates pennies per hour for work done behind bars.Billions of dollars in revenue are generated by both the private prison industry and the labor of individuals who are incarcerated. From desks to textiles, a complex web of manufacturing is produced each day in New York Prisons—in fact, every New York license plate is created by an individual with justice involvement. Though their work results in billions of dollars, individuals with justice involvement receive literal pennies in return.

Of course, the best route is to avoid prison altogether. 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.



Alexander F. Ransom

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense Lawyer

119 North Commercial St.
Suite #1420
Bellingham, WA 98225

117 North 1st Street
Suite #27
Mount Vernon, WA 98273

Phone: (360) 746-2642
Fax: (360) 746-2949

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