Category Archives: Constitutional Rights

Right to Counsel At Critical Stages In Criminal Proceedings

Will Wearing an Orange Jumpsuit in Court Affect the Outcome? - Szar Bail Bonds

In State v. Charleton, the WA Court of Appeals held that even though a defendant lacks counsel at arraignment, this error is harmless because setting bail has no effect on the remainder of the case.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Charleton was arrested and held for 72 hours on allegations of a sex offense. During his initial appearance he did not have a defense attorney. After the State filed charges, the defendant appeared again without counsel. The court set bail and continued arraignment a few days. At arraignment, the defendant appeared with counsel and was granted release. The judge later found the defendant guilty of child rape and child molestation.

The defendant challenged his convictions on arguments that he lacked counsel at a critical stage of the proceedings. Therefore, this failure to appoint counsel violated the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and required reversal of his convictions.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals (COA) gave a 5-part analysis of the legal issues below discussed below:

The Constitutional Right to Counsel Attached at Charlton’s First Two Court Appearances.

The COA explained that superior courts are required to process defendants  in court as soon as possible, “but in any event before the close of business on the next court day.” A court must provide a lawyer at the “preliminary appearance” pursuant to court rule. And the right to an attorney accrues as soon as feasible after the individual is taken into custody, appears before a judge, or is formally charged, whichever occurs earliest. Consequently, the COA reasoned that Mr. Charleton’s right to counsel attached after he was charged and appeared for arraignment.

Charlton’s First Court Appearance Was Not a Critical Stage of the Criminal Proceedings. However, Charlton’s Second Appearance Was a Critical Stage Because the Trial Court Addressed the Setting of Bail.

Here, the COA explained that a “critical stage” is one which a defendant’s rights may be lost, defenses waived, privileges claimed or waived, or in which the outcome of the case is otherwise substantially affected. Critical stages involve pretrial procedures that would impair defense on the merits if the accused is required to proceed without counsel.

Even Though Charleton’s Second Appearance Involving Bail Was a Critical Stage, His Appearance Without an Attorney Was Harmless Error.

The COA reasoned that an error is harmless if the State establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that the verdict would have been the same result without the error. Here, the trial court’s imposition of bail on an unrepresented Mr. Charleston had no effect on his case resolution.

“Because of the court’s bail decision and the continuance of the arraignment, Charlton was in jail for an additional 10 days. His brief continued detention certainly did not pervade or contaminate the entire proceeding. Therefore, there was no structural error and we must apply the harmless error analysis.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

Accordingly, the COA affirmed Charlton’s convictions.

My opinion? Bad decision. Lack of defense counsel at bail hearings can potentially cripple a defendant’s ability to fight the charges. At arraignment, defense attorneys often argue bail and release conditions. A competent defense attorney can persuade the judge to lower the bail recommended by the prosecution. Even better, a defense attorney can persaude the judge to release the defendant on personal recognizance. Defendants who are released from jail are better positioned to assist in their defense. They can help locate  witnesses, enter treatment programs and contemplate substantive defenses.

Please review my Making Bail legal 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.

Display of a Firearm & Probable Cause

What to know about open carry gun laws in Arizona - Phoenix Business Journal

In US v. Willy  (July 26, 2022), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a defendant’s charges for Unlawful Display of a Weapon were not supported by Probable Cause.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Reporting Party #1

On May 12. 2019, the Yakima County’s Sheriff’s Office received a call from a witness (“Reporting Party 1”). The witness stated that a man had pulled up outside of his home in a vehicle and displayed a firearm. Dispatch relayed this information to Deputy Thaxton, who interviewed Reporting Party 1 at his residence. Reporting Party 1 told Deputy Thaxton that a white male in a green truck pulled up on the street in front of his house. The man began talking about being abducted and kept somewhere in the area. The man said he was trying to find the place where he was kept. During the conversation, the man pulled out a semiautomatic pistol, racked the slide, and then put it down.

Reporting Party 1 expressed concern about the man’s mental state. He provided Deputy Thaxton with the truck’s license plate number. The vehicle came back as registered to Mr.  Willy. Thaxton showed Reporting Party 1 Willy’s Department of Licensing photo, and he identified Willy as the man with whom he had spoken. Reporting Party 1 said that Willy made no threats to him, nor had Willy pointed the pistol at him at any time.

Reporting Party #2

About ten minutes after leaving Reporting Party 1’s residence, Deputy Thaxton responded to another report from dispatch. The second call had come from Reporting Party 2, who lived about three miles from the previous caller. Deputy Thaxton spoke to the second witness over the phone because Reporting Party 2 had already left her residence. Reporting Party 2 stated that a man with a name like “Willis” pulled up to her gate in a green truck when she was leaving her house. “Willis” told her that he had been kidnapped and held in a camouflaged trailer or van in the area and that he was trying to find it. While they were talking, the man told her he was armed and then displayed a pistol and put it away. Reporting Party 2 told the man she did not know the place he was looking for, and he drove away. Reporting Party 2 said that she was not was not directly threatened, nor was Willy argumentative or hostile.

Deputy Thaxton located the green truck pulling into a gas station. Once he confirmed the license plate matched the one given to him by Reporting Party 1, Deputy Thaxton turned on his emergency lights and conducted a “high-risk stop.” With his firearm drawn, Deputy Thaxton ordered Willy out of the vehicle. Willy complied with all of Deputy Thaxton’s orders. While making Willy turn around, Deputy Thaxton saw a pistol holstered on his hip. Deputy Thaxton removed the gun, put Willy in handcuffs, and escorted him to the back seat of the police vehicle.

After his arrest, a search of Willy’s vehicle and person recovered illegal firearms and a modified CO2 cartridge. Willy was charged with making and possessing a destructive device in violation of the National Firearms Act, 26 U.S.C. § 5861. He was also charged with Unlawful Display of a Weapon under Washington statute.

Willy moved to suppress the evidence. The lower federal district court granted the motion to suppress. It found that although Deputy Thaxton had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop, he lacked probable cause to make the arrest. The evidence was “tainted by the illegality of the arrest.” The Government filed a timely notice of appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Ninth Circuit analyzed the scope of Washington’s Unlawful Display of a Weapon statute. It began with a discussion of how the Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Washington is an open carry state. That means that it is presumptively legal to carry a firearm openly.” ~Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

“The bare fact that Willy displayed a weapon would not be sufficient to stop Willy, because there is no evidence that he was carrying a concealed weapon,” said the Ninth Circuit. Moreover, the reporting parties’ statements that Willy was carrying a gun “created at most a very weak inference that he was unlawfully carrying the gun concealed without a license, and certainly not enough to alone support a Terry stop.”

Additionally, the Ninth Circuit emphasized that Thaxton acquired no additional reasons for arresting Willy until after he stopped him. When Thaxton ordered Willy to leave his truck and turn around slowly, Willy was openly carrying his pistol, in a holster on his hip. The Ninth Circuit pointed out that Washington courts have refused to enforce the statute when the threats are not sufficiently direct or imminent.

Deputy Thaxton’s suspicion that Willy had violated § 9.41.270 arose not from his own observations but from the accounts of two reporting parties.

“The strongest fact for the government is that Willy racked the slide of his gun in the presence of Reporting Party 1. In context, however, that fact does not demonstrate that Willy was acting in manner that warrants alarm.” ~Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

With that, the Ninth Circuit next addressed whether the C02 cartridge found in Willy’s car – and his statements to police – should be suppressed as evidence supporting the federal charges. The Ninth Circuit began by saying that under the “fruits of the poisonous tree” doctrine, evidence seized subsequent to a violation of the Fourth Amendment is tainted by the illegality and subject to exclusion, unless it has been sufficiently “purged of the primary taint.” Wong Sun v. United States. Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit suppressed that evidence as “fruits of the poisonous tree.”

The Ninth Circuit concluded by affirming the lower federal court’s order granting the defendant’s motion to suppress.

My opinion? Good decision. The Ninth Circuit gave an accurate assessment of Washington Law surrounding this issue and made the right decision. Washington is indeed an “Open Carry” state. This fact alone challenges many people’s allegations that someone is unlawfully displaying a weapon. Also , the probabale cause alleged in this case was fart too attenuated to be reliable.

Please contact my office if you have Firearms Offense involving Search and Seizure issues. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Criminal Conviction Reversed on Prosecutor’s Race-Based Misconduct & Voir Dire.

Survey: Trump's immigration rhetoric is negatively impacting Latinos' health

In State v. Zamora, the WA Supreme Court held that a Prosecutor committed misconduct when, during jury selection, he repeatedly asked the potential jurors about their views on unlawful immigration, border security, undocumented immigrants, and crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

BACKGROUND FACTS

This case arises from a violent police confrontation that escalated far beyond what should have happened. On Super Bowl Sunday, February 5, 2017, Joseph Zamora was walking to his niece’s house. A neighbor called the police to report a possible vehicle prowler. When Zamora reached the driveway of his niece’s home, he was contacted by responding officer Kevin Hake. Hake quickly became nervous because of Zamora’s demeanor. Fearing Zamora had a weapon, Hake grabbed Zamora and attempted to restrain him.

A struggle ensued and escalated to include what may be described as extreme acts of violence. Ultimately, eight officers were involved in subduing Zamora. When responding paramedics arrived, Zamora was handcuffed, hog-tied, and lying face down in the snow with two officers restraining him. He had no heartbeat or pulse. It took the paramedics seven minutes to revive him. Zamora was taken to the hospital and remained in intensive care for approximately four weeks.

Zamora was charged with two counts of Assault Third Degree on the officers who “restrained” him. Officer Hake’s injuries included some small scratches around his hand and wrist and some bruising. Officer Welsh sustained an injury to his hand from punching Zamora in the back of the head multiple times. Zamora’s case proceeded to trial.

The Grant County Prosecutor began voir dire. He introduced the topics of border security, illegal immigration, and crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. The prosecutor repeatedly elicited potential jurors’ comments and views on these topics. At one point, he referred to “100,000 people illegally” crossing the border each month. He asked jurors whether “we have or we don’t have enough border security.” He also asked jurors if they had “heard about the recent drug bust down at Nogales, Arizona where they picked up enough Fentanyl to killed 65 million Americans.” Defense counsel did not object to the prosecutor’s questions and remarks on border security, illegal immigration, undocumented immigrants, and drug smuggling.

A jury found Zamora guilty as charged.

Zamora appealed. He argued his right to an impartial jury was violated when the Prosecutor appealed to jurors’ potential racial bias during voir dire. Division Three of the Court of Appeals affirmed Zamora’s convictions, concluding that his constitutional rights were not violated. Zamora appealed to the WA Supreme Court. They accepted review.

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether the prosecutor committed misconduct when, during jury selection, he repeatedly asked the potential jurors about their views on unlawful immigration, border security, undocumented immigrants, and crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court concluded that the prosecutor intentionally appealed to the jurors’ potential racial bias in a way that undermined Zamora’s presumption of innocence. Therefore, Zamora was denied his constitutional right to an impartial jury because of the prosecutor’s race-based misconduct.

Justice Charled W. Johnson authored the Court’s opinion. He began by explaining that the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Washington State Constitution guarantee a criminal defendant the right to an impartial jury. Justice Johnson said the Court has long recognized that the constitutional right to a jury trial includes the right to an unbiased and unprejudiced jury. He also upheld the right to fair trial in the face of prosecutorial misconduct:

“As a quasi-judicial officer and a representative of the State, a prosecutor owes a duty to a defendant to see that their rights to a constitutionally fair trial are not violated. Thus, a claim of prosecutorial misconduct directly implicates the constitutional right to a fair trial.” ~Justice Johnson, WA Supreme Court.

Justice Johnson also explained that in order to prevail on a prosecutorial misconduct claim, a defendant who timely objects must prove that the prosecutor’s conduct was both improper and prejudicial in the context of the entire trial. If the defendant does not object, on appeal the defendant must show the improper conduct resulted in incurable prejudice.

However, when the misconduct implicates racial bias, “flagrantly or apparently intentionally appeals to racial bias in a way that undermines the defendant’s credibility or the presumption of innocence,” courts will vacate the conviction unless the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the race-based misconduct did not affect the jury’s verdict.

“To determine whether the prosecutor’s conduct in this case flagrantly or apparently intentionally appealed to jurors’ potential racial bias, we ask whether an objective observer could view the prosecutor’s questions and comments during voir dire as an appeal to the jury panel’s potential prejudice, bias, or stereotypes about Latinxs. The objective observer is a person who is aware of the history of race and ethnic discrimination in the United States and aware of implicit, institutional, and unconscious biases, in addition to purposeful discrimination.” ~Justice Johnson, WA Supreme Court

Here, the Court reasoned that the prosecutor’s questions and remarks implicated the defendant’s ethnicity. The prosecutor’s conduct appealed to the jurors’ potential racial or ethnic bias, stereotypes, or prejudice. The Court said we must be vigilant of conduct that appeals to racial or ethnic bias even when not expressly referencing race or ethnicity:

“The state-sanctioned invocation of racial or ethnic bias in the justice system is unacceptable. Accordingly, we hold that the prosecutor in this case committed race-based misconduct during voir dire, and the resulting prejudice to the defendant is incurable and requires reversal. We reverse the Court of Appeals and reverse and vacate the convictions.” ~Justice Johnson, WA Supreme Court

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.

Bellingham Residents Express Concern Over Rising Crime Rates

Neighborhood Policing - City of Bellingham

KGMI reports that the Bellingham City Council, mayor and other leaders heard from residents about their concerns about public safety at a virtual community meeting held on Monday, May 16th.

Residents expressed concerns about housing prices, drug deals in their neighborhoods and rising crime rates. Chief Deputy for the Bellingham Police Department Don Ahlmer told the meeting that while crime rates are up, the numbers have to be viewed with perspective.

“If you look at the numbers for aggravated assault, if a seven year average is 124, the last three-year average is roughly 50 more a year. You’re looking at one more assault a week . . . So, numbers are numbers . . . But I don’t want the public or anybody watching this to think, oh my gosh, there’s like a hundred extra assaults a day.” ~ Deputy Almer, Bellingham Police Department

Mayor Seth Fleetwood said the city needs more police officers.

“We’re fortunate to have a police department that is exceptional, made up of capable, caring, highly confident, trained professionals,” said Fleetwood. “But our staffing levels are down and we’re doing all we can to staff back up. And I know that we’re going to get there.”

Click here to watch a YouTube video of the meeting.

My opinion? The concerns of Bellingham’s citizens reflect national trends that crime – especially homicides and manslaughter – has increased. Covid disrupted every aspect of life in the past two years. Social services and supports that help keep crime down vanished overnight. Schools could no longer keep unruly teens safe and distracted. A broader sense of disorder and chaos could have fueled a so-called moral holiday, in which people disregard laws and norms.

Citizens are righteously concerned with crimes happening in their backyards. And yes, we need solutions. The solutions involve training and hiring police officers who are not racially biased. We need police officers who won’t conduct illegal searches/seizures. And we need police officers who won’t go about policing poverty. These practices strain the criminal justice system. They also burden impoverished people with fines for minor offenses and fracture the relationship between police and minorities.

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.

Consensual Seizures

MTS Says Its Officers Aren't Bound by New State Use-of-Force Law

In State v. Meredith, the WA Court of Appeals held that a bus passenger consents to a warrantless search and seizure consisting of a bus fare enforcement officer requests the passenger provide proof of payment.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The defendant Mr. Meredith was riding the Swift regional transit bus in Everett late one morning. Two officers from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office boarded to conduct fare enforcement. When conducting fare enforcement, officers would board a bus at a stop and then ask individual passengers for proof of payment while the bus was driving from one stop to the next. A “chase vehicle” would follow the bus to help with identifying and processing anyone ordered off the bus for nonpayment.

Officer Dalton moved to the back of the bus. He began working his way forward and saying “proof of payment or ORCA card” to each passenger in a conversational tone. His partner moved to the front of the bus and worked backward. The bus drove to its next stop while the officers checked for proof of payment.

Officer Dalton requested “proof of payment or ORCA card” from Meredith, who began to check his pants and backpack. Failure to provide proof of payment could result in a notice of infraction or arrest. The bus continued along its route, and Meredith searched for four or five minutes without producing proof of payment. Officer Dalton ordered him to disembark at the next stop, and they left the bus together.

Officer Dalton asked Meredith for his name and identification. Meredith gave a fake name. Officer Dalton radioed dispatch to run the name, and it produced no returns in either Washington or Colorado. Officer Dalton suspected Meredith gave a fake name. Officer Zelaya arrived to help determine Meredith’s identity.

Officer Zelaya used a mobile fingerprint reader to scan Meredith’s fingerprints. He learned Meredith’s real name and that he had two outstanding felony warrants. Meredith was arrested on his warrants and for committing third degree theft of services for nonpayment of fare. He was charged with Making a False Statement to a Public Servant.

Pretrial, Meredith moved to suppress evidence resulting from Officer Dalton’s fare enforcement. The trial court denied the motion. A jury found Meredith guilty of making a false statement. Meredith appealed under arguments that his constitutional rights were violated by the officers when they executed an unauthorized and warrantless seizure.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals said the Washington Constitution  provides, “No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.” Furthermore, the WA Constitution protects against unauthorized seizures by government, despite not using the word “seize.”

However, the Court emphasized that Meredith did not allege his privacy was violated. It reasoned that the analysis does not not depend upon the “privacy” of information requested when police merely request proof of payment on public transit. Therefore, a person can be unlawfully seized without a violation of their privacy.

Next, the Court analyzed whether Meredith validly consented to being seized. “We consider whether his consent was voluntary, whether the seizure was limited to the scope of the consent granted, and whether consent was granted by a party with authority to do so,” said the Court. “We determine whether consent was voluntary by considering the totality of the circumstances from the perspective of a reasonable—meaning innocent—person.”

“Here, Meredith freely chose to contract with Swift Transit for transportation. He agreed to pay and provide proof of payment. And as a reasonable rider, he necessarily understood his duty to pay his fare and provide proof of payment when asked. Thus, like the civilian base visitor in Farkas, Meredith was aware of the possible seizure of his person and consented to it.” ~WA Court of Appeals

The Court concluded by saying Meredith voluntarily consented to Officer Dalton’s initial contact. With that the Court affirmed Meredith’s conviction.

Please review my Search & Seizure Legal 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.

Unwitting Possession

I am sorry I didn't know you did that! – TheWealthySon : Success Toolbox

In State v. Blake , the WA Supreme Court held that Washington’s Drug Possession Statute exceeds the state’s police power by imposing harsh felony consequences on innocent non-conduct.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2016, police executed a search warrant in Spokane, Washington, seeking evidence of stolen vehicles. They arrested three people on the property, including the Defendant Ms. Blake.  At the jail, a corrections officer discovered a small baggy containing methamphetamine in the coin pocket of Ms. Blake’s jeans.

The State charged Blake with Possession of a Controlled Substance.  At her bench trial, Blake relied on the judicially created affirmative defense of Unwitting Possession. She testified that a friend had bought the jeans secondhand and given them to Blake two days before Blake’s arrest.

Blake also said she had never used methamphetamine and did not know the jeans had
drugs in the pocket. She acknowledged that the drugs had been “on her” on the day of her arrest. Blake’s boyfriend also testified that Blake did not use drugs and that she had received the jeans from a friend. Despite her defense, the trial court found that Blake had possessed methamphetamine on the day in question and found Blake guilty.

On appeal, Blake argues that requiring her to prove unwitting possession to the charged offense violates due process.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court held that Washington’s  felony drug possession statute – which is a essentially a strict liability statute – exceeds the state’s police power by imposing harsh felony consequences on innocent non-conduct with no mental state to commit the crime.

“The basic drug possession statute at issue in this case states, ‘It is unlawful for any person to possess a controlled substance'”, wrote Justice McCloud. “The State need not prove any mens rea (mental state) element to secure a conviction for this crime.”

The Court reasoned that the Due Process Clause protections limit the Legislature’s police power to criminalize wholly innocent and passive non-conduct. Stated differently, a defendant’s passive and innocent non-conduct falls outside the State’s power to criminalize:

“Does this strict liability drug possession statute with these substantial penalties for such innocent, passive conduct exceed the legislature’s police power? The due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions, along with controlling decisions of this court and the United States Supreme Court, compel us to conclude that the answer is yes—this exceeds the state’s police power.”  ~Justice Gordon McCloud, WA Supreme Court.

The Court further reasoned that the State’s police power is not infinite. “If it were, the result would be a police state, and the legislative branch of the government would be omnipotent,” said Justice McCloud. Finally, the Court reasoned that  the statute criminalizes innocent and passive possession, even by a defendant who does not know, and has no reason to know, that drugs lay hidden within something that they possess. “The legislature’s police power goes far, but not that far,” said the Court.

Accordingly, the Court held that RCW 69.50.4013(1)—the portion of the simple drug possession statute creating this crime—violates the due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions and is void.

With that, the WA Supreme Court vacated Ms. Blake’s conviction.

My opinion? Excellent decision, Finally, the courts are giving teeth to the Unwitting Possession Defense. In this defense, a person is not guilty of possession of a controlled substance if the possession is unwitting. Possession of a controlled substance is unwitting if (1) a person did not know that the substance was in their possession or (2) did not know the nature of the substance.

The burden is on the defendant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the substance was possessed unwittingly. Preponderance of the evidence means that you must be persuaded, considering all of the evidence in the case, that it is more probably true than not true.

Up until now, Washington’s felony drug possession statute essentially circumvented the Unwitting Possession defense.  Thankfully, the WA Supreme Court put a stop to that.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a Drug Offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Constructive Possession

Constructive Possession | Murphy's Law Office

“How can I be arrested for possessing drugs when I didn’t have the drugs anywhere on my body?”

A recent case handed down from the Washington Court of Appeals succinctly answers that question in the context of an unlawful possession case involving the search and seizure of drugs from a vehicle.

In State v. Listoe, the Court held that sufficient evidence existed to establish the defendant had constructive possession over the illegal drugs discovered on the back floorboards of the car he was driving.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On May 11, 2018, Deputy Andrew Hren observed a black car parked at a 7-Eleven convenience store. On running the license plate, Hren discovered that the car’s registration had expired. The car pulled out of the 7-Eleven parking lot, Hren got behind it and pulled it over. Listoe, who was driving the car, did not pull over immediately but traveled for about 1,000 feet first, which Hren believed was uncommon.

As Hren approached the car, he could see Listoe making a series of movements with his hands. Listoe opened the door and began to step out, but Hren ordered him to get back in the car. Hren observed Listoe making additional “furtive movements” in his lap area. Hren then ordered Listoe to place his hands on the steering wheel, and Listoe complied.

Hren informed Listoe of the reason for pulling him over, and Listoe responded that the car was not his and that he did not know the registration was expired. A passenger named Ms. Lemon was sitting in the car’s passenger seat. After briefly speaking to Lemon, Hren told Lemon that she was free to leave, and she left. Lemon was not searched during the encounter.

Hren ordered Listoe out of the vehicle and placed Listoe under arrest. During the search incident to Listoe’s arrest, Hren found a plastic bag that contained a white crystalline substance on Listoe’s person. The substance appeared to be methamphetamine. Listoe also had $221 in his wallet.

A K-9 unit alerted to the presence of controlled substances in the car Listoe was driving. Due to the K-9 alert, Hren obtained a search warrant to search the interior of the vehicle for additional evidence of controlled substances. Police found numerous items associated with drug dealing activities: a notepad with a name and phone number, a digital scale, a plastic Tupperware container that had white residue, a factory packaged plastic bag with syringes, and a mint container that contained shards of a white crystalline substance that Hren believed was methamphetamine.

Listoe was charged with one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to
manufacture or deliver and one count of possession of a controlled substance (Suboxone). The jury found him guilty as charged.

On appeal, Listoe claims that there was insufficient evidence that he had constructive possession over the methamphetamine and Suboxone discovered on the back floorboards of the car he was driving. Listoe asserts that evidence was insufficient because (1) the car was not his, (2) the officers did not find evidence proving that Listoe had dominion and control over the car and its contents, and (3) the drugs on the rear floor of the car could have reasonably belonged to Lemon.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

In short, the Court of Appeals held that We hold that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Listoe had constructive possession over the items the officers discovered in the back of the car.

“The facts that (1) Listoe was driving the vehicle, (2) Listoe had methamphetamine on his person, which is one of the same drugs found in the back of the vehicle, and (3) Deputy Hren observed Listoe making furtive movements while taking an uncommonly long time to pull over, provide sufficient evidence of constructive possession to support Listoe’s convictions.” ~WA Court of Appeals

The Court reasoned that under State v. Reichert, possession can either be actual or constructive. It also reasoned that under State v. George, whereas actual possession requires an individual to have physical custody of a given item, constructive possession may be shown where the individual has “dominion and control” over that item. Control need not be exclusive to establish possession, and more than one person can be in possession of the same item.

“We examine the totality of the circumstances and look to a variety of factors to determine whether an individual has dominion and control over an item,” said the court. The court further said for example, that it may consider whether the individual could readily convert the items to his or her actual possession and/or the defendant’s physical proximity to a given item.

Finally, the court said it may also consider whether the defendant had dominion and control over the broader premises in which the item was located. In cases where the defendant was driving a vehicle that the defendant owned, courts have found sufficient evidence that the defendant had dominion and control over the vehicle’s premises and its contents.

With that, the Court rendered its decision.

“The fact that Listoe was driving the car weighs in favor of finding that Listoe had dominion
and control over the vehicle and its contents,” said the court. The court also reasoned that the fact that fruits and vegetables, which are perishable items, were discovered in the same reusable black grocery bag as the white bag containing the contraband, shows that these items likely belonged to either Listoe or Lemon.

“It is unlikely that perishable items were left in the car by a prior driver or passenger,” said the Court. “Further, Listoe’s furtive hand movements on two occasions, as well the fact that Listoe drove an uncommonly long distance before pulling over, raise an inference that the was handling the contraband at that time, or possibly strategizing about where to hide it.”

The Court believed this same fact could also support a reasonable inference that Listoe could convert dominion and control over the items in the vehicle into his actual possession. In addition, because Hren found methamphetamine on Listoe’s person during the search incident to arrest, and methamphetamine was also discovered in the back of the vehicle, a rational trier of fact could infer that the methamphetamine in the back of the vehicle belonged to Listoe as well.

Finally, the Court of Appeals reasoned that while the above facts may not have been sufficient to establish constructive possession in isolation, taken together, they would lead a rational trier of fact to find that Listoe had constructive possession over the items in the back of the vehicle he was driving. ”

Ultimately, although the court found that Listoe’s convictions were supported by sufficient evidence, it reversed his conviction on the technicality that the trial court improperly applied GR 37 when considering his objection to the State’s peremptory challenge of a non-white juror.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving the search and seizure of vehicles, homes and/or persons. Sometimes, police officers violate people’s Constitutional rights during the course of a search. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows the law is the first and best step toward justice.

Right to Present a Defense

1538.5 Motions To Suppress Evidence In California

In State v. Jennings, the WA Court of Appeals held the trial court’s exclusion of a shooting victim’s toxicology report indicating the victim had methamphetamine in his body at the time of his death did not violate the defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On the date of the incident, the defendant Mr. Jennings accompanied his friend Mr. Redman to get Redman’s car from a mobile home in Puyallup, Washington. Redman had been living there, but had recently been kicked out. Drug activity occurred there. Jennings was there to defuse any hostilities between Redman and others at the house. Jennings armed himself with bear spray and a gun.

When they arrived, Jennings was on high alert. He knew violent events had recently occurred there. His friend Mr. Redman got into an argument with Mr. Burton, an individual at the house. Redman had his gun out. Jennings was familiar with the behavior of people who consumed methamphetamine. He realized that both Redman and Burton were high on methamphetamine and acting aggressively.

Burton and Redman argued about Redman’s car and then began to scuffle, wrestling in the foyer of the house. Jennings sprayed his bear spray at them to break up the fight. Burton then turned around and started walking toward Jennings, who backed up. Jennings believed Burton had Redman’s gun.

Jennings feared for his life. He was afraid Burton was reacting violently because he was high on methamphetamine. Jennings fired his gun and hit Burton twice. Burton died at the scene shortly after the shooting and before the ambulance arrived.

Jennings was arrested the next day. He was charged with second degree intentional murder (RCW 9A.32.050(1)(a)), second degree felony murder predicated on second degree assault (RCW 9A.32.050(1)(b)), and unlawful possession of a firearm.

At trial, Jennings claimed at trial that he shot Burton in self-defense. However, the judge excluded the toxicology report showing that Burton had methamphetamine in his body at the time of his death.  A jury found Jennings guilty of second degree felony murder.

Jennings appealed on numerous issues, including arguments that the trial court violated his constitutional right to present a defense by excluding a toxicology report showing that Burton had methamphetamine in his body at the time of his death.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by emphasizing that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to present a defense under the Sixth Amendment. Furthermore, evidence of self-defense must be assessed from the standpoint of the reasonably prudent person standing in the shoes of the defendant, knowing all the defendant knows and seeing all the defendant sees. Finally, the court reasoned that evidence that might impact a defendant’s assessment of the danger presented, like the victim’s prior specific violent acts, is admissible only if known to the defendant when the incident occurred.

“In analyzing the Sixth Amendment right to present a defense, we balance the State’s interest in excluding the toxicology report against Jennings’s need for evidence showing that his subjective fear was reasonable,” said the Court of Appeals.

The Court further reasoned that in this case, the toxicology report did not have extremely high probative value and it did not constitute Jennings’s entire defense. “At trial, Jennings testified that what he observed on the day of the shooting gave rise to his subjective fear . . . his belief that Burton was high on methamphetamine,” said the Court.

“Jennings has not shown that there was a reasonable probability that any additional corroboration from the toxicology report would have materially changed the result at trial,” said the Court. “We hold that even if the trial court abused its discretion by excluding the toxicology report under ER 401 and 402, this ruling was harmless error.”

With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Jennings’ conviction.

My opinion? Evidentiary and legal issues aside, these facts are terribly tragic. My heart goes out to the friends and families of all who were impacted by this. From a legal standpoint, however, It appears the WA Court of Appeals conducted a basic balancing test under Washington’s Rules of Evidence and determined that the toxicology report of the victim’s meth/blood levels was neither probative nor relevant at trial.

Under Washington’s Rules of Evidence, relevant evidence is defined in ER 401 as “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. ER 402 provides that evidence which is not relevant is not admissible. Finally, ER 403 provides that relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by, among other things, the danger of unfair prejudice.

Here, the Court of Appeals was convinced that Mr. Jennings’ self-defense theory was properly supported by his testimony that he responded in self-defense to the victim’s meth-induced attack. Therefore, no other evidence was necessary to admit more evidence that the victim was high on meth. Jennings’ testimony, by itself, was enough. Any additional evidence on that issue was therefore cumulative, repetitive, unnecessary and potentially prejudicial to the State’s case under ER 403.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges and self-defense is a possible defense. It’s important to hire an experienced criminal defense trial attorney who understands the law, the rules of evidence and how both contribute to trial defenses.

ACLU Sues DOL

Guide to Pinellas County Driving on Suspended License Charges

In a press release, the ACLU of Washington acknowledges filing a lawsuit on behalf of individuals who have had their driver’s licenses suspended by the Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) because they were unable to pay fines and fees for moving violations.

The complaint claims that Washington’s law authorizing automatic and mandatory license suspensions for failure to pay moving violation fines violates the state constitution’s rights to due process and equal protection. The lawsuit also alleges that license suspension for failure to pay a ticket is an unconstitutionally excessive punishment.

According to the ACLU’s press release, the plaintiffs in the case come from throughout Washington and have suffered a variety of negative consequences due to the loss of their license—consequences that individuals with an ability to pay traffic fines would not face. These include loss of employment and income; the inability to take children to school; and the inability to care for family members. These additional barriers compound the root problems that make it difficult for people with low or no income to pay fines and fees.

“Washington’s law authorizing automatic and mandatory license suspensions not only violates basic fairness for people with low or no income, it violates the state constitution,” said ACLU of Washington Staff Attorney Lisa Nowlin.

“Ability to pay must be considered when suspending a license, because no one should suffer additional penalties for a moving violation because of poverty.” ~Lisa Nowlin, ACLU Staff Attorney

“The American legal system is founded on the principle that everyone, regardless of means, is treated the same under the law. Washington’s license suspension laws violate that principle,” said Donald Scaramastra, cooperating attorney from Foster Garvey, PC.

My opinion? It’s about darn time . . .

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.

Privacy & Text Messages

Cop Cams New To Most But Old School For Modesto PD - capradio.org

Privacy & Text Messages. In State v. Bowman, the WA Court of Appeals held that a police officer violates a defendant’s constitutional rights by sending a text message to the defendant from an unfamiliar phone number while impersonating a known contact of the defendant.

BACKGROUND FACTS

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agent sent a series of text messages to Mr. Bowman. The DHS agent claimed to be someone named Mike Schabell, a person to whom Bowman had sold methamphetamine earlier that day, and indicated he wanted to buy more drugs. The ruse led to charges of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver.

The trial court denied his motion to suppress the drugs and drug paraphernalia on his person and in his vehicle. At trial, Mr. Bowman was found guilty.

On appeal, Bowman argues the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence that flowed from his text message conversation with the DHS Agent. Specifically, he argues that DHS Agent’s impersonating a known contact of his through text messages violated his right to privacy under the Washington Constitution.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution, no person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.

“Interpretation of this article requires a two part analysis,” said the Court. “First, we must determine whether the action complained of constitutes a disturbance of private affairs,” said the Court. “If we determine that a valid private affair has been disturbed, we then must determine whether the intrusion is justified by authority of law.”

The DHS Agent’s Actions Disrupted Mr. Bowman’s Private Affairs.

The Court of Appeals began by defining “Private affairs” as those privacy interests which citizens of this state have held, and should be entitled to hold, safe from government trespass without a warrant.

Based on that, the Court reasoned Mr. Bowman did not talk with someone he thought was a stranger. Rather, he conversed with a person who represented himself as someone that Bowman knew. Therefore, reasoned the court, Bowman had a reasonable expectation of privacy for that conversation. The DHS agent invaded that right of privacy.

The DHS Agent Was Not Acting Under Authority of Law.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that although Mr. Schabell consented to the search of his phone, there was no proof that he consented to being impersonated.

“Therefore, Dkane was not acting under authority of law, and violated Bowman’s right of privacy,” said the Court. “The trial court erred by failing to suppress the evidence obtained by that violation of privacy.”

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Mr. Bowman’s conviction and remanded for a new trial, with instructions to suppress evidence obtained in violation of Bowman’s right to privacy.

My opinion? Good decision.