Category Archives: Legislation

Washington State Bans ‘Gay Panic’ Defense of Homicide

Kuhnhausen, 17, disappeared in early June and her remains were discovered Dec. 7, southeast of Battle Ground. A Vancouver man was charged with second-degree murder and malicious harassment, which is a hate crime in Washington. He has pleaded not guilty. Authorities said the Vancouver teenager was strangled after her assailant learned she was transgender.

The new law blocks a defendant from using a defense based on discovery or disclosure of the victim’s actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation and would prevent a claim of “diminished capacity” because the defendant did not fully comprehend the nature and gravity of the alleged crime.

Anti-Swatting Bill

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The WA Legislature has introduced SB 6295, which aims to cut down on swatting by increasing criminal penalties for those who make a false report they know is likely to generate an emergency response. For those who don’t know, “swatting” is a criminal harassment tactic of deceiving an emergency service (via such means as hoaxing an emergency services dispatcher) into sending a police and emergency service response team to another person’s address. This is triggered by false reporting of a serious law enforcement emergency, such as a bomb threat, murder, hostage situation, or a false report of a “mental health” emergency, such as reporting that a person is allegedly suicidal or homicidal and may or may not be armed.

The legislation is introduced by Senator Jesse Salomon. With “swatting” incidents on the rise, local law enforcement agencies like the Seattle Police Department are developing creative solutions to address the problem. However, Salomon believes state laws have not kept up with the severity of these crimes and need to be updated.

Under the proposed bill, punishments would be increased if there’s a reckless disregard for the safety of others and someone is hurt or killed as a result of the swatting attack. The measure also allows swatting victims to pursue civil damages from their attackers.

Senators SalomonPedersenCarlyleKudererWilson, C.Randall, and Nguyen supported the bill along with companion bill HB 2632.

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

Criminal Justice Bills Passed & Failed in the Senate

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Several bills recently passed and failed in the Senate, covering a wide array of issues related to criminal justice. These bills all now head to the House  in the coming weeks as the legislative session reaches month two. Here’s a  summary of some of the bills that passed and failed.

PASSED BILLS

Senate Bill 6442 would ban the operation of private, for-profit prisons in the state, as well as prohibiting the Department of Corrections (DOC) from contracting with these prisons. The bill also limits the circumstances under which the state can transfer an inmate from a Washington facility to an out-of-state private prison or detention facility.

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According to the text of the bill, the legislature found that for-profit prisons prioritize shareholder profits over the provision of health care, safety and nutrition to inmates, among other basic human needs, and that the operation of private prisons runs counter to the state’s mandate to ensure health, safety and welfare of those incarcerated in the state’s criminal justice system. If the bill passes, Washington would join 22 other states in banning for profit prisons.

Senate Bill 5488 would allow judges greater discretion when deciding cases involving adult defendants who are charged with committing a crime while under age 18. The bill grants judges the authority to consider the defendant’s age, lack of sophistication, susceptibility to peer pressure and age at the time the crime was committed.

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Judges overseeing these types of cases could refrain from imposing the mandatory sentencing requirements after considering the circumstances surrounding a defendant’s youth at the time the crime was committed, allowing the judge to impose a lesser sentence than what law requires.

FAILED BILLS

SB 6228, also called the “Felony Voting Rights Bill,” introduced legislation to automatically restore the voting rights of convicted felons when they are released from prison. However, the bill died unexpectedly in the Washington state Senate Wednesday. Majority Democrats abruptly ended debate on the controversial bill Wednesday evening when they realized they lacked the 25 votes needed to pass the measure.

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“We are extremely disappointed that the voting rights restoration bill did not pass,” said the ACLU of Washington in a statement Wednesday evening. “The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and the time to tear down these barriers is long past due.”

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

End ICE Courthouse Arrests

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Excellent article in Crosscut by  Lilly Fowler describes how the Washington state Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit federal immigration agents without a warrant from making arrests within one mile of a courthouse.

If signed, the legislation – SB 6522 – would also require judicial warrants to be reviewed by a court before being used. And federal immigration agents would have to check in with local court staff before entering a courthouse. A website monitored by the state Administrative Office of the Courts would track all arrests made at courthouses.

Finally, the bill would prohibit court staff, including prosecutors, from sharing information with federal immigration officials. A recent report from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights revealed that county prosecutors have been sharing information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol agents to facilitate the arrests of undocumented immigrants at state and local courthouses.

As reported by Ms. Fowler, the outcry over immigrants being arrested at courthouses by plainclothes ICE and Border Patrol officials has been persistent. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the federal government last month in an attempt to stop such arrests, and the state Supreme Court is looking at rules that would bar the apprehensions.

At a hearing on the bill last week before the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee, legislators heard testimony in Spanish from a man named Carlos. He told lawmakers he and his wife recently visited the courthouse in Ephrata, Grant County, to renew his car’s license plates. While his wife waited in the vehicle, Carlos stood in line inside the courthouse and noticed a man staring at him. As Carlos exited the courthouse, another man with a gun approached him, introduced himself as a federal immigration official and, in Spanish, said, “Soy la migra” (or “I am ICE/Border Patrol”). Carlos was promptly arrested. Although he was eventually released by the ICE agent, the experience left him shaken and terrified.

Enoka Herat, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said the state would not be the first to protect its court system. In November, the Oregon Supreme Court barred warrantless arrests at courthousesCaliforniaNew York and New Jersey have also sought similar protections for immigrants. In Massachusetts, a federal judge barred courthouse arrests while a lawsuit makes its way through the court system.

My opinion?

I hope SB 6522 gains support and passes. The bill  isn’t about hampering the work of law enforcement. It’s about but ensuring the public can use courts to pay fines, serve as witnesses, seek protection orders and pursue other matters related to the justice system, without the fear of unexpected encounters with law enforcement.  Equal access to courts is something both Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree upon.

Felony Voting Rights Bill Pending in WA Legislature

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Excellent article in the Tacoma News Tribune by reporter James Drew describes how Senate Bill 6228 would make about 9,000 felons eligible to vote is moving ahead in the Washington state Legislature, as Democratic senators vow to expand democracy by removing a barrier they say is rooted in systemic racism.

Senate Bill 6228 would make felons automatically eligible to vote once they are released from state prison. Under current law, they are eligible once they have completed community custody — formerly known as probation — and that can take several years.

“The very essence of community custody is to get people back on the right track, to reintegrate them into society and to reduce the chances of re-offending,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Patty Kuderer, a Bellevue Democrat. “Restoring the right to vote and the right to participate in our democracy is an important tool for that reintegration process.”

“Until someone can show me that there’s a good reason to deprive someone of the right to vote because of the commission of a crime, then I will rethink that. But for now, I have seen zero evidence for that.”    ~Senator Patty Kuderer.

Stressing that her bill addresses a “major equality and social justice issue,” Kuderer said blacks and Native Americans are overly represented in the criminal justice system. As a result, they are “disproportionately stripped of their voting rights, diminishing their representation,” she said.

A Senate committee on Friday approved the bill, putting it one step closer to a vote by the Democratic-controlled Senate. If it becomes law, the measure would take effect in 2021.

Senate GOP Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, is opposed to the bill, saying it removes an incentive for felons to fulfill obligations under community custody such as making restitution to crime victims. The bill states that sanctions for violating community custody requirements or failure to pay court costs, restitution to victims, or fines and fees would not take voter eligibility away from a former inmate.

Samuel Merrill, clerk of the criminal justice working group for the Olympia-based Quaker Voice on Washington Public Policy, said whites after the Civil War and Reconstruction adopted laws targeting former slaves for felonies to deprive them of their voting rights. The practice continued into the voter suppression laws under Jim Crow — “vestiges of which continue today,” Merrill said.

Supporters of the bill include the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the state Department of Corrections, the ACLU of Washington, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Support Legislation Ending Felony Charges for Missing a Court Hearing

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Did you know that a person who misses just one court hearing can be charged with Bail Jumping and be convicted of a new felony simply for missing that court hearing?

Fortunately, legislation proposed by WA Representative Mike Pellicciotti could possibly end this travesty.

THE PROBLEM

When the Legislature enacted the “Bail Jumping” statute, the intent wasn’t to criminalize every missed court date or failure to appear (FTA), rather lawmakers wanted to give the courts a tool to deter people charged with serious crimes from fleeing.

The legislature gave discretion to prosecutors to add a felony charge if someone “jumped bail.” Sadly, this prosecutorial discretion is being overused. The charge of “Bail Jumping” has now led to a long list of unintended consequences that disproportionately harm Washington’s low income and most marginalized citizens.

Research shows that most people charged with “Bail Jumping” were not intentionally avoiding court. Many had difficult life circumstances that made it hard or impossible to attend a court hearing on a particular day. They were not fleeing from the court, and they wanted to resolve their cases.

Research also shows that many people who miss court are experiencing difficulties with transportation, childcare, job disruption, homelessness, health problems, mental illness and other challenges related to poverty. Under current “bail jumping” laws, Washington disproportionally and unjustly allows for longer criminal sentences for people who are low-income or experiencing a crisis for the charge of “Bail Jumping” even though that was never the legislature’s intent.

THE SOLUTION

WA HB 2231 is legislation would would amend the current Bail Jump statute in two ways: (1) it makes bail jumping a misdemeanor, and (2) it requires the state to prove that a person received written notice of the court date that the person missed.

Here is a position paper about the bill. It is supported by the WDA, ACLU, WACDL, the Northwest Community Bail Fund and numerous other organizations.  This bill sponsored is by Mike Pellicciotti of the (Democratic Party). He is a member of the Washington House of Representatives, representing District 30-Position 1.

My opinion? This is great legislation.

Please contact my office if you face felony charges which include Bail Jumping. It is a nasty, unjust felony charge. They are often used by prosecutors to coercively leverage a plea. Although there are substantive defenses to the charge, those who face barriers getting to court are frequently subject to this coercive manner of resolving cases that results in an unjust and disproportionate number of convictions for the most vulnerable.

Are Long Prison Sentences Necessary?

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“For decades, while we made it increasingly difficult to obtain release, we have sent people to prison for longer and longer. We became reliant on extreme sentences, including mandatory minimums, “three-strike” laws, and so-called truth-in-sentencing requirements that limit opportunities for people to earn time off their sentences for good behavior. As a result, the United States laps the world in the number of people it incarcerates, with 2.2 million people behind bars, representing a 500 percent increase over the past four decades, with 1 in 9 people in prison serving a life sentence.”

Moreover, the authors argue that legislation is needed at the federal level and in every state to allow everyone after a certain period in prison the opportunity to seek sentence reductions. Sentence review legislation recognizes that as we have increased the length of prison sentences and limited the ability to obtain release, our prisons have become overwhelmed with people whose current conduct proves further incarceration is not in the public interest.

LONG PRISON SENTENCES DO NOT REDUCE CRIME.

“We increased sentence lengths and made it more difficult for people to be released because we were told it was needed for public safety,” said the authors. “But sending people to prison for long periods does not reduce crime.”

In fact, longer sentences, if anything, create crimeDavid Roodman, a senior adviser for Open Philanthropy, reviewed numerous studies on the impact of incarceration and concluded that “in the aftermath of a prison sentence, especially a long one, someone is made more likely to commit a crime than he would have been otherwise.”

Additionally, the authors say that not only are lengthy prison sentences ineffective at reducing crime, but they have devastated low-income and minority communities. As the Vera Institute aptly put it: “We have lost generations of young men and women, particularly young men of color, to long and brutal prison terms.” While black people are just 13-percent of the country’s population, they account for 40 percent of the people we incarcerate.

If the ineffectiveness of long prison terms or the impact on poor communities of color is not reason enough to revisit lengthy prison sentences, the financial drain of long prison terms is staggering. For example, U.S. prisons spend $16 billion per year on elder care alone. Billions of dollars are diverted to prisons to care for the elderly who would pose no real risk if released when that money could be going to our schools, hospitals, and communities.

Given this reality, the authors say, we need to pursue every option that would safely reduce our prison population. One proposal by the American Law Institute recommends reviewing all sentences after a person has served 15 years in prison. Another example is the bill Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) introduced that would provide sentence review for anyone who has served more than 10 years in prison or who is over 50 years old. Notably, neither proposal is restricted by the type of offense, which is critical, because to combat mass incarceration, to echo the Prison Policy Initiative, reform has “to go further than the ‘low hanging fruit’ of nonviolent drug offenses.”

“Measures that promote sentence review would not automatically release anyone,” say the authors. “Instead, people would be given a chance to show a court that they are no longer a danger to public safety. A judge—after weighing all relevant circumstances, including hearing from any victims and their families—would then decide whether a person should be released.”

And numerous studies have shown that decreasing sentences does not increase crime. A recent Brennan Center for Justice report documented 34 states that reduced both their prison population and their crime rates, the Sentencing Project concluded that unduly long prison terms are counterproductive for public safety, and the Justice Policy Institute found little to no correlation between time spent in prison and recidivism rates.

My opinion? Some crimes need punishment. However, we have forgotten that our justice system is supposed to rehabilitate people, not just punish them. Our policies should reflect the ability of people to change over the course of years—or decades—of incarceration.

Lawmakers Consider Giving Judges More Discretion

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Great article by James Drew of the News Tribune says that over the next 20 months, state legislators shall study, debate, and vote on what could be the first major reform of Washington’s criminal sentencing law since 1981.

The starting point of the deliberations is a stack of recommendations from a state commission that would give judges more discretion in how they sentence adults convicted of felonies. The change could help the state reduce its reliance on incarceration and move more toward rehabilitation of offenders.

The goal of overhauling the criminal sentencing law is to improve the system by simplifying it, but there are key questions looming for lawmakers, said Rep. Roger Goodman, the Kirkland Democrat who is chairman of the House Public Safety Committee. Disparities — a lack of equality or similarity in a way that is unfair — can occur by race, gender, geography, income and other factors, but the discussion last month touched heavily on race.

At a July 16 legislative work session, Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, questioned whether the Criminal Sentencing Guidelines Commission had studied systems in other countries that would help Washington address concerns throughout the United States about “mass incarceration.”

The Legislature adopted the Sentencing Reform Act in 1981 and it took effect three years later. Since then, lawmakers have amended it dozens of times. The state’s three appellate courts and the Supreme Court have issued several rulings interpreting its provisions.

Goodman said there are several recommendations in a July 1 report by the Criminal Sentencing Guidelines Commission that the Legislature can tackle during its 60-day session next year.

Drew reported that a person’s greatest risk of committing another crime after release from confinement is within the first three to six months, according to an analysis by the Council of State Governments.

Under the current system, a judge would have a sentencing range of 12-14 months for a defendant who is convicted of a Class B assault with a deadly weapon — and 36 months tacked on for use of a firearm. The 12-14 month sentence carries a 33 percent off for good behavior in prison, but the 36-month enhancement does not.

“The sentence is opaque and difficult for the public to understand and allows almost no discretion for the trial court,” the commission report said.

One of the reform proposals from the commission would provide a sentence range from 12-24 months, but any sentence between six months and 30 months would be deemed reasonable. The entire sentence would carry the same good behavior in prison provision to reduce the sentence.

My opinion? This is good news. If allowed, a sentencing judge may give more weight to certain intangible factors.  For example, a judge may take account of a defendant’s good deeds in other areas of his life, considering whether the crime is an isolated incident or aberration on the record of an otherwise well-intentioned individual or whether the crime is just one chapter in a life filled with deceit.

Part of my practice includes drafting sentencing memorandums and assembling merit packages for clients convicted or felonies. These merit packages consist of character reference letters, proof of treatment, college transcripts (if applicable) favorable job reviews, security clearances, etc. The goal is to paint a favorable picture of the defendant that describes them beyond the criminal charges.

Vacate Your Pot Conviction

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On Sunday, June 28th the Marijuana Justice Initiative was signed by Governor Jay Inslee. Consequently, many people with misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor marijuana convictions in Washington state can apply to have those convictions wiped from their records. The new law expands on the governor’s pardon offer in a few ways:
  • A pardon does not vacate a conviction.
  • People with multiple marijuana misdemeanor convictions are eligible.
  • The date of the conviction doesn’t matter.
  • The new law applies to violations of municipal ordinances, not just state law.

If you’re looking to get a conviction vacated, and none of the above limitations apply to you, the process is relatively simple:

  1. Find the court where your conviction occurred. If you’ve been convicted in multiple courts, you’ll need to apply in each court separately.
  2. Fill out the proper paperwork. The form you’ll submit is called a Motion and Declaration for Order Vacating Marijuana Conviction.
  3. File your motion with the court clerk’s office and ask to schedule a hearing. Follow their instructions from there.

Once a court vacates a conviction, the person is clear of all penalties that resulted from it, and it can’t be considered during sentencing for any subsequent conviction, according to a legislative analysis of the bill. Further, a person who has a conviction vacated can state that they have never been convicted of the crime when applying for housing or employment.

My opinion? This is excellent, progressive step toward decriminalizing low-level drug crimes. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a drug crime. Although Washington State passed initiatives which legalized marijuana possession, it’s comforting that our politicians are moving forward with legislation that gives defendants opportunities to vacate low-level marijuana convictions.

“New Hope Act” Goes In Effect

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Reporter of the Kitsap Sun wrote an informative article stating that bipartisan legislation called the “New Hope Act” streamlines and modifies the process for people with criminal records to vacate convictions after a period of time.

Binion reports that Tarra Simmons, a Bremerton attorney who after serving a prison sentence for drug-related convictions attended law school, said the new law will not only help those who have turned their lives around but also society at large. Despite her criminal history which denied her the opportunity to take the lawyer licensing exam, the state Supreme Court intervened in 2017, allowing her to take, and pass, the test.

Simmons, who is now the executive director of Civil Survival, an organization that helps people negotiate the hurdles as they reintegrate into society after leaving jail and prison, noted the measure received strong bipartisan support.

“People who have spent some time in prison need a chance to get their lives back on track,” Rep. Drew Hanson, D-Bainbridge Island, sponsor of the measure, said in a statement. “This bill removes some of the barriers that are preventing people from rebuilding their lives and gives them hope for a second chance.” Rep. Michelle Cauldier, R-Port Orchard, also sponsored the measure.

Previously, multiple felony convictions for some offenses could be vacated, but only one misdemeanor. The new law allows multiple misdemeanors to be vacated. The new law also adds some felony offenses to the list of convictions that can be vacated. Depending on the crime, there is a waiting period of three, five and 10 years of good behavior and repayment of legal fees a person must complete before petitioning to have their convictions vacated.