Category Archives: misdemeanor

No Interpreter is Court Mismanagement

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In State v. Jieta, the WA Court of Appeals held that a trial court judge may dismiss a criminal prosecution due to the court’s failure to arrange for an interpreter for all scheduled court hearings.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On May 19, 2015, Mr. Jieta was first arraigned on charges of fourth degree assault and third degree malicious mischief in Snohomish County District Court. The court continued the arraignment after ordering that Jieta be provided a Marshallese interpreter. Over the next 15 months, the court held 14 more pretrial hearings, and the interpreter repeatedly failed to appear telephonically or personally.

On August 26, 2016, Jieta moved under CrRLJ 8.3(b) to dismiss all charges. On September 12, — another hearing where the interpreter failed to appear — the court dismissed all charges with prejudice and found the interpreter’s absences “seriously interfered with Mr. Jieta’s right to representation by counsel.” In short, out of 14 pretrial hearings conducted after the court directed the appointment of a interpreter, the interpreter failed to appear 10 times, appeared by phone – ineffectively – two times, and appeared in person two times. The superior court affirmed the dismissal on the State’s appeal.

The State sought discretionary review in this court, which was granted on the narrow question whether CrRLJ 8.3(b) can apply when court administration mismanages a case.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Furthermore, the Court of Appeals explained that CrRLJ 8.3(b) gives courts discretion to dismiss “any criminal prosecution due to arbitrary action or governmental misconduct when there has been prejudice to the rights of the accused which materially affect the accused’s right to a fair trial.” To satisfy the rule, the alleged misconduct “need not be of an evil or dishonest nature; simple mismanagement is sufficient.”

The Court also reasoned that the judiciary has a statutory duty of appointing an interpreter to assist the defendant throughout the proceedings:

“Reliable interpreter services are necessary to secure a non-English speaking defendant’s fair trial rights. Thus, to assist a defendant throughout the proceedings, the interpreter must actually deliver translation services throughout the proceedings.”

The purpose of CrR 8.3(b) is to ensure fairness to defendants by protecting their right to a fair trial. Thus, when mismanagement by court personnel prevents a defendant from receiving reliable interpreter services and effective assistance of counsel for more than one year, the defendant has a viable claim of “governmental misconduct” consistent with the text and purpose of CrRLJ 8.3(b).

Here, the Court of Appeals reasoned that “governmental misconduct” can extend to mismanagement by court administration.

“We need not decide the exact types of court mismanagement that could warrant relief or when dismissal is an appropriate remedy for such mismanagement,” said the Court. “On the record before us, the State does not establish that the trial court erred in its conclusion that CrRLJ 8.3(b) may extend to a court’s administrative mismanagement of its statutory obligation to provide translator services.”

With that, the COurt of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of all charges.

My opinion? Good decision.

Court interpreters are important in legal proceedings, especially when criminal charges are involved. Interpreters ensure that defendants fully understand the charges and the proceedings. Indeed, the constitutional right to simply understand the charges and their maximum consequences is captured under the 6th Amendment.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime and they need an interpreter to move forward in their defense. Hiring a competent, experienced attorney is the first and best step toward achieving justice.

New Year’s Eve DUI Patrols

Image result for A New Year but an old truth- There’s no safe place for impaired drivers to hide. 

The WA State Patrol (WSP) issued a press release stating WSP Troopers will be out looking for impaired drivers this week in preparation for the New Year. Patrols will be increased to include Troopers brought out to supplement regularly assigned patrols. WSP has partnered with five other states to form the Western States Traffic Safety Coalition. Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona are working together to save lives by removing impaired drivers from all of our roadways. The message is clear; A New Year but an old truth- There’s no safe place for impaired drivers to hide.

These extra patrols will include specially trained troopers to help identify and detect drug impaired drivers. Most WSP troopers receive additional training in drug impaired driver detection. This training, Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) is specifically focused on detecting drivers impaired by drugs. Troopers trained as Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) will also be out to assist in identifying and detecting drug impaired drivers. DREs receive training to identify what drugs a driver may be impaired by.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face DUI or any other alcohol-related driving crimes. It’s imperative to hire an experienced defense attorney who is knowledgeable of DUI defense.

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.

Washington Crime Report Released

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The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) just released its 2017 Crime in Washington Annual Report.

It was compiled from data submitted to the Washington State Uniform Crime Reporting Program of the WASPC by Washington State law enforcement agencies.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

  • In 2017, Crimes Against Persons showed an increase of 0.4% with 84,145 offenses reported; compared to 2016 offenses reported of 83,771.
  • In 2017, Crimes Against Property showed an decrease of 6.7% with 295,274 offenses reported; compared to 316,361 offenses reported in 2016.
  • In 2017, Crimes Against Society showed an increase of 5.9% with 32,011 offenses reported; compared to 30,230 offenses reported in 2016.
  • Group A offenses were cleared by arrest or exceptional means 25.6% of the time.
  • The crime rate (per 1,000 in population) for Group A offenses was 69.1.
  • The total arrest rate per 1,000 in population was 25.6.
  • Juveniles comprised of 6.9% of the total arrests.
  • Domestic Violence offenses made up 50.4% of all Crimes Against Persons.
  • A total of 25,400 persons were arrested for DUI, including 163 juveniles.
  • A total of 531 hate crime incidents were reported.
  • There were a total of 1,643 assaults on law enforcement officers and no officers killed in the line of duty.
  • Full-time law enforcement employees totaled 15,873; of these 11,078 were commissioned officers.
  • There were 11,986 arrests for drug abuse violations; of that number, 10.2% were persons under 18 years of age.
  • Possessing/concealing of marijuana constituted 16.7% of the total drug abuse incidents; the distributing/selling of marijuana accounted for 1.1% of incidents(type of criminal activity can be entered three times in each incident).
  • Possessing/concealing of heroin constituted 32.2% of the total drug abuse incidents; the distributing/selling of heroin accounted for 4.6% of incidents (type of criminal activity can be entered three times in each incident).
  • The weapon type of “Personal Weapons” (hands, fists or feet) was reported in 51,817 incidents; firearms were reported in 8,465 incidents (up to three weapons can be reported in each incident).
  • There were 6,212 sexual assault (forcible and non-forcible) incidents reported in 2017. There were a total of 6,212 victims in these incidents; with a total of 6,300 offenders.
  • There were a total of 54,294 domestic violence incidents reported; 12,023 of these incidents were Violations of Protection or No Contact Orders.

Overall, the data is very interesting.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Consultations are free. I provide effective criminal defense for people charged with felonies and misdemeanors. It is extremely important to hire an attorney like myself who is willing to devote significant attention to the case. I say this because people convicted of a crime face more than just criminal penalties. They also face a potential lifelong social stigma, as well as diminished employment, housing and educational opportunities. I proudly represent clients in Skagit and Whatcom County, Washington.

 

Proposed Legislation Makes It Easier to Remove Criminal Convictions.

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Excellent article by Lester Black of the Stranger reports that a proposed state law, HB 1041, would make it easier for people to remove misdemeanors and felonies from their criminal record.
Although certain convictions are already eligible to be vacated, or removed from someone’s record, but this proposed law would greatly expedite the vacation process and expand the types of crimes that are eligible for vacation. An explanation of the bill describes which types of convictions are covered.
Rep. Drew Hansen, a Democrat from Bainbridge who is sponsoring the legislation, said he is supporting the bill so old convictions don’t burden people long after they’ve paid their debts to society.

“This bill makes it easier for people to clear their record when people have truly turned their lives around.” ~Representative Drew Hansen

Also, Rep. Morgan Irwin, a Republican from Enumclaw co-sponsoring the legislation, said the proposed law would give an incentive for people to stay out of the criminal justice system.

“This is about giving people that have… made that mistake a reason to not make another one,” Irwin said at a recent legislative hearing.

According to the Stranger staff reporter Lester Black, the bill would not automatically clear anyone’s criminal record. People would still need to get a judge’s approval for each conviction to be vacated, but the bill would make it easier for people to go through the process and expand the types of criminal convictions that are eligible to be removed from people’s records. Some serious crimes such as second-degree burglary and assault would now be eligible under the proposed law. There is also no official estimate for how many people could take advantage of vacating convictions, according to a financial statement attached to the bill.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg also spoke in favor of the legislation, noting that the “collateral consequences” a person experiences from a conviction have nothing to do with public safety. Satterberg emphasized that people would still need to convince a judge to vacate their record.

“This is a reward for highly motivated people,” Satterberg said. “We shouldn’t stand in their way, we should encourage that.”

My opinion? This legislation is a step in the right direction. Convictions are crippling. This type of data limits career opportunities, prevents housing, prevents travel and may be used as impeachment evidence should the convicted offender testify in a court hearing.

Signalling Turns

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In State v. Brown, the WA Court of Appeals held that a driver, who moved left from a middle lane to a dedicated left turn lane while signaling his intention to change lanes, is not required to reactive his turn signal before turning left from the reserve lane unless public safety is implicated. Therefore, evidence discovered when a driver is stopped for failing to signal a turn when public safety is not implicated must be suppressed.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On the evening of March 22, 2015, Trooper Acheson of the WA State Patrol patrolled the streets of Kennewick. At 10:15 p.m., while traveling eastbound on Clearwater Avenue, Trooper Acheson saw Mr. Brown driving a Toyota Tundra, turn right from Huntington Street onto Clearwater Avenue. During the turn, the left side tires of the Tundra, a large pickup, crossed the white dashed divider line between the two eastbound lanes by one tire width for a brief moment, after which the vehicle fully returned to its lane of travel. Brown’s diversion across the dividing line did not endanger any travel. Acheson observed Brown’s tires cross the white dashed divider line, and he continued to view Brown’s driving thereafter.

Shortly after entering Clearwater Avenue, Mr. Brown signaled his intent to change lanes, and to move to the left or inner eastbound lane, by activating his left turn signal that blinked numerous times. Brown entered the inner lane of the two lanes.

Soon, Mr. Brown approached the intersection of Clearwater Avenue and Highway 395, where the eastbound lanes widen to three lanes. The innermost of the three lanes becomes a designated left turn only lane. Brown again wished to change lanes so he could turn left. Brown signaled his intent to move left into the dedicated turn lane. Brown maneuvered his vehicle into the dedicated turn lane, at which point the left turn signal cycled-off.

Mr. Brown stopped his vehicle in the dedicated left turn lane while awaiting the light to turn green. He did not reactivate his turn signal. Trooper Acheson pulled behind Brown. No other traffic was present on eastbound Clearwater Avenue. When the light turned green, Brown turned left onto northbound Highway 395. Trooper Mason Acheson then activated his patrol vehicle’s emergency light and stopped Brown.

Trooper Acheson stopped David Brown based on Brown’s crossing the eastbound lanes’ divider line during his turn from Huntington Street onto Clearwater Avenue. He did not stop Brown based on Brown’s failure to signal his left turn onto Highway 395. After stopping Brown, Trooper Acheson investigated Brown for suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUI). Acheson arrested Brown for DUI.

Brown filed a motion to suppress evidence garnered from the stop of his car by Trooper Acheson. The court concluded that, because Brown violated no traffic law, Trooper Acheson lacked probable cause to initiate the traffic stop. Therefore, the court suppressed all evidence gained from the stop and thereafter dismissed the prosecution.

The Prosecutor appealed the dismissal to the superior court. According to the superior court, David Brown violated RCW 46.61.305(2), which requires a continuous signal of one’s intent to turn during the last one hundred feet before turning left. Because Trooper Mason Acheson observed Brown’s failure to continuously signal before turning left onto the highway, Acheson gained reasonable suspicion of a traffic infraction. The superior court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.

Mr. Brown appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that RCW 46.61.305(2) declares that a driver must, “when required,” continuously signal an intention to turn or cross lanes during at least the last one hundred feet traveled before turning or moving lanes. This appeal asks if this statute compels a driver, who moved left from a middle lane to a dedicated left turn lane while signally his intention to change lanes, to reactivate his turn signal before turning left from the reserved turn lane.

“We hold that the statute only requires use of a signal in circumstances that implicate public safety. Because the circumstances surrounding David Brown’s left-hand turn from a left-turn-only lane did not jeopardize public safety, we hold that Trooper Acheson lacked grounds to stop David Brown’s vehicle.”

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed the superior court, reinstated the district court’s grant of David Brown’s motion to suppress and dismissed the charge of driving while under the influence.

My opinion? Good decision. It makes sense that unless public safety is an issue, police officers shouldn’t have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to pull over a vehicle that’s clearly in the left-turn lane even though their vehicle turn signal is not activated. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges of DUI, Reckless Driving, Driving While License Suspended or other criminal traffic violations.

Celebrate the Fourth of July Responsibly

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When celebrating holidays, many people gather with friends and family, decorating their homes and enjoying time together. However, some holiday celebrations often include consuming substances like illegal drugs and alcohol.

In 2016, Americans spent more than $1 billion on cold beverages for their Fourth of July celebrations. That amount was higher than what was spent on burgers and hotdogs, combined. According to CNBC, the Fourth of July is the country’s largest beer-drinking holiday. The popular holiday also surpassed New Year’s as the most dangerous holiday of the year, especially when it comes to traveling on the roadways. According to the Los Angeles Times, there was an average of 127 fatal car crashes each year on July 4 between 2008 and 2012. Of those who died, 41 percent of people had elevated blood alcohol levels.

So how did the day that was meant to celebrate America’s birthday become a day where people choose to drink? The Fourth of July is a federal holiday, which means that most businesses are closed and the employees of those businesses get to enjoy the day off. Jeffrey Spring, a spokesman for the Automobile Club of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times that it’s more than just celebrating a day off of work. “They tend to try to cram a lot into these weekends and that’s where they get into trouble,” Spring said. In other words, a paid holiday is taken to new heights due to the excitement of having a free day to themselves.

Some advice? Please remember that beneath all the celebration, the Fourth of July is more than just about alcoholic drinks and setting off fireworks. In 1776, the thirteen American colonies declared themselves independent from the British Empire, thus the United States of America was born. Also known as Independence Day, the day celebrates the birth of the country. It can be commemorated in speeches presented by politicians, celebrities hosting private events, or military personnel saluting the United States at noon on the holiday by shooting off a rifle.

The Fourth of July is important to celebrate for its historical significance. This holiday is a time to remind people not only of the hard work and dedication it took to become the country that the United States is today, but to encourage people to live their lives to their fullest potential.

Don’t let the Fourth of July become a catalyst for illegal behavior.

However, please call my office if you, a friend or family member consume intoxicants this Fourth of July and later find yourselves facing criminal charges. It’s imperative to hire responsive and experienced defense counsel when contacted by law enforcement.

DUI For Left-Lane Travel

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In State v. Thibert, the WA Court of Appeals upheld the DUI conviction of a motorist who was pulled over for the traffic infraction of travelling in the far-left lane of the freeway.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Deputy Justin Gerry was on routine patrol one morning in July 2013 on westbound Interstate 82 in Benton County. He observed a silver Chevrolet Impala in the left lane pass a vehicle in the right lane, traveling faster than the posted 70 miles per hour speed limit. The Impala continued to travel in the left lane long after passing the vehicle in the right lane, even though no other vehicles were traveling in the unobstructed right lane. The deputy initiated a traffic stop not for the car’s speed, but for a violation of RCW 46.61.100(2), captioned “Keep right except when passing, etc.”

On approaching the vehicle, which was being driven by Mr. Thibert, Deputy Gerry smelled the odor of fresh marijuana. What looked like a smoking device was hanging from Mr. Thibert’s neck. Mr. Thibert told the deputy he was a medical marijuana patient and used the smoking device to smoke marijuana oil. Deputy Gerry noted that Mr. Thibert had difficulty finishing his sentences and that he “would sometimes stop speaking and just giggle.”

Mr. Thibert agreed to perform field sobriety tests. Based on Mr. Thibert’s performance, Deputy Gerry concluded he was under the influence of marijuana and could not safely operate a motor vehicle. He placed Mr. Thibert under arrest and transported him to the hospital for a blood draw. THC was present in Mr. Thibert’s blood at 55 nanograms. He was charged with driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.

Mr. Thibert moved on multiple grounds to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop and events that followed. The district court denied the motion. It found among other facts that Mr. Thibert’s “remaining in the left lane, when one could lawfully and safely return to the right lane, is an infraction and provided Deputy Gerry probable cause to stop.” The parties agreed to submit the case to the court for a determination of guilt on stipulated facts. The district court found Mr. Thibert guilty.

Mr. Thibert appealed to the Benton County Superior Court, which affirmed the judgment, dismissed the appeal, and remanded the matter to the district court for sentencing.

Afterward, Mr. Thibert appealed his case to the WA Court of Appeals on the issue of whether Mr. Thibert was stopped unlawfully because the fact that he drove in the left lane, without impeding traffic, did not establish reasonable suspicion for the stop.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

“At issue is whether RCW 46.61.100(2), on which Deputy Gerry relied in stopping Mr. Thibert, creates a traffic infraction,” said the Court of Appeals.

The WA Court of Appeals said that a reasonable articulable suspicion of a traffic infraction, like a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity, will support a warrantless traffic stop under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. Subsection (2) of RCW 46.61.100, which Mr. Williams contends addresses only the “primary use” of the left lane of a multi-lane highway, states:

“Upon all roadways having two or more lanes for traffic moving in the same direction, all vehicles shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, except (a) when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, (b) when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow, (c) when moving left to allow traffic to merge, or (d) when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, exit, or into a private road or driveway when such left turn is legally permitted.”

Plainly read, RCW 46.63.020 and 46.61.100 make it a traffic infraction to travel in the left lane in the four circumstances identified by RCW 46.61.100(2). The word “shall” in subsection (2) (“all vehicles shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, except . . .”) “is presumptively imperative and operates to create a duty.”

Subsection (4), which he contends identifies the only infraction arising from
driving in the left lane, provides: “It is a traffic infraction to drive continuously in the left lane of a multi-lane roadway when it impedes the flow of other traffic.”

The Court further reasoned that, plainly read, RCW 46.63.020 and 46.61.100 make it a traffic infraction to travel in the left lane in the four circumstances identified by RCW 46.61.100(2). The word “shall” in subsection (2) (“all vehicles shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, except . . .”) “is presumptively imperative and operates to create a duty.”

The Court disagreed with Mr. Thibert’s contention that if each of subsections (2) and (4) of RCW 46.61.100 identify traffic infractions, then they are irreconcilable or cancel each other out.

“The subsections are reconcilable,” said the Court. “An individual is permitted to drive in the left lane when one of the transient exceptions identified in subsection (2) applies, unless the transient exceptions arise so frequently that the individual’s continuing travel in the left lane is impeding traffic.” Also, because the conduct that was forbidden by the statute can be understood by ordinary people, the Court of Appeals rejected Mr. Thibert’s passing argument that the statute is void for vagueness.

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

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face charges of DUI or other traffic-related charges.

Probable Cause & Parties

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In District of Colombia v. Wesby, the United States Supreme Court decided that police officers had probable cause to arrest partygoers at a home when the totality of the circumstances make it clearly obvious that criminal activity was happening.

BACKGROUND

District of Columbia police officers responded to a complaint about loud music and illegal activities in a vacant house. Inside, they found the house nearly barren and in disarray. The officers smelled marijuana and observed beer bottles and cups of liquor on the floor, which was dirty. They found a make-shift strip club in the living room.  Several women were wearing only bras and thongs, with cash tucked into their garter belts. The women were giving lap dances while other partygoers watched. Most of the onlookers were holding cash and cups of alcohol.

The officers found more debauchery upstairs. A naked woman and several men were in the bedroom. A bare mattress—the only one in the house—was on the floor, along with some lit candles and multiple open condom wrappers. A used condom was on the windowsill. The officers found one partygoer hiding in an upstairs closet, and another who had shut himself in the bathroom and refused to come out.

Many partygoers scattered when they saw the uniformed officers, and some hid. The officers questioned everyone and got inconsistent stories. Two women identified “Peaches” as the house’s tenant and said that she had given the partygoers permission to have the party. But Peaches was not there. When the officers spoke by phone to Peaches, she was nervous, agitated, and evasive. At first, she claimed that she was renting the house and had given the partygoers permission to have the party, but she eventually admitted that she did not have permission to use the house. The owner confirmed that he had not given anyone permission to be there.

At that point, the officers arrested the 21 partygoers for Unlawful Entry. The police transported the partygoers to the police station, where the lieutenant decided to charge them with Disorderly Conduct. The partygoers were released, and the charges were eventually dropped.

Several partygoers sued for False Arrest under the Fourth Amendment. The Federal District Court concluded that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest the partygoers for unlawful entry and that two of the officers, petitioners here, were not entitled to qualified immunity. A divided panel of the D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Eventually, this case went to the U.S. Supreme court.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

  1. The Officers Had Probable Cause to Arrest.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that police officers had probable cause to arrest the partygoers. The Court reasoned that considering the “totality of the circumstances” under Maryland v. Pringle, the officers made an “entirely reasonable inference” that the partygoers knew they did not have permission to be in the house.

Taken together, the condition of the house and the conduct of the partygoers allowed the officers to make several common-sense conclusions about human behavior. Because most homeowners do not live in such conditions or permit such activities in their homes, the officers could infer that the partygoers knew the party was not authorized. Furthermore, the Court reasoned that officers also could infer that the partygoers knew that they were not supposed to be in the house because they scattered and hid when the officers arrived. Also, the partygoers’ vague and implausible answers to questioning also gave the officers reason to infer that the partygoers were lying and that their lies suggested a guilty mind. Finally, Peaches’ lying and evasive behavior gave the officers reason to discredit everything she said.

2. The Lower Court Failed to Conduct the Correct Analysis.

The Supreme Court explained that the lower court failed to follow two basic and well-established principles of law. First, it viewed each fact in isolation, rather than as a factor in the totality of the circumstances. Second, it believed that it could dismiss outright any circumstances that were susceptible of innocent explanation. Instead, it should have asked whether a reasonable officer could conclude—considering all of the surrounding circumstances, including the plausibility of the explanation itself—that there was a substantial chance of criminal activity.

   3. The Officers Were Entitled to Qualified Immunity.

For those who don’t know, Qualified Immunity protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff‘s rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right. When determining whether or not a right was “clearly established,” courts consider whether a hypothetical reasonable official would have known that the defendant’s conduct violated the plaintiff’s rights. Courts conducting this analysis apply the law that was in force at the time of the alleged violation, not the law in effect when the court considers the case.

The Court ruled that here, officers are entitled to qualified immunity under 42 U. S. C. §1983 unless the unlawfulness of their conduct was clearly established at the time. To be clearly established, a legal principle must be “settled law,” and it must clearly prohibit the officer’s conduct in the particular circumstances before him. In the warrantless arrest context, “a body of relevant case law” is usually necessary to “ ‘clearly establish’ the answer” with respect to probable cause. Brosseau v. Haugen.

With that, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded the lower court’s decision.

Contact my office of you, a friend or family member’s house party was interrupted by police who conducted arrests. Competent defense counsel can ascertain whether constitutional rights were violated in the search and seizure of persons and property.

Driving With Wheels Off the Roadway

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In State v. Brooks, the WA Court of Appeals held that the neutral area separating a highway on-ramp from an adjacent lane of travel does not meet the definition of “roadway.” A driver who crosses this area is properly stopped for a violation of Driving with Wheels Off Roadway under RCW 46.61.670.

BACKGROUND FACTS

While merging onto westbound U.S. Route 97 from U.S. Route 2 in Chelan County, Jena Brooks’s car crossed over a portion of the highway designated as a “neutral area.” A neutral area is a paved triangular space separating an entrance or exit ramp from an adjacent lane of highway. The neutral area between Route 97 and its merger with westbound Route 2 is marked on each side by thick white channelizing lines. The drawing below is a depiction of a neutral area similar to the one crossed by Ms. Brooks:

Image result for ON RAMP NEUTRAL AREA

A Washington State Patrol trooper observed Ms. Brooks’s vehicular activity and performed a traffic stop. Ms. Brooks was ultimately arrested for driving on a suspended license and other misdemeanor offenses.

During proceedings in district court, Ms. Brooks filed a motion to suppress, arguing her vehicle had been stopped without probable cause. The motion was denied. Pertinent to this appeal, the district court ruled Ms. Brooks’s merger over the highway’s neutral area constituted “driving with wheels off roadway,” in violation of RCW 46.61.670. 2

Ms. Brooks was subsequently convicted of several misdemeanor offenses after a jury trial. Later, she successfully appealed the suppression ruling to the superior court. It found Washington’s definition of a roadway ambiguous in the context of a highway’s neutral area. The superior court then invoked the rule of lenity and determined Ms. Brooks should not have been stopped for driving with wheels off the roadway in violation of RCW 46.61.670.

ISSUES

The Court of Appeals addressed (1) whether the term roadway is ambiguous in the current context, and (2) if the term is ambiguous, whether the rule of lenity is an available tool of statutory construction that might benefit a defendant such as Ms. Brooks.

ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

“A highway’s neutral area is not a vehicle lane. It is too short to facilitate meaningful travel. And its triangular shape cannot consistently accommodate the size of a vehicle. Rather than being designed for vehicular travel, it is apparent the neutral area is designed as a buffer zone. It keeps vehicles separate so as to facilitate speed adjustment and, in the context of a highway on-ramp, safe vehicle merging.”

The Court further reasoned that National standards set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) confirmed its observations about the apparent design purpose of a highway’s neutral area. In short, the Court reasoned the MUTCD refers to the neutral area as an “island.” As such, it is an area intended for vehicle “separation.”

“Although a neutral area may be designated either by a wide or double solid white channelizing line, the two options carry no substantive significance” said the Court of Appeals. “Like a double white line, a solid white line can serve as an indicator that crossing is prohibited. The whole point of a neutral area is to exclude vehicles and promote orderly and efficient traffic flow,” said the Court of Appeals.

The Court concluded that Ms. Brooks failed to maintain her vehicle wheels on an area of the highway meeting the statutory definition of a roadway. A vehicle stop was therefore permitted under Washington’s wheels off roadway statute. Consequently, the superior court’s order on appeal from the district court is reversed.

Surprisingly, there’s quite a bit of caselaw on what constitutes “Driving With Wheels Off the Roadway.” Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges following after a police officer pullover where this citation led to arrest. It’s quite possible to suppress the fruits of a search based on unlawful stop, search and/or seizure.



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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