Category Archives: Sentencing

Racial Disparities in Sentencing

Opinion | At Long Last, a Measure of Justice for Some Drug Offenders - The New York Times

The Sentencing Project and the ACLU submitted a shadow report to the United Nations on the impact of racial disparities in sentencing.

The report addresses sentencing and imprisonment. It also discusses racism in the application of the death penalty. Finally, it focuses on issues for youth in the adult and juvenile justice systems.

According to the report, the proportion of people of color who are incarcerated in the nation compared with their representation in the general population epitomizes the need to achieve racial justice.

“The nation incarcerates almost two million people—more than any other country in the world—and over five times more per capita than just 40 years ago,” it says. “But the burden of criminal sentencing and imprisonment is not inflicted equally.” It goes on to say that Black and Latinx residents are incarcerated at rates five and three times higher than white residents, respectively. One of every 81 Black adults in the U.S. is in prison.

“These staggering disparities create individual and community barriers to full and equal participation in American society. Criminal convictions and imprisonment can prevent individuals from voting and gaining employment, undermine access to safe housing, negatively impact the life outcomes of children, and substantially lower lifetime earnings, amongst other social, political and economic disadvantages.” ~Racial Disparities in Sentencing in the United States, July 14, 2022

The report argues that while these are individual consequences, there are also societal consequences: high levels of imprisonment in communities bring about crime, poverty and neighborhood deterioration through decreased political power that fuels greater disparities. This cycle of suffering, social exclusion and disempowerment is primarily experienced by African Americans and other people of color.

The enormous racial disparities, discrimination and inequality created by the United States’ system of mass incarceration did not occur by happenstance. They are the product of deliberate legal and policy choices created by a dominant white population supported by a culture of white supremacy.

The report says, for instance, that the so-called “War on Drugs” which greatly accelerated America’s mass incarceration build-up starting in the 1970’s was initiated as a deliberate effort by President Richard Nixon and his administration to disrupt, vilify and oppress communities of color for political gain and control, rather than a legal initiative primarily concerned about improving public safety.

These racist underpinnings of the criminal legal system in the United States must be acknowledged in order for meaningful reform to be accomplished and human rights to finally be upheld. Despite the centrality of racial disparities in the criminal legal system, and in sentencing and imprisonment in particular, these critical areas of race discrimination and disparate impact receive scant attention in the U.S. government’s combined tenth to twelfth periodic reports submitted to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2021.

Kudos to the Sentencing Project and the ACLU for their insightful report. And 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.

Low-Level Robbery Won’t Get A Reduced Sentence

Why Grocery Stores are adding Supplemental Security during the Coronavirus Outbreak | CITIGUARD

In State v. Thomason, the WA Supreme Court held that the low-level, de minimis nature of some crimes can allow for an exceptional downward sentence. However, the minimal level of force used to prove Robbery makes it inappropriate to allow a downward sentence.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On September 5, 2018, Thomason entered Yoke’s Fresh Market grocery store in Spokane.  A plainclothes security guard, Mr. Swartz, followed Thomason around the store. Swartz watched Thomason pick up about $15 worth of meat and cheese. Thomason proceeded to another part of the store and tucked the food down his pants. Thomason then left the store without paying.

Swartz followed Thomason out and confronted him. Swartz grabbed Thomason’s arm, displayed his badge, and asked Thomason to go back inside the store. Thomason tried to pull free, and Swartz warned him that he was only making the situation worse. The two pulled at each other back and forth as Swartz tried to detain Thomason and Thomason tried to break free.

During this exchange, Thomason swung at Swartz two times. Thomason used a closed fist, aimed at Swartz’s face both times, and hit Swartz the second time with a glancing blow. Swartz yelled at his partner, a guard in training, to help. Thomason punched Swartz a third time. Swartz testified that the third punch “hurt” and caused a minor injury. His face was sore and slightly red for a day or two. Thomason escaped by pulling out of his sweatshirt and running. He was seen getting into a passenger car and was eventually apprehended.

The State charged Thomason with second degree robbery just before trial. A jury convicted him as charged.

THE SENTENCING

At sentencing, the parties agreed that Thomason’s offender score was 10. That made his standard sentencing range 63-84 months. Thomason requested a 12-month sentence. This was a exceptional downward departure from his sentencing range.

The trial court judge considered an exceptional sentence below the standard range. The judge said that the crime was no more than a “glorified shoplifting charge” that should have been treated as a misdemeanor. Nevetheless, the judge determined that the law barred him from imposing an exceptional downward sentence. The judge imposed 63 months, the bottom of the standard range, instead.

Thomason appealed on several grounds. However, the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction. The WA Supreme Court granted appellate review solely on the exceptional sentence issue.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court reasoned that Washington’s Sentencing Reform Act lists mitigating circumstances that can support an exceptional sentence below the standard range. It explained that in appropriate cases, the de minimis nature of a crime can support an exceptional sentence below the standard range. An appropriate case is one in which (1) the legislature did not consider the mitigating factor already when it listed the elements of the crime or set the standard sentence range and (2) the factor constitutes a substantial and compelling reason to depart below the range.”

The Court acknowledged Thomason’s argument that his crime was de minimis. The value of the items taken was low and no force was used to accomplish the taking. Although force was used to retain the property, it was “minor” force. However, the court disagreed with Thomasan’s argument that he was allowed an exceptional downward sentence.

The Court reasoned that the plain language of the robbery statute shows that the legislature did consider a defendant’s minimal use of force when it defined the crime of second degree robbery.

“As the emphasized language shows, the legislature clearly considered whether the crime of second degree robbery should punish a taking combined with a minimal showing of force. It criminalized a taking in which either ‘force’ ‘or’ no force at all—just ‘fear’—is used to accomplish the taking . . . The legislature even said that where, as here, such force or fear is used to obtain or retain possession of the property, or to prevent or overcome resistance to the taking, the degree of force is immaterial.”~WA Supreme Court

With that, the WA Supreme Court affirmed Mr. Thomason’s conviction.

My opinion? I agree with Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez’s concurring opinion. He wrote separately because he was increasingly troubled by our controlling, unchallenged precedents and the sentencing laws they interpret.

“Washington’s sentencing guidelines suggest, among other things, that unconstrained discretion in sentencing operates to favor whites and disfavor members of minority groups,” said Justice Gonzalez. As part of the concurrence, he references an article about prosecutorial discretion and sentencing guidelines. He ended his opinion with choice parting words:

“We must find a way to live justly with one another. We must not steal from each other or strike each other. But when it happens, the State must not respond with a disproportionate punishment. I am increasingly concerned that sentences like this for what amounts to glorified shoplifting are simply not just and speak to deep problems with our sentencing systems.” ~Chief Justice Steven C. Gonzalez, WA Supreme Court.

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

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

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

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animal Cruelty Can Be DV

Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence - The Link Between Cruelty to Animals and Violence Toward Humans

In State v. Abdi-Issa, the WA Supreme Court held that Animal Cruelty may be designated
as a crime of Domestic Violence.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Ms. Fairbanks began dating Mr. Abdi-Issa shortly after she moved to Seattle with her dog, Mona. Mona was a small Chihuahua and Dachshund mix. Fairbanks testified she was close to Mona. Abdi-Issa, however, had a history of disliking Mona. Abdi-Issa was abusive toward Fairbanks and Mona, even threatening to kill them both.

One evening, while they were out in Seattle’s International District, Abdi-Issa insisted Fairbanks let him take Mona on a walk. Fairbanks objected, but Abdi-Issa ignored her and left with Mona. Not long after he left, Abdi-Issa called Fairbanks claiming that Mona had gotten out of her harness and that he could not find her. Fairbanks did not believe him, as Mona had never gotten out of her harness before. Abdi-Issa refused to tell her more. Fairbanks began to panic after she heard Mona yelping over the phone.

Around that same time, bystanders heard a sound of great distress. One of the bystanders was Ms. Ludin. She followed the sound and saw Abdi-Issa beating and making “brutal stabbing” motions toward Mona. She also saw Abdi-Issa kick Mona so hard that she went up into the air and into the bushes. Each time Mona was struck she made a screeching, screaming, pained, sound that was at last followed by silence.

Seattle Police Officers responded to the 911 call. Mona was found, still alive, underneath a bush. Officers transported Mona to an emergency veterinary clinic. Mona arrived at the clinic nearly comatose. She had severe swelling in her brain, bruising on her chest, and a wound to the top of her head. By the time Fairbanks arrived at the veterinary clinic Mona had died. A necropsy found that Mona had died from multiple instances of blunt force trauma.

The State charged Abdi-Issa with First Degree Animal Cruelty and sought a domestic violence designation. The State also charged two sentencing aggravators: (1) that the crime had a destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than the victim, and (2) that Abdi-Issa’s conduct during the crime of domestic violence manifested deliberate cruelty or intimidation of the victim. Abdi-Issa unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the domestic violence designation and aggravators multiple times.

The jury found Abdi-Issa guilty of animal cruelty. The jury also found that Abdi-Issa and Fairbanks were in a domestic relationship prior to the crime. This allowed for a domestic violence designation.

The court imposed the maximum 12-month sentence for the crime of animal cruelty, and an additional 6 months for the aggravator, sentencing Abdi-Issa to an 18-month prison sentence. Based on the domestic violence designation, the court also imposed a no-contact order prohibiting Abdi-Issa from having contact with Fairbanks.

However,  the Court of Appeals vacated the domestic violence designation, the no-contact order, and the sentencing aggravator. The State appealed. The WA Supreme Court granted review and addressed the State’s appeal.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

1. Animal Cruelty as a Crime of Domestic Violence

First, the WA Supreme Court decided that Animal Cruelty may be designated a crime of domestic violence. At first, the Court said Abdi-Issa correctly argued that Animal Cruelty is not a designated DV crime.

“But the list of crimes is explicitly nonexclusive,” wrote Justice Gonzalez. The court further reasoned that many of the designated DV crimes, including Burglary and Malicious Mischief, are against a victim’s property.

“Pets, as a matter of law, are considered personal property. Here, Fairbanks was directly harmed as a result of Abdi-Issa’s violent killing of her beloved pet and companion. She is plainly a victim of Abdi-Issa’s crime.” ~Justice Steven C. Gonzalez, WA Supreme Court

2. Sentencing Aggravator—Impact on Others

Next, the Court addressed whether the “Impact on Others” sentencing aggravator was appropriate. Here, defendants face increased consequences if the offense involves a “destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than the victim.” Justice Gonzalez emphasized how Ms. Ludin, the bystander who witnessed the attack on Mona, was deeply affected by the incident.

“Ludin made the 911 call and was very distressed when the police arrived. Ludin testified that she had a severe panic attack that night, sitting in her car for a long time before she was calm enough to drive herself home. She continued to have flashbacks, had trouble sleeping, and would go into a state of panic whenever she heard a ‘high pitched, squeaky sound.’ Abdi-Issa’s act had a destructive and foreseeable impact on Ludin.

Abdi-Issa’s actions impacted someone other than Fairbanks. This emotional and psychological trauma will be something that Ludin and Fairbanks continue to carry. The sentencing aggravator was properly applied in this case.” ~Justice Steven C. Gonzalez, WA Supreme Court

Consequently, the Court held that Animal Cruelty can be designated as a DV crime and that the sentencing aggravators were appropriate.

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

Attorney-Client Communications During COVID

Defendant in credit union robbery makes initial appearance | News, Sports, Jobs - Messenger News

This is an interesting case that arose in the early days of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In State v. Anderson, the WA Court of Appeals held that courts must try to ensure that criminal defendants are able to confidentially communicate with counsel throughout court proceedings. Failure to provide a confidential means to communicate may be grounds for reversal on appeal.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2016, a Franklin County jury convicted Mr. Anderson of multiple felonies including murder, assault, and unlawful possession of a firearm. Mr. Anderson received a sentence of 1,126 months’ imprisonment with 36 months’ community custody, and was assessed $75,430.49 in restitution. A portion of the restitution was imposed jointly and severally with two codefendants.

Three specific issues were identified for resentencing: a vague community custody
condition, two scrivener’s errors, and imposition of discretionary legal financial
obligations in light of Mr. Anderson’s indigence.

A re-sentencing hearing was scheduled to address some concerns Mr. Anderson raised. His resentencing took place in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Washington’s governor declared a state of emergency on February 29, 2020. Shortly thereafter, our Supreme Court began issuing a series of emergency orders addressing court operations during the pandemic. On April 29, 2020, the Supreme Court
issued an order that specified as follows:

Courts must allow telephonic or video appearances for all scheduled criminal and juvenile offender hearings whenever possible. For all hearings that involve a critical stage of the proceedings, courts shall provide a means for defendants and respondents to have the opportunity for private and continual discussion with their attorney.

Mr. Anderson attended the May 12 resentencing hearing via video. His attorney appeared telephonically. The hearing was very brief, generating only seven substantive pages of a report of proceeding. During the hearing, there was no discussion regarding whether Mr. Anderson had consented to appear via video.

Nor was there any clarification about whether Mr. Anderson and his attorney were able to communicate throughout the hearing. The parties agreed to modify the judgment and sentence according to the three issues identified in our prior decision. When addressed by the court, Mr. Anderson confirmed he agreed with the modifications.

At the hearing’s close, the court asked Mr. Anderson if he had been able to hear and understand the proceedings. Mr. Anderson responded affirmatively, but also asked how he was supposed to pay the outstanding restitution. The court instructed Mr. Anderson to confer with his attorney. Mr. Anderson subsequently asked the court how long he had to appeal the decision. The court told him that he had 30 days to make a direct appeal, and that he should speak to his attorney regarding the process. The hearing then adjourned.

Mr. Anderson filed a timely notice of appeal. He argues the videoconference resentencing hearing deprived him of his right to be present and to confer with counsel.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by saying the right to counsel applies to all critical stages of criminal proceedings, including resentencing.

“The constitutional right to counsel demands more than just access to a warm body with a bar card,” said the Court. “Among other things, it requires individuals charged with crimes to be able to confer privately with their attorneys at all critical stages of the proceedings.” It further reasoned that the ability for attorneys and clients to consult privately need not be seamless, but it must be meaningful. “It is the role of the judge make sure that attorneys and clients have the opportunity to engage in private consultation.”

The Court relied on State v. Gonzalez-Morales, a WA Supreme Court case with similar issues. In Gonzalez-Morales, the defendant’s rights were violated when the trial court failed to give him an interpreter to communicate with his attorney.

“Mr. Anderson argues his case fails to meet the constitutional standard recognized
in Gonzales-Morales,” said the Court of Appeals. “We agree.”

“Unlike what happened in Gonzales-Morales, the trial court here never set any ground rules for how Mr. Anderson and his attorney could confidentially communicate during the hearing. Nor were Mr. Anderson and his attorney physically located in the same room, where they might have been able to at least engage in nonverbal communication.

Given Mr. Anderson participated by video from the jail and his attorney was appearing by telephone from a separate location, it is not apparent how private attorney-client communication could have taken place during the remote hearing. It is unrealistic to expect Mr. Anderson to assume he had permission to interrupt the judge and court proceedings if he wished to speak with his attorney.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Despite the communication obstacles, the Court nevertheless held Mr. Anderson was not entitled to relief because of harmless error. It also said that although Mr. Anderson was not entitled to relief, this case is a cautionary tale for trial judges administering remote criminal proceedings:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the administration of justice in innumerable ways. Videoconferencing has been an essential component of continued court operations. But courts must ensure videoconferencing occurs in a way that allows for private attorney client consultation. The best method is to arrange for attorneys and clients to be located in a shared physical space, with access to additional communication technologies (such as text messaging devices) if necessary to maintain physical distancing.”

My opinion? The COVID-19 Pandemic has certainly increased the difficulty of practicing law. Courtroom proceedings went virtual or were put on hold, causing delays in justice. Law schools and bar exams were upended. The shift was dramatic. We’ve had to learn new technologies and skills. We’ve had to revolve our practice to adhere and comply with new Executive Orders from our courts. And In the face of change and challenge, we do what American lawyers have done since lawyers helped found this country: we choose to get to work to help to solve the problems before us.

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.

U.S. Prison Trends

Mass Incarceration, Then and Now | The New Yorker

The Sentencing Project devised a fact sheet which provides a compilation of major developments in the criminal justice system over the past several decades. Some highlights are as follows:

  • Mass Incarceration – The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500% increase over the last forty years.
  • Drug Policy – At the federal level, people incarcerated on a drug conviction make up nearly half the prison population. At the state level, the number of people in prison for drug offenses has increased nine-fold since 1980, although it has begun declining in recent years.
  • Racial Disparities – Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Latinos are 2.5 times as likely. For Black men in their thirties, about 1 in every 12 is in prison or jail on any given day.
  • Youth – Although youth detention populations are declining, youth of
    color enter the system much more frequently than white youth and are more likely to be sentenced to harsher terms of punishment. In addition, young people are transferred to the adult system each year and tried as if they were adults, and many are sent to adult prisons and jails to serve their sentences.
  • Felony Disenfranchisement – As of 2020, 5.2 million Americans were unable to vote due to state felony disenfranchisement policies.
  • Life Sentences – The number of people serving life sentences endures even while serious, violent crime has been declining for the past 20 years. This population has nearly quintupled since 1984. One in seven people in prison are serving life with parole, life without parole, or virtual life (50 years or more).

The Sentencing Project is a non-profit agency that promotes effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.

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.

Deliberate Cruelty

Burning Red Flare Held Up At Night by RockfordMedia | VideoHive

In State v. Burrus, the WA Court of Appeals held there was sufficient evidence the defendant demonstrated deliberate cruelty to the victim when he poured gasoline on the victim, lit a flare and set the victim on fire.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Burrus poured gasoline on victim Mr. Busch and threw a lit flare at him, causing him to catch fire. Busch suffered second and third degree burns on 30 percent of his body. The State charged Burrus with attempted first degree murder with the aggravating factor that his conduct manifested deliberate cruelty. The jury found Burrus guilty as charged.

Based on the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty, the trial court imposed an exceptional  upward sentence. The trial court found that the aggravating factor of deliberate cruelty was a compelling reason to justify an exceptional sentence and imposed a sentence of 300 months.

On appeal, Mr. Burrus argued the the trial court erred in imposing an exceptional sentence based on the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty.

COURT’S RATIONALE & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals stated that under the Sentencing Reform Act, generally, a court must impose a sentence within the standard range. A court may depart from the guidelines and impose a higher sentence if it finds substantial and compelling reasons. The existence of an aggravating factor may support an exceptional sentence.

Next, the court addressed the issue of whether the lack of comparative evidence meant there was insufficient evidence to supported the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty.

“Burrus says insufficient evidence supports the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty,” said the Court of Appeals. “He contends that because the State failed to provide comparative evidence of typical attempted first degree murders, the jury had insufficient evidence to determine whether the facts here were atypical.”

However, the Court of Appeals disagreed with Burrus and held that the State is not required to provide the jury with examples of typical attempted first degree murders:

“It is within a jury’s capability, based on their common sense and common experience, to determine that dousing a person in gasoline, lighting them on fire, and then leaving them to burn is deliberately cruel.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Consequently, the Court also reasoned that Mr. Burrus cannot assert a vagueness challenge to the deliberate cruelty aggravator, either.

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.

 

Reconsider Long Prison Sentences?

Image result for old man in prison

Excellent article in Inside Sources by director of Strategic Initiatives at The Sentencing Project argues our society must reconsider long prison sentences.

Gotsch writes that a measure of rationality has come to federal sentencing after President Trump signed the First Step Act. The legislation has led to almost 1,700 people receiving sentence reductions, most of whom have been freed. Ninety-one percent are African American. Douglas and dozens of others sentenced to die in prison are among the beneficiaries.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission reports that the resentencing provisions of the First Step Act reduced the average sentence of 20 years by an average of six years for those who qualified.

“The reductions, while modest, are profound for the people and families ensnared by long prison terms, and who have been generally left out of criminal justice reforms until now,” writes Gotsch.

“Congress should take its next step to address a broader cohort of incarcerated people with lengthy sentences.”

Gotsch’s arguments hinge on the fact that lengthy prison sentences seem inappropriate for prison populations that essentially “age out” of crime. Half of the people in federal prisons are serving sentences longer than 10 years. Almost 20 percent of the population is more than 50 years old.

“Criminal justice research has long confirmed that people generally age out of crime, so long sentences provide diminishing returns for public safety,” says Gotsch. “Tax dollars that could be used to invest in youth, improve schools, expand drug treatment and medical and mental health care, are instead invested in prisons to incarcerate a growing elder population despite their limited likelihood of recidivism. Policy should reflect the research.”

The Second Look Act, newly introduced sentencing reform legislation from Senator Cory Booker and Representative Karen Bass, follows the lead of experts on crime and punishment and offers a transformational approach. The bill seeks to curb long sentences by offering a sentencing review by a federal judge to people with sentences longer than 10 years. Individuals who have served at least 10 years must show they are rehabilitated and are not a threat to public safety to qualify for a sentence reduction. People who are 50 or older would have a presumption of release because of their substantially lower recidivism rates.

“For the bipartisan lawmakers in Washington, and the 2020 presidential candidates who have pledged to address the problems in the criminal justice system, a broader approach to challenge mass incarceration and promote public safety is long overdue,” says Gotsch.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges which could include a prison sentence. It’s very important to hire an experienced, competent competent attorney who can either prepare a strong case for jury trial or navigate a plea deal which avoids prison.

Are Long Prison Sentences Necessary?

Image result for free from prison

“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.”

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.

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.

Exigent Circumstances Support Warrantless Blood Draw

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In State v. Anderson, the WA Court of Appeals held that exigent circumstances supported a warrantless blood draw at the scene from a driver arrested for vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In October 2014, Anderson was living with his high school friend, Mr. Powers. Powers would occasionally let Anderson drive his car. The evening of October 24, 2014, Anderson drank at home and then went to a bar to watch a hockey game. About 12:30 am., Powers heard Anderson’s voice and then heard his car start. Anderson took Powers’s car without his permission.

Around 2:00 a.m., Sergeant Jamie Douglas responded to a multivictim car crash in Auburn. At the scene, Douglas saw an “obliterated” car off the roadway, a path of debris, an uprooted tree with an 18-inch base, uprooted utility boxes, and guy wires that had been supporting a telephone pole torn out of the ground. The speed limit on the road was 35 m.p.h. but, based on the scene, Douglas estimated the car was traveling close to 100 mph.

Deputy Jace Hoch had observed the car earlier traveling at about 90 mph. but could not catch it. He asked dispatch to let the Auburn Police Department know that the car was heading toward Auburn. Four of the five passengers in the car died.

Multiple individuals who responded to the scene smelled alcohol on Anderson. Anderson told paramedic Paul Nordenger that he had had “a few drinks.” Nordenger drew Anderson’s blood at the scene without a warrant. Test results showed that his blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.19 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood and that he had 2.0 nanograms of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) per milliliter. Anderson was taken to Harborview Medical Center. Toxicologist Asa Louis testified that a second blood draw taken there showed a BAC of 0.18.

The State charged Anderson with four counts of vehicular homicide, one count of vehicular assault, one count of reckless driving, and an a sentencing aggravator for injury to the victim substantially exceeding the level of bodily harm necessary to satisfy the elements of vehicular assault. A jury convicted Anderson as charged.

Among other issues, Anderson claimed that exigent circumstances did not exist for officers to conduct a warrantless blood draw at the scene.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that as a general rule, warrantless searches and seizures are per se unreasonable, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution. A blood test is a search and seizure. A recognized exception to the warrant requirement allows a warrantless search or seizure when exigent circumstances exist.

“A court examines the totality of the circumstances to determine whether they exist,” said the Court. “They exist where the delay necessary to obtain a warrant is not practical because the delay would permit the destruction of evidence.” Furthermore, the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood may support a finding of exigency in a specific case, for example, when delay results from the warrant application process.”

Next, the Court of Appeals’ legal analysis focused on prior cases U.S. Supreme Court and WA Supreme Court cases. It observed that Missouri v. McNeely upheld the proposition that the presence of other officers weighs against the conclusion that exigent circumstances existed. Also, in State v. Inman, the WA Court of Appeals held that exigent circumstances for a blood draw existed when Mr.  Inman crashed his motorcycle on a rural road, injuring him and his passenger. In that case, Inman had facial trauma; including bleeding and abrasions on the face, and a deformed helmet. A bystander told police that Inman had been unconscious for five minutes before regaining consciousness. A paramedic administered emergency treatment. A responding officer spoke with lnman and smelled intoxicants on him. Finally, Inman admitted that he had been drinking before driving his motorcycle.

“The circumstances here are more like those in Inman,” said the Court of Appeals. “Similar to Inman, the trial court found that Anderson was in a high-impact collision resulting in serious injuries.  Here, Mr. Anderson sustained serious injuries that required treatment, multiple responders smelled alcohol on him, he told an officer at the scene that he had been drinking before driving, a paramedic told the first responding officer that the medics would be giving the driver medication and intubating him, the first responding officer knew from his experience in law enforcement and as a paramedic that this emergency treatment could impair the integrity of the blood sample, and that it would take 40 to 90 minutes to obtain a warrant for a blood draw.

“A warrant was not practical because the delay caused by obtaining a warrant would result in the destruction of evidence or postpone Anderson’s receipt of necessary medical care,” reasoned the Court of Appeals. “The totality of the circumstances establish that exigent circumstances existed to justify a warrantless blood draw.”

Please contact my office of you, a friend or family member are charged with an alcohol-related driving charge and police execute a warrantless blood draw. Retaining an experienced DUI attorney who is experienced with the legalities of blood draws is the first and best step toward obtaining justice.