Category Archives: Sentencing

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

Image result for Exigent Circumstances Support Warrantless Blood Draw

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.

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.

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. 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.

The Feds on Crime Under Jeff Sessions

Image result for prosecutor jeff sessions

 of the Washington Post describes the dramatic and controversial changes in policy Jeff Sessions has made since becoming the Attorney General under President Trump months ago.
“From his crackdown on illegal immigration to his reversal of Obama administration policies on criminal justice and policing, Sessions is methodically reshaping the Justice Department to reflect his nationalist ideology and hard-line views — moves drawing comparatively less public scrutiny than the ongoing investigations into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin.”
Apprently, Sessions has even adjusted the department’s legal stances in cases involving voting rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in a way that advocates warn might disenfranchise poor minorities and give certain religious people a license to discriminate.
“The Attorney General is committed to rebuilding a Justice Department that respects the rule of law and separation of powers,” Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement, adding, “It is often our most vulnerable communities that are most impacted and victimized by the scourge of drug trafficking and the accompanying violent crime.”

Immigration
Zapotsky and Horwitz write that unlike past attorneys general, Sessions has been especially aggressive on immigration. He served as the public face of the administration’s rolling back of a program that granted a reprieve from deportation to people who had come here without documentation as children, and he directed federal prosecutors to make illegal-immigration cases a higher priority. The attorney general has long held the view that the United States should even reduce the number of those immigrating here legally.

Zapotsky and Horwitz said that in an interview with Breitbart News in 2015, then-Sen. Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke favorably of a 1924 law that excluded all immigrants from Asia and set strict caps on others.

“When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy and it slowed down immigration significantly,” Sessions said. “We then assimilated through 1965 and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America.”

According to Zapotsky and Horwitz, Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division in the Obama administration who now works as chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Sessions seems to harbor an “unwillingness to recognize the history of this country is rooted in immigration.”

“On issue after issue, it’s very easy to see what his worldview is of what this country is and who belongs in this country,” she said, adding that his view is “distinctly anti-immigrant.”

 

Police Oversight & Sentencing

Zapotsky and Horwitz write that questions about Sessions’s attitudes toward race and nationality have swirled around him since a Republican-led Senate committee in 1986 rejected his nomination by President Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship, amid allegations of racism. In January, his confirmation hearing to become attorney general turned bitter when, for the first time, a sitting senator, Cory Booker (D-N.J.), testified against a colleague up for a Cabinet position. Booker said he did so because of Sessions’s record on civil rights.

Sessions ultimately won confirmation on a 52-to-47 vote, and he moved quickly to make the Justice Department his own. Two months into the job, he told the department’s lawyers to review police oversight agreements nationwide, currying favor with officers who often resent the imposition of such pacts but upsetting those who think they are necessary to force change.

Zapotsky and Horwitz also said that Sessions imposed a new charging and sentencing policy that critics on both sides of the aisle have said might disproportionately affect minority communities and hit low-level drug offenders with stiff sentences.

“Allies of Sessions say the policy is driven not by racial animus but by a desire to respond to increasing crime,” write Zapotsky and Horwitz. “The latest FBI crime data, for 2016, showed violent crimes were up 4.1 percent over the previous year and murders were up 8.6 percent — although crime remains at historically low levels. The Bureau of Prisons projects that — because of increased enforcement and prosecution efforts — the inmate population will increase by about 2 percent in fiscal 2018, according to a Justice Department inspector general report.”

Zapotsky and Horwitz wrote that Larry Thompson, who served as deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and is a friend of Sessions, said that although he disagrees with the attorney general’s charging policy, he believes Sessions was “motivated by his belief that taking these violent offenders off the streets is the right way to address the public safety issues.”

Civil Rights & Hate Crimes

According to Zapotsy and Horwitz, Sessions’s moves to empower prosecutors have led to a concerted focus on hate-crimes prosecutions — a point his defenders say undercuts the notion that he is not interested in protecting the rights of minorities or other groups. Prosecutors have brought several such cases since he became attorney general and recently sent an attorney to Iowa to help the state prosecute a man who was charged with killing a gender-fluid 16-year-old high school student last year. The man was convicted of first-degree murder.

But while civil rights leaders praised his action in that case, Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that it “stands in stark contrast to his overall efforts” to roll back protections for transgender people.

Shortly after he became attorney general, Sessions revoked federal guidelines put in place by the Obama administration that specified that transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity. In September, the Justice Department sided in a major upcoming Supreme Court case with a Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because he said it would violate his religious beliefs.

Sessions recently issued 20 principles of guidance to executive-branch agencies about how the government should respect religious freedom, including allowing religious employers to hire only those whose conduct is consistent with their beliefs. About the same time, he reversed a three-year-old Justice Department policy that protected transgender people from workplace discrimination by private employers and state and local governments.

The Justice Department has similarly rolled back Obama administration positions in court cases over voting rights.

In February, the department dropped its stance that Texas intended to discriminate when it passed its law on voter identification. And in August, it sided with Ohio in its effort to purge thousands of people from its rolls for not voting in recent elections — drawing complaints from civil liberties advocates.

At a recent congressional hearing, Sessions said the department would “absolutely, resolutely defend the right of all Americans to vote, including our African American brothers and sisters.”

According to Zapotsky and Horwitz, critics say that Sessions’ record shows otherwise. “We are seeing a federal government that is pulling back from protecting vulnerable communities in every respect,” Clarke said. “That appears to be the pattern that we are seeing with this administration — an unwillingness to use their enforcement powers in ways that can come to the defense of groups who are otherwise powerless and voiceless.”

My opinion? Watching the actions of the feds – and especially the top federal prosecutor for the United States – gives us a litmus test which defines the shape of things to come on a more local level. The reason why it’s important to watch the movements of federal prosecutions is because they impress upon – and persuade – the priorities of state prosecutions.

Let’s see what happens.

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.

Black Men Sentenced Longer

Black men get longer prison sentences than white men for the same crime:  Study - ABC News


Alexander F. Ransom

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