Category Archives: Sex Crimes

Proposed Federal Law Prohibits “Stealthing,” Non-Consensual Condom Removal

Is stealthing sexual assault? | WHP

Excellent article by journalist  Anne Branigin reports that “Stealthing,” the act of removing a condom during intercourse without the other partner’s consent, is gaining attention among lawmakers.

Fair warning: the following subject matter discusses sexual offenses. Sexual assault is both a common and a very serious crime. It is investigated by the police with an intensity second only to that of homicide and manslaughter.

Yes, there are defenses to these charges that are discussed later in this blog. However, sexual consent should always be clearly communicated. There should be no question or mystery. Silence is not consent. And it’s not just important the first time you’re with someone. Couples who’ve had sex before also must to consent before engaging the act every time.

“Stealthing” Defined.

“Stealthing,” is the practice of a man removing a condom during sexual intercourse without consent, when his sex partner has only consented to condom-protected sex. While victims of stealthing tend to be clear about its harms, what has been less clear is how to define it. Is it assault? And could — or rather, would — the law do anything about it?

Fedeal Legislation is Proposed to Outlaw “Stealthing.”

This month, federal legislation was introduced offering clarity and a legal remedy for survivors of stealthing. One bill introduced last month would explicitly name stealthing as a form of sexual violence and create a legal pathway for victims to sue perpetrators for damages and relief. A separate bill, called the Consent Is Key Act, would encourage states to pass their own laws authorizing civil damages for survivors by increasing funding for federal domestic violence programs in states that pass those laws.

The federal legislation mirrors a first-of-its-kind California law passed in October. That law expanded the definition of sexual battery in the state’s civil code to include removing a condom without verbal consent. The U.S. House bill defines stealthing as removing any “sexual protection barrier” without the consent of each person involved in the sexual act.

“Stealthing is a grave violation of autonomy, dignity, and trust that is considered emotional and sexual abuse,” reads the House bill, titled the Stealthing Act of 2022.

What Do Studies on Stealthing Suggest?

In the last several years, a number of researchers have attempted to quantify how many people experience nonconsensual condom removal.

In one Melbourne study, which surveyed more than 2,000 people visiting a local clinic over a three-month period in 2017, nearly one in three of the women surveyed said they had been “stealthed” at some point in their life. About 19 percent of men who had sex with other men said this had happened to them. Another 2019 study — which recruited women 21 to 30 with “increased sexual risk characteristics”— found that 12 percent of respondents said a partner engaged in stealthing (nearly half said they had experienced some form of coercive resistance to condoms).

One narrow 2019 study that recruited 626 men who were “inconsistent condom users” between the ages of 21 and 30 found that 10 percent said they had removed a condom without their partner’s consent; men with greater hostility toward women and more severe sexual aggression had “significantly higher odds of engaging in nonconsensual condom removal behavior,” the study’s author wrote.

Is Stealthing a form of Sexual Assault?

The growing narrative says “Yes.” Katie Russell, a spokesperson for the advocacy and support organization Rape Crisis, said the following:

“Ultimately what we’re talking about is rape . . . It’s not something that’s a bit cheeky or naughty to try to get away with — this is something serious that can have really damaging impacts for other person’s whole life and health.” ~Katie Russell, Spokesperson for Rape Crisis.

Defenses to Sex Crimes.

Sex crimes are very serious and being accused of committing one should be taken very seriously. While there aren’t very many, there are a few defenses to such an accusation: he or she is innocent; he or she engaged in consensual sexual activity, or he or she can’t be held guilty due to mental disease or defect.

  1. Actual Innocence.

Like all crimes, the most widely used defense is innocence. To prove innocence, an individual must generally be able to prove that it would be a physical impossibility to be guilty since they were at another location at the time or by providing a credible alibi. It’s the burden of the prosecution to prove that a defendant is guilty. The defendant will want to establish reasonable doubt. If he or she can do so then under the law the jury should acquit him or her.

In cases concerning an alleged victim’s intoxication, RCW 9A.44.030 offers a defense if the defendant reasonably believed that the victim was not mentally incapacitated and/or physically helpless. Again, this statutory defense exists if the alleged victim is drunk/intoxicated beyond the point of consent. The defendant must prove this defense by a preponderance of the evidence.

          2. Consensual Act.

Consent is also a substantive defense. If a defendant can prove that the act was consensual, a crime does not exist. Consent means that at the time of the act of sexual intercourse and/or contact, there are actual words or conduct indicating freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse/contact.

However, it’s important to understand whom – and who cannot – provide legal consent. Those without legal capacity cannot consent no matter what. This includes minors. If an individual engages in sexual activity with a minor, it is statutory and there can be no legal consent – even if there is verbal consent. The fact that majority of assailants are known to the victims and that a large numbers of cases are associated with drinking alcohol complicates the picture.

Hire an Attorney As Soon As Possible When Facing a Potential Sex Offense.

Merely being charged with a sexual offense is devastating. An allegation of sexual misconduct can cost someone their employment, their family, their loved ones and their home. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a sex offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Prosecutor’s “Gorilla Pimp” Comment Admonished by High Court

Gorilla Pimp the skunk ape by seraphonfire on DeviantArt

In State v. McKenzie, the WA Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s convictions because the prosecutor improperly injected race into the trial and used the term “gorilla pimp” to describe the defendant.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In 2018, the defendant Mr. McKenzie, a 27-year-old Black man, was perusing the dating application Skout when he came across the profile for a white female named “‘Samantha.’”  Samantha’s profile listed her age as 18, and stated “‘Fun Times. My age is wrong. Daddy wanted.’” Samantha was actually a fictional person created by Detective Rodriguez of the Washington State Patrol’s missing and exploited children’s task force. They conduct undercover investigations to find sexual predators in part by using fictional profiles on social media and dating websites. The profile picture Mr. McKenzie viewed was that of an undercover female officer who was at least 22 years old.

The two continued to chat on Skout and then moved to text messaging on their
phones. During the text messaging, Samantha asked Mr. McKenzie if he was interested in being her pimp to which he replied, “Oh nah im not doing all that,” “Thats low. I dont need that & dont have time for all that. If you have a way to get money I support that,” and “But pimping? No thanks missed me with that one.”

Samantha made repeated suggestions that she and Mr. McKenzie meet up. The two discussed where to meet and Mr. McKenzie expressed concern that Samantha was “setting him up.” Later Mr. McKenzie asked Samantha about whether she had condoms. Mr. McKenzie drove from Seattle to Puyallup and waited for Samantha at an agreed meet location for just under 30 minutes. Unbeknownst to Mr. McKenzie, he was under surveillance the entire time he waited. After Mr. McKenzie messaged Samantha that he was giving up and leaving, law enforcement surrounded Mr. McKenzie’s car and placed him under arrest. A search of Mr. McKenzie’s car revealed a box of condoms on the passenger seat.

The State charged Mr. McKenzie with sex offenses to include one count of attempted second degree rape of a child and one count of communication with a minor for immoral purposes. Mr. McKenzie exercised his right to a jury trial.

At trial, Detective Rodriguez took the witness stand. The prosecutor initiated the following
exchange:

Q: Are you familiar with the terms gorilla pimp and romance pimp?
A: Yes.
Q: What are those?
A: A gorilla pimp is someone who is very aggressive. They’re very direct. They’re going to tell you what they want. “This is what you’re going to do.” I’ve had them try to get me or the people they’re victimizing to pay them for that. For them to be sexually exploited, they actually want the victim to pay them for it. As far as a romance pimp, they’re going to come across as your boyfriend or your friend. They’re going to romance you, get you into the situation where then they have control. They can continue to play the romance role or they can switch to a more aggressive pimp or they can go back and forth.
Q: So they’re not mutually exclusive?
A: No.
Q: The romance pimp angle can be used to gain confidence with a young person. And then once you’re engaged with them, the roles can change?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Your Honor, leading.
THE COURT: Sustained.
Q: Can the roles change once they’re engaged?
A: Yes.
Q: Do Mr. McKenzie’s answers about, “I’m not into that. I would treat you right,” all of those kind of things, do they negate the possibility that he is looking to put Sam out?
A: No.

The defense never voiced a specific objection to the gorilla pimp concept. The prosecutor made no further reference to it. A jury found Mr. McKenzie guilty as charged. The court subsequently imposed a standard range sentence of 76.5 months to life in prison. Mr. McKenzie appealed on arguments that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct by injecting the racially charged term “gorilla pimp” into the trial.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals reversed the Defendant’s conviction. It reasoned that use of the term “gorilla pimp” by the State was not harmless error beyond a reasonable doubt. The court said that when a prosecutor improperly injects race into a criminal trial, a court will generally reverse the conviction.

“Racist rhetoric has no place in our justice system. It is hurtful, thwarts due process, and undermines the rule of law. ~WA Court of Appeals

The Court discussed the State’s argument that the term used was actually “guerrilla pimp.” However, that argument was unpersuasive to the court, which found the analogy of a “gorilla” to be particularly concerning:

“At this point in our history we should not have to belabor the point that using a gorilla analogy when discussing human behavior, specifically the behavior of a Black man, is clearly racist rhetoric,” said the Court of Appeals. It reasoned that individuals involved in criminal enterprises use racialized language that is sometimes offensive. However, that is no excuse for outsiders to do the same.

“The only purpose served by referencing the gorilla pimp concept was to tap into deepseated racial prejudice by comparing Black human beings to primates. The State cannot prove that this racist rhetoric was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. We therefore reverse Mr. McKenzie’s conviction.” ~WA Court of Appeals

My opinion? Great decision. The type of racist rhetoric invoked by the Prosecution appears to have especially strong pull. A six-year study of undergraduates at Stanford University and Pennsylvania State University showed young people are swayed by Black-ape associations, even when they claim to know nothing about the historical context of racist simianization. According to this study, undergraduates who were exposed to words associated with apes were more likely to condone the beating of those in police custody when they thought the suspect was Black.

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

Confrontation, Video Testimony & COVID

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In State v. Milko, the WA Court of Appeals held that a defendant has a right to have witnesses present in the courtroom. However, that right can be overcome. Here, the trial court lawfully allowed witnesses to testify by video when they had health related concerns about contracting COVID-19.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2018, Milko on five separate occasions contacted women who were paid escorts. He
arranged to meet them at houses in Puyallup that he did not live in or own. When each
woman arrived, Milko displayed a knife in an attempt to take their money or to rape them.

The State charged Milko with 12 felony offenses related to five incidents and five
victims. The charges included Burglary, Robbery and Sex Offenses.

Milko’s trial was set for July 2020. At the time, COVID-19 had been declared a global pandemic and a national emergency in the United States. In February 2020, Governor Jay Inslee had proclaimed a state of emergency in Washington. He issued a number of proclamations designed to help curb the spread of COVID-19. The Supreme Court ordered all courts to follow the most protective public health guidance applicable in their jurisdiction and to use remote proceedings for public health and safety whenever appropriate.

Also, the CDC and the Washington Department of Health recommended social distancing measures of at least six feet between people and encouraged vulnerable individuals to avoid public spaces. The CDC encouraged people to avoid traveling because travel increased a person’s chance of getting infected and spreading COVID-19. The CDC noted that older adults and people of any age with serious underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes and asthma, were at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The trial court granted the State’s request to allow two State’s witnesses to testify remotely. One witness was SANE nurse Ms. Biddulph. The other witness was victim JA.

At trial, the five victims and several investigating officers testified in person about the
incidents giving rise to the charges. Biddulph testified by two-way video about examining BP and completing a rape kit for her. JA testified by two-way video about Milko contacting her for her paid escort services in Florida and raping her at knifepoint. The trial court instructed the jury that the State was offering JA’s testimony only to establish identity, a common scheme or plan, and/or modus operandi.

The jury found Milko guilty of all charges except for attempted first degree robbery. He appealed on arguments that the trial court violated the confrontation clause by allowing witnesses to testify by video because of COVID-19 concerns.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals (COA) explained that the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that a person accused of a crime has the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Nevertheless, the COA quoted  Maryland v. Craig, and other cases holding that video testimony does not violate the confrontation clause if it ensures the reliability of the evidence by subjecting it to rigorous adversarial testing and thereby preserves the essence of effective confrontation.

Here, the COA upheld the trial court’s findings that Biddulph’s traveling to Washington would place her and her children at risk of negative health consequences regarding COVID-19 were warranted. Biddulph in particular had health concerns about her one year-old daughter, who had compromised health. And the court made a finding that Biddulph’s health care provider “advised against travel in order to protect the health of Ms. Biddulph and her small child.” The court’s ultimate finding was that Biddulph could not travel to Washington to testify because travel will place her at a significantly higher risk of exposure to the virus.

“Accommodating Biddulph’s health concerns was more than a matter of convenience,” said the COA. In addition, it reasoned that concern for the health of a third person may be sufficient to support a finding of necessity. “This is especially true in a pandemic. Given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk to the health of Biddulph and her child if Biddulph was required to travel to Washington was significant and more than de minimis.”

The COA also found that the trial court found that JA’s health concerns due to her diabetes and asthma were warranted. These conditions would “place her at a higher risk of suffering severe health consequences if she were to contract COVID 19.”  Further, the COA upheld the trial court’s findings that JA’s conditions “make it difficult, if not impossible, to wear a face mask for an extended period of time, including on a cross-country flight.” The court’s ultimate finding was that “J.A.’s health is currently compromised, and she is at a higher risk of serious medical complications should she contract COVID-19.”

“We conclude that these findings support the conclusion that video testimony was necessary to protect JA’s health. Accommodating JA’s health conditions was more than a matter of convenience. Given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk to JA’s health if she was required to travel to Washington was significant and more than de minimis.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

The COA concluded that the trial court did not err in allowing Biddulph and JA to testify remotely by video and their testimony did not violate Milko’s confrontation right. Consequently, the COA affirmed Milko’s convictions and sentence.

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.

AGO Allocates $177,000.00 For Sexual Assault Kit Initiative

Wisconsin Sexual Assault kit Tests Yield First Conviction - Fox21Online

A press release from the WA Attorney General’s Office confirms that the office will provide 53 local law enforcement agencies across the state with funding for refrigeration units to store evidence from sexual assault investigations.

A sexual assault kit is a collection of evidence gathered from a survivor by a medical professional, usually a specially trained sexual assault nurse examiner. A crime lab then tests the evidence for DNA that could help law enforcement find a perpetrator.

Ferguson is providing the new units as part of his Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) — a campaign to improve Washington’s response to sexual assault and end the state’s rape kit backlog. The Attorney General’s Office is allocating $177,204.73 of its federal SAKI grant funding to local law enforcement for the purpose of purchasing refrigeration units to store sexual assault kits. The Attorney General’s Office heard from local law enforcement that this is a major need. These resources will help ensure that sexual assault evidence, including evidence that needs to be refrigerated, does not expire due to lack of capacity.

“More storage means more evidence can be tested, and more crimes can be solved,” Ferguson said. “These resources will bring justice to survivors.”

This increased storage capacity will help law enforcement agencies comply with a 2020 law, House Bill 2318, that requires “unreported” sexual assault evidence to be stored for at least 20 years. This includes a sexual assault kit and all associated evidence for an assault that a victim has not yet reported to law enforcement. An unreported sexual assault kit is taken at a hospital and stored by law enforcement, should a victim choose to file a report. Evidence from reported assaults must be stored for 100 years.

The Blaine Police Department, Ferndale Police Department and Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office are receiving new units.

There are two types of sexual assault kit backlogs in Washington and across the country. The first is the “unsubmitted” sexual assault kit backlog, which consists of kits that sit in a law enforcement evidence storage facility because a DNA analysis was never requested. The second type of backlog occurs in crime lab facilities, when sexual assault kits have been submitted to the lab, but have not yet been tested. Once the kits are tested, local law enforcement can use DNA to reopen cold cases.

A significant type of evidence in sexual offense cases is the DNA recovered from rape kits. Rape kits are the physical evidence and notes from an assault victim’s examination. The physical evidence usually contains DNA such as hair, blood, bodily fluids, clothes and belongings of the victim, and physical evidence from the crime scene. In some cases, the rape kit findings are the primary evidence used against a defendant. However, rape kit findings do not necessarily equate with forced or unlawful sexual conduct. courts will evaluate the probative value of DNA findings and if the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

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

“Lustful Disposition” Legal Term of Art Abandoned by WA Supreme Court

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In  State v. Crossguns, the WA Supreme Court disapproved of the prosecution’s use of the term “lustful disposition.”

BACKGROUND FACTS

The case involved allegations that the defendant, Mr. Crossguns Sr., sexually abused his daughter R.G.M.  At trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Mr. Crossguns Sr., had previously abused the victim from July 2015 to August 2016.

At trial, the State also sought to admit testimony from family members regarding these incidents. Crossguns opposed admitting the evidence, arguing that it was improper propensity evidence. The trial court concluded the probative value outweighed any risk of unfair prejudice and ruled the evidence was admissible under ER 404(b).

More specifically, the court was persuaded that the Prosecutor demonstrated Crossguns’s “intent, plan, motive, opportunity, absence of mistake or accident, lustful disposition toward R.G.M. Ultimately, the judge admitted the testimony under arguments that Crossguns’ had a “lustful disposition toward” the child. Crossguns was convicted of sex offenses to include second-degree rape of a child and second-degree child molestation.

appealed on argument that the prosecutor’s (1) use of the term “lustful disposition” was improper, and (2) statements in closing, asking the jury to decide if the witnesses were telling the truth, constitute misconduct.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Justice Montoya-Lewis wrote the majority opinion and made short work of the “Lustful Disposition” issue:

“We conclude that the term ‘lustful disposition’ is archaic and reinforces outdated rape
myths and misconceptions of sexual violence . . . Therefore, we now reject the ‘lustful disposition’ label and hold that ‘lustful disposition’ is not a distinct or proper purpose for admitting evidence. To the extent our precedent indicates otherwise, it is disavowed.” ~WA Supreme Court Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis.

In nixing its use in Washington, the Supreme Court wrote that the term “reinforces the myth of the pathological, crazed rapist who is a stranger to the victim.”

“The term ‘lustful disposition’ is an outmoded, inaccurate term that reinforces myths about sexual assault . . . We abandon this term because it is incorrect and harmful.”

However, Justice Montoya also reasoned that rejection of the label “lustful disposition” does not modify our established doctrine of allowing “evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts”  pursuant to ER 404(b). Therefore, the trial court’s reference to lustful disposition in its decision admitting the evidence was harmless.

“Further, we conclude that the prosecutor’s statements constitute misconduct, but the prejudice could have been corrected by an instruction,” reasoned the Court. Therefore, the WA Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals in part and reversed in part, and remand to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

My opinion? Good opinion. It showed a forward-thinking and significant departure from inflammable terms of art which are historically prejudicial. Generally, evidence of a person’s character is not allowed to be used to prove that in the alleged crime the person acted in accordance with their character. There are many exceptions, including if the evidence speaks to a defendant’s motive, opportunity, intent or plan. And, until Thursday, if the evidence spoke to a defendant’s “lustful disposition,” it was fair game.

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.

Rape By Forcible Compulsion

Sexual Assault Laws WA State | Tario & Associates, P.S.

In State v. Gene, the WA Court of Appeals held that for a charge of Rape in the Second Degree by Forcible Compulsion, the force must be directed at overcoming the victim’s resistance. If a victim is unconscious or unable to respond there is no resistance to overcome.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The defendant Mr. Gene and K.M. had a “brother-and-sister-like friendship.” During the summer of 2018, they hung out almost all the time every weekend together with a group of their friends. On the evening of August 29, 2018, Gene and two of his friends, Jesus Montano and Sedrick Hill, went to K.M.’s apartment. K.M.’s friend Rachel Charles was already present. The group used the hot tub in K.M.’s apartment complex, consumed alcohol, and listened to music. At some point during the evening, they went up to K.M.’s apartment and played a drinking game.

Eventually, K.M. began to feel unstable and sick. She went to the bathroom and began vomiting. Still feeling nauseous and dizzy, K.M. went to her bedroom to sleep. K.M. felt uncomfortable and nauseous in her bed, so she took a comforter and slept in a fetal position on the floor. At trial, K.M. testified that Gene sexually assaulted her while she slept on the floor.

Gene was charged with numerous counts of Rape in the Second Degree by Forcible Compulsion. A jury found Gene not guilty of Counts 1 and 3, and guilty of Count 2. Gene appealed his  sole conviction on arguments that insufficient evidence existed to support it.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals began by defining “Forcible compulsion” under the statute.
In short, “Forcible compulsion” means physical force which overcomes resistance, or a threat, express or implied, that places a person in fear of death or physical injury to herself or himself or another person, or in fear that she or he or another person will be kidnapped.

Next the Court interpreted WA’s case law. Quoting State v. McKnight, it said that in order for there to be forcible compulsion, there must have been force that was “directed at overcoming the victim’s resistance and was more than that which is normally required to achieve penetration.” Furthermore, the resistance that forcible compulsion overcomes need not be physical resistance, but it must be reasonable resistance under the circumstances.

“Here, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, K.M. did not resist the penetration of her vagina by Gene’s penis. K.M.’s testimony, set forth in full above, was that she was unconscious or unable to respond when Gene engaged in sexual contact with her. Because K.M. was unable to respond, she could not resist the penile-vaginal assault and there was no resistance for Gene to overcome.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Accordingly, under these circumstances, no reasonable juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Gene resorted to forcible compulsion to engage in penile penetration of K.M.’s vagina. Thus, the evidence was insufficient. With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Gene’s conviction and remanded for further proceedings.

However, the Court of Appeals also mentioned Gene for rape in the second degree by means of engaging in sexual intercourse with a person who is incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless or mentally incapacitated.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a sex ofense or any other crime. The Fourteenth Amendment due process clause both requires that
every element of a charged crime be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and
guarantees a defendant the right to a unanimous jury verdict. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Discarded DNA Admissible

I 100% volunteered to do it': How bakery worker got DNA to crack 30-year-old murder case - ABC News

In State v. Bass, the WA Court of Appeals held the admission of DNA profiles developed from a plastic cup and a soda can that the defendant discarded in a garbage can at his place of employment was proper.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In November 1989, 18-year-old Amanda Stavik, a freshman at Central Washington University, returned home to rural Whatcom County to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family. On Friday, November 24, 1989, Stavik decided to go for a run with the family dog, Kyra. Her route took her down the defendant Timothy Bass’s residence. She never returned home.

On Monday, November 27, 1989, law enforcement found Stavik’s naked body in shallow, slow-moving water of the Nooksack River. During the autopsy, Whatcom County medical examiner Dr. Gary Goldfogel found semen in Stavik’s vagina and, based on the sperm count, concluded sexual intercourse had occurred no more than 12 hours before her death. This evidence led the State to conclude that someone had kidnapped and raped Stavik while she was out on her Friday afternoon run and that she had died while fleeing her captor.

Dr. Goldfogel preserved the samples he collected and sent them to the FBI and the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab for analysis. The Crime Lab developed a male deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) profile from the sperm. The police investigation led to several suspects whom they later excluded when their DNA did not match the DNA in the sperm sample. Eventually, the case went cold.

In 2009, Detective Kevin Bowhay reopened the investigation and began asking for DNA samples from anyone who lived in the area or who may have had contact with Stavik near the time of her death. Over the course of the investigation, Det. Bowhay and his team collected more than 80 DNA samples for testing.

In 2013, Det. Bowhay asked Bass for a DNA sample. When Det. Bowhay indicated he was investigating Stavik’s death, Bass acted as if he did not know who she was, “looked up kind of, um, kind of like he was searching his memory” and said “oh, that was the girl that was found in the river.” Bass told Det. Bowhay that he did not really know Stavik and initially said he did not know where she lived. Bass refused to provide a DNA sample.

Bass’s refusal of a DNA sample raised suspicions. At this time, Bass was working as a delivery truck driver for Franz Bakery. Detective Bowhay reached out to Kim Wagner, the manager of the Franz Bakery outlet store. The detective informed Wagner he was looking for items that Bass might cast off that may contain his DNA.

In August 2017, Ms. Wagner saw Bass drink water from a plastic cup and throw the cup away in a wastebasket in the bakery’s employee break room. She collected that cup and stored it in a plastic bag in her desk. Two days later, she saw Bass drink from a soda can and, again, after he discarded it in the same trash can, she retrieved it and stored it with the cup. Det. Bowhay did not direct Wager to take any items and did not tell her how to handle or package these items.

Wagner contacted Det. Bowhay via text to let him know she had two items Bass had discarded in the garbage. Det. Bowhay met Wagner in the Franz Bakery parking lot, picked up the items, and sent them to the Washington State Crime Lab for analysis. The Crime Lab confirmed that the DNA collected from Bass’s soda can and cup matched the male DNA collected from the semen in Stavik’s body.

The State arrested Bass and charged him with first degree felony murder, rape and kidnapping. In pretrial motions, the trial court denied Bass’s motion to suppress the DNA evidence obtained from items Wagner collected at the Franz Bakery. In 2019, a jury convicted Timothy Bass of all charges.

On appeal, Bass challenged, among other things, the admissibility of DNA evidence linking him to the crime. His argument on appeal was that Wagner acted as a state agent when she collected his discarded items without a warrant.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals began by saying the Exclusionary Rule – a law that prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence in a criminal trial – does not apply to the acts of private individuals. However, evidence discovered by a private citizen while acting as a government agent is subject to the rule.

“To prove a private citizen was acting as a government agent, the defendant must show that the State in some way ‘instigated, encouraged, counseled, directed, or controlled’ the conduct of the private person.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

The Court further reasoned that the mere knowledge by the government that a private citizen might conduct an illegal private search without the government taking any deterrent action [is] insufficient to turn the private search into a governmental one. For an agency relationship to exist, there must be a manifestation of consent by the principal [the police] that the agent [the informant] acts for the police and under their control and consent by the informant that he or she will conduct themselves subject to police control.

Consequently, the Court of Appeals rejected Bass’s argument and upheld the trial court’s findings that Ms. Wagner was not an agent at the time she pulled Bass’s cup and soda can from the trash and gave it to police:

“Det. Bowhay and Wagner both testified that Det. Bowhay did not ask or encourage Wagner to look for items to seize and did not tell her what type of items to take. Wagner testified Det. Bowhay did not instruct her to find an item containing Bass’s saliva; she made that assumption based on her husband’s experience in doing an ancestry DNA test and on watching television crime shows. Wagner confirmed that Det. Bowhay did not encourage her to find Bass’s DNA and gave her no guidance in how to do so.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

The co-worker who pulled the cup and soda can from the trash, was not acting as a government agent when she retrieved the items. The co-worker, not the detective, conceived of the idea of watching the defendant to see whether he discarded any items at work and the detective did not tell her how to handle any items collected.

With that, the Court concluded that Detective Bowhay did not direct, entice, or control Wagner and Wagner was not acting as a state agent when she retrieved Bass’s cup and soda can from the workplace trash can. “These findings in turn support the legal conclusion that Wagner’s seizure of Bass’s discarded items and the DNA evidence was not the fruit of an unlawful search.” The Court upheld Bass’s convictions.

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

Right to Present A Defense

Criminal Defendant Constitutional Rights- New Mexico Criminal Law

In State v. Cox, the WA Court of Appeals held that the trial court mistakenly excluded evidence pursuant to the Rape Shield Statute  that the victim flirted with the defendant and sat on his lap at the party where the unlawful sexual contact occurred.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The incident occurred in the early morning hours at the complaining witness’s house after her birthday party. The complaining witness testified that after she fell asleep in her bed, she was awakened by the defendant digitally raping her. The State presented evidence that Mr. Cox’s DNA was found on the complaining witness’s undergarments.

Mr. Cox denied the accusation entirely and testified that the complaining witness was intoxicated and that he had rejected her advances. Nevertheless, he was charged and convicted of Rape in the Second Degree.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that the Rape Shield Statute does not apply to behavior that is contemporaneous with the alleged rape. Here, the victim flirted with the defendant and sat on his lap at the party. That evidence should not have been suppressed. In addition, the statute does not apply to evidence, which was offered to explain how the victim’s intoxication affected her behavior and memory of that night and that there may have been an innocent explanation for the DNA transfer.

“The excluded evidence in this case was not past behavior; it was contemporaneous with the alleged rape. Nor was it being introduced to show consent. And while it was being introduced to discredit the victim’s credibility, the focus was on her level of intoxication, not on allegations of promiscuity. Thus, application of the Rape Shield Statute in these circumstances was untenable and an abuse of discretion.” ~ WA Court of Appeals.

The Court also decided the trial court wrongfully suppressed evidence of the alleged victim’s behavior with the Defendant at the party:

“Evidence that the victim was highly intoxicated, acting in a manner that was uncharacteristically flirtatious, and sitting on Mr. Cox’s lap in a dress, was ‘highly relevant’ to his theory of the defense. The prejudicial value of this evidence, if any, was low.” ~ WA Court of Appeals.

Also, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the trial court erred by sustaining an objection to a hypothetical question that defense posed to the State’s DNA expert during cross-examination. Here, Mr. Cox tried to present expert testimony evidence that it was possible for his DNA to be transferred to the complaining witness’s underwear through innocent, non-sexual contact such as sitting on his lap. The Court of Appeals disagreed, and held that an expert witness may be cross-examined with hypotheticals yet unsupported by the evidence that go to the opponent’s theory of the case.

“The lap-sitting incident provides an explanation as to how Mr. Cox’s DNA might have been transferred to the complaining witness. The witness’s inability to recall this incident calls into question her ability to remember other events from that night. And her flirtatious behavior with Mr. Cox supports his version of events.” ~ WA Court of Appeals.

Next, the Court of Appeals reasoned the trial court’s exclusion of the Defendant’s reputation evidence on the particular character trait of sexual morality was wrong. “Contrary to the trial court’s position, “this type” of evidence is explicitly
admissible under ER 404(a)(1),” said the Court.

With that, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court’s errors mentioned above were not harmless. It reversed Mr. Cox’s conviction and remanded for a new trial.

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

Jail Phone Calls

SUNDAY EDITION | Kentucky jails scrutinized for recording attorney-inmate phone calls | In-depth | wdrb.com

My clients in jail often ask me whether their phone calls from jail are recorded by the jail staff. In short, yes, they are. A recent case gives helpful insight to this  issues.

In  State v. Koeller, the WA Court of Appeals held that a jail inmate’s phone call with counsel that was recorded and was accessed by a deputy prosecuting attorney (DPA) did not establish a basis for dismissal of charges.  The DPA was the only person who accessed the 15-minute long call, and he stopped listening to the call after 8 seconds when he recognized defense counsel’s voice.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The defendant Mr. Koeller was alleged to have sexually abused his stepdaughter for years. The State also alleged aggravating circumstances of domestic violence and of an ongoing pattern of sexual abuse.

The Island County jail records incoming and outgoing phone calls, except for calls from attorneys. On October 11, 2017, Defense Counsel Mr. Platt provided his cell phone number to the Island County jail so the automated recording system would not record any calls made between him and the defendant Mr. Koeller. The jail failed to do so.

The next day, Island County chief criminal deputy prosecutor (Prosecutor) checked the automated recording system and saw Koeller made an outgoing, 15-minute phone call that day. Prosecutor began playing the call and heard Defense Counsel’s voice, so he shut off the recording. Prosecutor heard only eight seconds of the phone call. He immediately told Defense Counsel about the recording and told the jail to register Defense Counsel’s phone number because it had failed to shield Platt from being recorded.

On March 26, 2019, about one week before the scheduled start of trial, Koeller filed a CrR 8.3(b) motion to dismiss as a result of the recording. The court denied the motion. In its ruling, the court found no one else “in connection with the State of Washington listened to the conversation.”

At trial, Koeller was convicted of multiple charges, including first degree child molestation. He appealed on arguments that the trial court mistakenly denied his Motion to Dismiss.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to confer privately with Defense Counsel. Where the government violates this right, it creates a rebuttable presumption of prejudice to the defendant.

Here, however, Prosecutor heard only eight seconds of the call between Koeller and Defense Counsel. He heard no substance of the conversation and no one else in connection to the Prosecutor’s Office listened to the conversation. The State did not obtain any information material to the defense.

“Although Koeller argues the court abused its discretion because the State did not prove Chief Briones did not listen to the call, the trial court found otherwise, and its finding is supported by substantial evidence. Because the court’s findings support its conclusion that Koeller was not prejudiced, the court did not abuse its discretion by denying the CrR 8.3(b) motion to dismiss.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

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.

FBI Releases 2019 Hate Crime Statistics

Pie chart depicting breakdown of motivations of bias-motivated crimes in the Hate Crime Statistics, 2019 report.

In a press release issued today, the FBI gave Hate Crime Statistics, 2019, which is the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s latest compilation about bias-motivated incidents throughout the nation. The 2019 data, submitted by 15,588 law enforcement agencies, provide information about the offenses, victims, offenders, and locations of hate crimes.

Law enforcement agencies submitted incident reports involving 7,314 criminal incidents and 8,559 related offenses as being motivated by bias toward race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity.

Victims of Hate Crime Incidents

  • According to the report, there were 7,103 single-bias incidents involving 8,552 victims. A percent distribution of victims by bias type shows that 57.6% of victims were targeted because of the offenders’ race/ethnicity/ancestry bias; 20.1% were targeted because of the offenders’ religious bias; 16.7% were victimized because of the offenders’ sexual-orientation bias; 2.7% were targeted because of the offenders’ gender identity bias; 2.0% were victimized because of the offenders’ disability bias; and 0.9% were victimized because of the offenders’ gender bias.
  • There were 211 multiple-bias hate crime incidents, which involved 260 victims.

Offenses by Crime Category

  • Of the 5,512 hate crime offenses classified as crimes against persons in 2019, 40% were for intimidation, 36.7% were for simple assault, and 21% were for aggravated assault. Fifty-one (51) murders; 30 rapes; and three offenses of human trafficking (commercial sex acts) were reported as hate crimes. The remaining 41 hate crime offenses were reported in the category of other.
  • There were 2,811 hate crime offenses classified as crimes against property. The majority of these (76.6%) were acts of destruction/damage/vandalism. Robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, arson, and other offenses accounted for the remaining 23.4% of crimes against property.
  • Two hundred thirty-six (236) additional offenses were classified as crimes against society. This crime category represents society’s prohibition against engaging in certain types of activity such as gambling, prostitution, and drug violations. These are typically victimless crimes in which property is not the object.

In Washington, Malicious Harassment is a crime you may face in addition to any other existing charges if the prosecution has deemed that there is sufficient cause to believe that your actions were motivated by personal bias or bigotry. Malicious Harassment is a Class C Felony. The statute reads:

“(1) A person is guilty of malicious harassment if he or she maliciously and intentionally commits one of the following acts because of his or her perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap:

(a) Causes physical injury to the victim or another person;

(b) Causes physical damage to or destruction of the property of the victim or another person; or

(c) Threatens a specific person or group of persons and places that person, or members of the specific group of persons, in reasonable fear of harm to person or property. The fear must be a fear that a reasonable person would have under all the circumstances. For purposes of this section, a “reasonable person” is a reasonable person who is a member of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation, or who has the same mental, physical, or sensory handicap as the victim. Words alone do not constitute malicious harassment unless the context or circumstances surrounding the words indicate the words are a threat. Threatening words do not constitute malicious harassment if it is apparent to the victim that the person does not have the ability to carry out the threat.”

The jury must put themselves into the shoes of what the statute defines as a reasonable individual, rather than their own mindset.  From a defense standpoint, the prosecutor’s burden of proof may be difficult to properly enact if the jurors are not members of the group that the alleged hate crime has offended. Moreover, not all crimes that occur between people of different races and nationalities are necessarily hate crimes.

Please contact my office if you or a loved one is currently facing charges for a hate crime, and/or Malicious Harassment. Defending against these allegations is difficult, and there is very little room for negotiation. Hiring competent and experienced defense counsel is your first and best step towards justice.