Category Archives: Sixth Amendment

Forged Bank Applications

Victim of union forgery files lawsuit

In State v. Smith, the WA Court of Appeals held that a bank account application is a “written instrument” under Washington’s forgery statute.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Smith’s convictions arose from his involvement in certain transactions with his two half-brothers. The transactions involved creating auto dealer businesses and using invalid social security numbers to obtain loans from credit unions to purchase cars from the auto dealers. The men then would deposit the loan amount into a bank account for one of the auto dealer businesses but would not actually complete the car sale.

Eventually, Mr. Smith was charged and convicted of one count of first degree theft, two counts of forgery, and one count of money laundering. He appealed his convictions.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

  1. Legal Principles

The court held the State gave sufficient evidence of forgery. It reasoned that under the forgery statute, “A person is guilty of forgery if, with intent to injure or defraud: (a) He or she falsely makes, completes, or alters a written instrument or; (b) He or she possesses, utters, offers, disposes of, or puts off as true a written instrument which he or she knows to be forged.” Also, the court reasoned that under the common law, a “written
instrument” is defined as a writing that has legal efficacy. Under this definition, “a writing can support a forgery charge only if the writing would have legal efficacy if genuine.”

       2. Legal Sufficiency of Bank Account Applications

The Court gave the statutory definition of a “written instrument” as (a) Any paper, document, or other instrument containing written or printed matter or its equivalent; or (b) any access device, token, stamp, seal, badge, trademark, or other evidence or symbol of value, right, privilege, or identification.

Under this definition, the Court reasoned that a bank loan application fits the definition of a written instrument:

“In general, bank account applications initiate a contractual relationship between the bank and the depositor that, once accepted by the bank, create rights in and impose obligations on both parties. Depositors give money to the bank in exchange for the bank’s services. The bank services the depositor’s account in exchange for fees and the use of the depositor’s funds.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Also, the Court reasoned that the “Certificate of Authority” portion of the bank application provided that anyone who signed the application certified that he or she was authorized to act with respect to the account and any agreements with Wells Fargo, to make payments from the account, and to give instructions to Wells Fargo regarding the transaction of any business relating to the account.

“Therefore, the bank account applications at issue here provided the foundation of legal liability and had legal efficacy under the forgery statute,” said the Court. “Accordingly, we hold that sufficient evidence supports the conclusion that Smith’s bank account applications had legal efficacy.”

        3. The State Established That Bank Account Applications Were Falsely Completed.

Next, the Court rejected Smith’s arguments that even if the bank account applications had legal efficacy, the State failed to establish that they were falsely completed. It reasoned that a social security number is a form of identification, and Smith’s use of the Indiana child’s social security number misrepresented that someone with that social security number was opening a bank account.

“Smith also did not have the authority to use the social security number of the child in Indiana. Accordingly, we hold that sufficient evidence supports the conclusion that Smith falsely completed the bank account applications.” ~WA Court of Appeals

      4. The Trial Court Lawfully Declined the Defendant’s Proposed Jury Instruction.

The Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not err in declining to give Smith’s legal efficacy jury instruction because the legal efficacy of Smith’s bank account applications was a question of law for the trial court.

Under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, a criminal defendant is entitled to a jury determination of every element of the charged offense. As a result, the trial court must instruct the jury on all elements of the offense.

The Court reasoned that questions of law are for the court, not the jury, to resolve, and that legal efficacy of an instrument involves issues that are uniquely within the province of the court. “This is particularly true for a document like a bank account application,” said the Court. “The jury would have no basis for determining whether a bank account application has legal efficacy. Such a determination requires a legal analysis that could be performed only by the trial court.” Consequently, the Court of Appeals held that the legal efficacy of Smith’s bank account applications was a question of law for the trial court. “Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err in declining to give Smith’s legal efficacy jury instruction.”

With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed Smith’s convictions.

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

Victim’s Motive To Testify

Ulterior Motive

In State v. Bedada, the WA Court of Appeals held that in a domestic violence prosecution involving a citizen-victim and a non-citizen defendant, the trial judge mistakenly suppressed evidence of the victim’s knowledge that a criminal conviction would result in the defendant’s deportation.

BACKGROUND FACTS

After a series of alleged incidents of domestic violence, Mr. Bedada was charged with three counts of assault in the first degree and one count each of felony harassment, witness intimidation, and witness tampering.

All of these charges were primarily supported by the testimony of Mrs. Haile, who was the defendant’s wife.

At trial, the judge excluded evidence of Mr. Bedada’s non-citizen immigration status; and more specifically, that he would be deported if convicted of the crimes. As a result, Mr. Bedada was prevented from cross-examining Haile and revealing a motive for her to fabricate her testimony.

Bedada was convicted on all charges except two counts of assault in the first degree. He appeals on the argument that the judge’s decision to suppress his citizenship status was erroneous and without merit.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals explained that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 22 of Washington’s constitution guarantee a defendant’s rights to confront the witnesses testifying against him.

Furthermore, the Court of Appeals said that under Evidence Rule (ER) 401, evidence is relevant if it tends to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable than it would be without the evidence. Also, under ER 403,  relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury.”

Finally, the court explained that under ER 413(a), evidence of immigration status may only be admitted when the party seeking to admit the evidence follows the procedure set forth under the rule. ER 413(a) states,

“In any criminal matter, evidence of a party’s or a witness’s immigration status shall not be admissible unless immigration status is an essential fact to prove an element of, or a defense to, the criminal offense with which the defendant is charged, or to show bias or prejudice of a witness pursuant to ER 607.” (emphasis supplied).

The court analyzed the aforementioned rules and ultimately found that plainly, evidence of a motive to fabricate on the part of Mrs. Haile— whose testimony was the principal evidence supporting every charge against Bedada — could affect a fact finder’s analysis as to whether the facts alleged by Haile were true.

“No party disputed the reliability of evidence of Bedada’s noncitizenship,” said the court. “To the extent that the trial court engaged in a balancing of the probative value and prejudicial effect of the proffered evidence, it unfortunately omitted or misapplied several critical factors necessary to a proper analysis.”

Notably, the Court of Appeals also took issue that neither the Prosecutor nor the trial judge identified any prejudicial effect — specific to this case — that might result from the introduction of evidence of Bedada’s immigration status:

“The State’s assertion did not identify, with any particularity, the prejudice that the State would encounter beyond a generalized concern of immigration as a sensitive political issue. The lack of a specific, as opposed to merely a general, prejudicial effect is significant.”

Finally, the Court found it important that Mrs. Haile was the primary witness against Bedada in every charge against him.

“She was the State’s most important witness,” said the Court. “Demonstrating bias on the part of the key witness has long been deemed an important element of a defendant’s right to present a defense.

For all of these reasons, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court’s decision to exclude evidence of Mr. Bedada’s immigration status constituted an abuse of discretion. Consequently, the Court reversed Mr. Bedada’s convictions.

My opinion? Good decision. Although I sympathize with the victim’s plight, it is wrong for trial courts to suppress evidence of a victim’s ulterior motives for testifying. it is powerful, relevant and probative evidence establishing motive that the victim knew that the defendant would be deported if she testified against him. Defense counsel did a great job establishing a record for appeal.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are non-citizens charged with crimes. Hiring an effective and experienced criminal defense attorney is the best step toward justice.

Disruptive Defendants

Irate Florida man Alan McCarty found guilty of threatening to kill ...

In State v. Davis, the WA Supreme Court upheld a trial judge’s findings that a pro se defendant was disruptive in court and waived his right to be present at trial.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In March 2014, the State charged Davis with two counts of possessing a stolen vehicle and one count of possession of a controlled substance. He waived his right to counsel. The court found Davis knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to counsel, and he proceeded pro se.

Mr. Davis’s path toward trial was rocky. He was incarcerated while the charges were pending. He also had troubles communicating with his investigator, and his motions to continue his case were denied.

At the CrR 3.5 hearing, Davis again sought a continuance and attempted to withdraw as his own counsel. The judge denied both motions. In response, Davis became irate. He screamed that he wanted a new judge. The court warned Davis that outbursts and disruptions would lead to his removal. Davis said, “You can remove me now. What have we been doing here? I don’t even want to be here. So remove me. I don’t care. I told you that. You can hold your trial without me.”

Trial proceeded. Davis returned to court and represented himself without significant incident until the State commenced its case in chief. He took numerous bathroom breaks throughout the day. At one point, however, Mr. Davis returned to the courtroom and discovered his water was removed by court staff.

Again, Mr. Davis He grew irate. He began a tirade of expletives, pounding on the table with his fists, and yelling at an extremely loud volume, at one point screaming “F**k you!”  to the judge. Davis was warned that he would be removed from the courtroom if he was going to continue to raise his voice and curse. The State attempted to proceed with questioning witnesses, but Davis refused to cease his outbursts. The judge temporarily cleared the jury.

Davis repeatedly said, “You can hold your trial without me,” and the court replied, “I’m going to do that.” Davis went as far as to remark, “Thank you. Thank you. Just go ahead with your kangaroo court . . . . I’m done with it.” During this exchange, Davis shouted at the top of his lungs, swearing, and apparently moved to exit the courtroom. The judge stopped Davis in order to make an oral ruling. She found that Davis was voluntarily absenting himself from the proceedings, noting that Davis intentionally drank more water in order to delay trial with bathroom breaks, often during critical portions of witness testimony.

After Davis left the courtroom, the jury returned and the State resumed its direct examination. The State questioned officers involved in Davis’s arrest, asking about the cocaine discovered in his possession and his voluntary statements given after arrest. Davis was not present to cross-examine either witness. He was absent for approximately 50 minutes of trial.

The following day, Davis returned. The court warned him that any profanity or disruptions would result in his removal. Davis agreed, though he continued to interrupt and ask for standby counsel, which the court denied. Despite Davis’s combative behavior, the trial proceeded with Davis present. Davis was convicted on all counts.

Davis appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed Davis’s convictions. The State appealed to the WA Supreme Court.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court began by saying The Sixth Amendment and the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as the Washington state constitution, guarantee the right of the criminal defendant to be present at his or her own trial.

However, the Court also said that the United States Supreme Court and this court have held that a defendant’s persistent, disruptive conduct can constitute a voluntary waiver of the right to be present.

The Court turned to State v. Garza and State v. Thomson as guidance. These cases give the test necessary to answer the primary question of whether Davis waived his right to be present. In short, the crucial test established in these cases was whether the defendant’s absence was voluntary.

“In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Davis waived his right to be present,” said the WA Supreme Court. “The record shows that Davis wanted to leave the courtroom and the trial judge accommodated him. Davis asked and later yelled, repeatedly, that he did not ‘even want to be here. So remove me. I don’t care. I told you that. You can hold your trial without me.’ The court then reminded Davis that he had another of the State’s witnesses to cross-examine, but Davis stated again that he was done.”

Furthermore, the court said the trial court properly exercised its discretion when it permitted a contumacious and stubbornly defiant defendant who insisted on leaving the courtroom to absent himself from the proceedings. It emphasized that maintaining order in the courtroom is within the discretion of the trial judge, and the judge properly exercised it here.

“Davis repeatedly stated that he did not want to be in court, that he was done, and that he wished to leave. Coupled with his disruptive outbursts that culminated in an abusive shouting match with the trial court, Davis obtained what he consistently told the court he wanted: leaving the proceedings. We hold that Davis waived his right to be present at trial.”

Accordingly, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, affirmed the trial court’s
ruling on voluntary absence and upheld Mr. Davis’s criminal convictions.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. It’s never a good idea to represent yourself at criminal jury trials. Hiring an attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Guilty Verdicts Must Be Unanimous

In Louisiana, you can be convicted of a serious crime by a 10-2 ...

In Ramos v. Louisiana, the United States Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that guilty verdicts for criminal trials to be unanimous.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In 48 States and federal court, a single juror’s vote to acquit is enough to prevent a conviction. But two States, Louisiana and Oregon, have long punished people based on 10-to-2 verdicts.

In this case, the defendant Mr. Ramos was convicted of second degree murder in a Louisiana court by a 10-to-2 jury verdict. Instead of the mistrial he would have received almost anywhere else, Ramos was sentenced to life without parole. He appealed his conviction by a nonunanimous jury as an unconstitutional denial of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court, which reversed Ramos’s conviction on the basis that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial—as incorporated against the States by way of the Fourteenth Amendment—requires a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant of a serious offense.

First, the Court reasoned that a “trial by an impartial jury” requires that a jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.

“Juror unanimity emerged as a vital common law right in 14th-century England, appeared in the early American state constitutions, and provided the backdrop against which the Sixth Amendment was drafted and ratified . . . Thus, if the jury trial right requires a unanimous verdict in federal court, it requires no less in state court.” ~Justice Gorsuch, United States Supreme Court

Second, the Court reasoned Louisiana’s and Oregon’s unconventional jury trial schemes had a long history of being viewed as unconstitutional. It stated that jury unanimity was essential to the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Furthermore, research has demonstrated that a unanimous jury requirement strengthens deliberations, ensures more accurate outcomes, fosters greater consideration of minority viewpoints, and boosts confidence in verdicts and the justice system.

Finally, the Supreme Court overturned its deeply divided decision in Apodaca v. Oregon, which concluded that jury unanimity was required in federal criminal trials but not in state criminal trials. In short, the Court reasoned that modern empirical evidence and subsequent case law have undermined Apodaca’s reasoning and conclusions.

My opinion? The Court’s decision was a major victory for protecting the rights of criminal defendants. The Court recognized that jury unanimity has historically been an essential element of the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial trial by jury in criminal cases. Also, the potential impact of Ramos v. Louisiana extends far beyond issues of criminal procedure, as the justices’ spirited debate over when and whether to overturn precedent took center stage and illustrated deep divisions within the Court.

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

Justice for the Jailed

Image result for d defendants incarcerated coronavirus

Great Op-ed article in the Seattle Times written by public defender Brandon Davis describes the challenges of getting justice for jailed defendants in the age of Coronavirus.

Mr. Davis poignantly says that given the scope of this crisis, it is inevitable that the virus will spread in King county’s two jails, where an estimated 2,000 people are currently housed. He says that even the simple act of handcuffing adds a risk — you can’t cover your mouth if you cough while your hands are tied behind your back. Additionally, Mr. Davis potently describes how the shadow cast by CV-19 detrimentally affects his ability to access numerous professionals involved in the justice system:

“I can’t visit my clients in jail without putting myself at risk. I can’t do site visits and interview witnesses. I can’t ask our social workers to meet with clients and put together treatment plans. I can’t negotiate with prosecutors in-person — it’s difficult to even get them on the phone.”

Mr. Davis points out that jury trials are suspended until April 24, and it is possible the suspension will last much longer. And once trials resume, there will be a massive backlog.

“The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a speedy trial, but because of the coronavirus, those who are being held on bond amounts they cannot afford are looking at many more months in an unsafe jail. COVID-19 has ground the criminal legal system to a halt, which is understandable in a pandemic of this magnitude, but our clients in jail are the ones left suffering because of it,” says Mr. Davis.

He describes a story where, on a Saturday, he had to assist his clients in King County Jail.  Before the hearings began, all 20 or so defendants are crammed in “the tank,” which is a small holding cell. Mr. Davis and his colleagues had to enter the tank to talk to each and every one of the incarcerated defendants.

“The visuals could not be starker,” wrote Mr. Davis. “The judge and the prosecutor were at a safe remove, but public defenders were working side-by-side with our clients, all of us at risk. Public health concerns the whole public, and whether the court and the prosecutors would like to admit it, people in jail are part of the public, too.”

I salute Mr. Davis for sharing his insights and writing such a fantastic article. The Coronavirus pandemic is a terrible blight on our communities. It not only affects the contaminated, but people like Mr. Davis who try to help them, too.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are presently incarcerated and want help getting released from jail. Under the circumstances, judges and prosecutors might be persuaded to release defendants or lower bail during this terribly volatile and troubling time.

Unlawful Jury Selection

Image result for bad juror

In State v. Guevara Diaz the WA Court of Appeals held that seating a juror without questioning from either defense counsel or the court into her ability to be fair can never be harmless and requires a new trial without a showing of prejudice.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The State charged Mr. Diaz with one count of second degree rape and one count of third degree rape. At the beginning of trial, the judge explained to the jury that he and the attorneys would be asking them questions, first with a questionnaire and then orally. The judge told the potential jurors that counsel had prepared a questionnaire and pointed out that each juror had “the opportunity to be questioned outside the presence of the other jurors in the event that certain questions are answered yes.”

Thirteen jurors stated that they wished to be questioned outside the presence of other jurors. Seven of them had answered they could not “be fair.” Six others, including juror 23, who also answered that they “could not be fair” did not ask to be questioned outside the presence of other potential jurors.

At the conclusion of jury selection, the court seated two jurors who said that they could not be fair. One of those jurors included juror 23. The jury found Mr. Diaz guilty of one count of second degree rape and one count of third degree rape (this conviction was later overturned on double jeopardy grounds).

On appeal, Mr. Diaz argued that the trial court violated his constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury by allowing a biased juror to serve.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the WA Court of Appeals held that the trial court should not have allowed juror 23 to serve because she expressed actual bias without further inquiry.

“A criminal defendant has a federal and state constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. Seating a biased juror violates this right. Because the presence of a biased juror cannot be harmless, seating an actually biased juror requires a new trial without a showing of actual prejudice.”

Second, the Court held that juror 23 demonstrated actual bias when she answered “No” to the fairness question.

The Court explained that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 22 of the Washington Constitution both guarantee a criminal defendant the right to trial by an impartial jury. To protect this right, a party may challenge a juror for cause. Actual bias provides a basis to challenge a juror for cause.

“The trial court should have addressed this actual bias by questioning juror 23 or allowing defense counsel to question her outside the hearing of other jurors,” said the Court. “Under the circumstances of this case, any court questioning also should have occurred outside the hearing of other jurors because of defense counsel’s viable concern over questioning potentially biased jurors in front of the jury pool.”

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Mr. Diaz’s conviction and remanded his case for a new trial.

Sexsomnia

Image result for sexsomnia

In State v. Pratt, the WA Court of Appeals held that Sexsomnia is an abnormal activity, similar to sleepwalking, that involves people engaging in sexual acts during sleep.  However, the trial court’s exclusion of expert testimony regarding sexsomnia did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to present a defense because no psychological evaluation could determine whether the defendant suffered from sexsomnia at the time of the offense or that the defendant had the disorder.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The State charged Mr. Pratt with child molestation in the first degree based on an allegation by the juvenile victim MB that Pratt had sexually assaulted her while they were both sleeping in a tent for her cousin’s birthday sleepover party. The party occurred at the home of Pratt’s aunt and uncle. MB is the daughter of Pratt’s aunt’s stepsister.

Before trial, Dr. C. Kirk Johnson, a psychologist, evaluated Pratt to determine if he suffered from a sleep disorder called sexsomnia. Sexsomnia is an abnormal activity, similar to sleepwalking, that involves people engaging in sexual acts during sleep. Johnson concluded that a possible explanation for Pratt’s actions included sexsomnia, but he could not confirm it happened.

At a pretrial evidentiary hearing, Pratt indicated he wanted Johnson to testify as an expert at trial about sexsomnia. Although Johnson could not conclude that Pratt had the disorder, he would testify that sexsomnia exists. Pratt wanted to use this testimony to support his general denial defense. Pratt wanted to argue at trial that if a person is asleep, they cannot be guilty because any touching would not have been done for the purpose of sexual gratification. Pratt viewed being asleep as a general denial.

The State moved to exclude the testimony on grounds of relevance. The judge was concerned that calling an expert to testify about sexsomnia could amount to “a back door diminished capacity.” The judge granted the State’s motion to exclude.

Pratt waived a jury. At a bench trial, court found Pratt guilty as charged. Over the State’s and the victim’s objections, the court imposed a SSOSA disposition. The State appealed the sentence. Pratt cross-appealed the exclusion of Dr. Johnson’s testimony.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Court of Appeals reasoned that in order to be eligible for a SSOSA sentence, a defendant must have a connection with the victim which is independent of the crime. Here, Pratt was not eligible for a SSOSA sentence because it is clear that Pratt did not have an “established connection” with MB. Other than the sexual molestation, their only connections involved Pratt giving MB a skewer with marshmallows and asking MB her name.

Second, regarding the defense of Sexomnia, the Court of Appeals reasoned that under State v. Utter, Washington courts have recognized a defense of involuntary action due to sleepwalking where, at the time of the crime, the offender was clearly unconscious.

Furthermore, the defense of involuntary action as a result of being asleep, therefore, should not be treated as one of diminished capacity. Instead, involuntariness due to sleep is an affirmative defense that must be proved by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence.

In this case, however, the Court of Appeals reasoned that Dr. Johnson could not testify that Pratt suffered from sexsomnia either on the night of the sexual molestation or ever.

“The fact that this disorder exists is irrelevant without some tendency to make the existence of sexsomnia of consequence to the determination of the action more probable than it would without the evidence. No nexus existed between Pratt, sexsomnia, and his actions on the night of the molestation.”

Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly excluded Johnson’s testimony because it was irrelevant to both the general denial defense and to a defense of lack of volition. With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed Pratt’s conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime and the defense involves being unconscious due to sleepwalking, and/or experiencing a medical condition called “slow wave sleep.” I’ve successfully obtained dismissal of criminal charges for prior clients who were asleep and/or unconscious during the commission of crimes. Expert testimony might be necessary to educate the jury of a possible Diminished Capacity defense.

Appearance of Fairness

Image result for police officer stands beside testifying witness

In State v. Gorman-Lykken, the WA Court of Appeals held that before allowing a security officer to be stationed next to the witness stand when the defendant testifies, the trial court must (1) state case-specific reasons for the need for such a security measure, and (2) determine that the need for the security measure outweighs the potential prejudice to the testifying defendant.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Gorman-Lykken was charged with Rape in the Second Degree (DV). The State was required to prove that Gorman-Lykken engaged in sexual intercourse with his girlfriend when she was incapable of consent.

At trial, Gorman-Lykken wanted to testify. Before he did so, his defense attorney objected to the proximity of the corrections officer assigned to Gorman-Lykken while he was on the witness stand. The trial court responded, “Let me just touch base with the corrections officer.” The corrections officer stated, “If he’s up here, we’re up here.”

The trial court then observed on the record that sometimes one to three corrections officers were assigned to a defendant in court and that “sometimes those individuals are large, larger than average.” By contrast, the court noted that the corrections officer assigned to Gorman-Lykken was “not one of our largest corrections officers, and there’s only one of her.” The court also stated that “the policy of the corrections staff is that . . . they are to be in close proximity to somebody who is testifying that’s been accused of a crime.” The court concluded, “I think on the whole I’m comfortable having the officer
stay where she’s at.”

The jury found Gorman-Lykken guilty as charged. He appealed his conviction on the issue of whether the trial court erred in allowing the corrections officer to be stationed next to him during his testimony as a security measure.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Preliminarily, the Court of Appeals said that trial courts have broad discretion to make trial management decisions, including provisions for the order and security of the courtroom.

However, the Court also acknowledged that trial courts commit reversible error when they base their decisions solely on the judgment of correctional officers who believed that using restraints during trial was necessary to maintain security, while no other justifiable basis existed on the record.

Furthermore, Courts have recognized that certain courtroom security measures are inherently prejudicial. This includes shackling, handcuffing, or other physical restraints; gagging the defendant and holding a trial in a jail. Courts must closely scrutinize such measures to ensure that they further essential state interests.

“Before allowing a security officer to be stationed next to the witness stand when the defendant testifies, the trial court must (1) state case-specific reasons for the need for such a security measure, (2) determine that the need for the security measure outweighs the potential prejudice to the testifying defendant,” said the Court of Appeals.

Here, however, the Court of Appeals was concerned that the trial court never stated case-specific reasons why this case or this defendant created the need for this security measure.

“The court simply stated, ‘I’m comfortable having the officer stay where she’s at,'” said the Court of Appeals. “Accordingly, we hold that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the corrections officer to be stationed next to the witness stand when Gorman-Lykken testified.”

“Here, the State does not argue that any error was harmless. And there is no indication that the State could show harmlessness beyond a reasonable doubt. Even though stationing an officer next to the witness stand may not be inherently prejudicial, allowing that measure created a risk that the jury might infer that Gorman-Lykken was dangerous or guilty. The State cannot show beyond a reasonable doubt that stationing the officer next to the witness stand did not influence the jury.”

The Court also noted that the evidence of Gorman-Lykken’s guilt was not so overwhelming that a guilty verdict was the only rational result. At trial, Gorman-Lykken’s girlfriend testified that she had taken medication that essentially put her to sleep and that she had told Gorman-Lykken not to have sex with her while she was asleep.

“But Gorman-Lykken testified that he asked his girlfriend if she was up for sex, that she verbally agreed, and that she was coherent during the sexual activity,” said the Court of Appeals. “Therefore, the jury was presented with conflicting evidence, not evidence that overwhelmingly established Gorman-Lykken’s guilt.”

With that, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court’s error in allowing an officer to be stationed next to the witness stand when Gorman-Lykken testified was not harmless. It reversed Gorman-Lykken’s conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court for further consideration.

My opinion? Good decision. It’s highly prejudicial to have police and correctional officers standing by defendants as they testify before a jury. It silently says that the defendant is extremely dangerous and volatile. Juries are more likely to convict defendants who appear dangerous. Congrats to the Court of Appeals for deciding this one correctly!

38-Year Delay Violates Speedy Trial

Image result for speedy trial

In State v. Ross, the WA Court of Appeals held that a criminal defendant’s constitutional speedy trial rights were violated by a 38-year gap between charging and the defendant’s first appearance in the trial court on the murder charges.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Here, the State charged Tommy Ross in Clallam County with aggravated first degree murder in 1978. But the State did not pursue prosecution of that charge for over 38 years. Instead, the State allowed Ross to be extradited to Canada for trial on another murder charge without ensuring that he would be returned for trial in Clallam County.

And then while Ross was incarcerated in Canada the State made no meaningful effort for decades to obtain his return to the United States for trial. The trial court ruled that the State violated Ross’s constitutional right to a speedy trial by not prosecuting the murder charge against him for over 38 years, and the court dismissed that charge. The State appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that the analysis for the speedy trial right under article I, section 22 of the WA Constitution is substantially the same as the analysis under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Court of Appeals used the balancing analysis stated in Barker v. Wingo to determine whether the defendant’s constitutional right to speedy trial was violated. Among the nonexclusive factors we consider are the length of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant.

Length of Delay.

Here, the Court ruled that the The 38-year delay here was extraordinary and significant to the speedy trial analysis. Consequently, the length of delay factor weighs heavily against the State.

Reason for Delay.

The court explained that the “reason for delay” factor focuses on whether the government or the criminal defendant is more to blame for the delay. A court looks to each party’s responsibility for the delay, and different weights are assigned to delay, primarily related to blameworthiness and the impact of the delay on defendant’s right to a fair trial.

“The State’s deliberate delays will be weighed heavily against it, but even negligence that causes delay will be weighed against the State,” said the Court. Consequently, the Court reasoned that the Prosecutor’s decision to release Ross to Canada without obtaining an enforceable agreement to return him to Clallam County was negligent and weighs against the State.

State Failing to Request Extradition.

The Court reiterated the general rule that when a defendant is incarcerated outside of the country, the State has a constitutional obligation for speedy trial purposes to make a good faith, diligent effort to secure his or her return to the United States for trial. Here, the State’s failure after 1980 to seek extradition or even inquire about obtaining Ross’s transfer to Clallam County weighs against the State.

Assertion of Speedy Trial Right.

The court explained that during the time he was incarcerated in Canada, Mr. Ross made no effort to facilitate a trial on the murder charge. He never demanded that the State bring him to trial or that the State figure out a way to remove him to the United States. He did not waive extradition or request that Canada transfer him to Clallam County for trial. And when given opportunities to return to the United States and face the murder charge, Ross declined and decided to remain in Canada. This conduct is inconsistent with an assertion of the right to a speedy trial.

“Based on Ross’s failure to assert his speedy trial right while incarcerated in Canada, we conclude that the assertion of the right factor weighs against Ross even though his failure is mitigated to some extent,” said the Court.

Prejudice from Delay.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that prejudice to the defendant as a result of delay may consist of (1) oppressive pretrial incarceration, (2) the defendant’s anxiety and concern, and (3) the possibility that dimming memories and loss of exculpatory evidence will impair the defense.

In general, a defendant must show actual prejudice to establish a speedy trial right violation. However, prejudice will be presumed when the delay results from the State’s negligence and there has been “extraordinary delay.”

“Courts generally have presumed prejudice in cases where the delay has lasted at least five years,” said the Court, citing  State v. Ollivier. The Court also cited Doggett v. U.S., a case where the U.S. Supreme Court presumed prejudice against the defendant when the State’s inexcusable oversights caused a delay of six years.

“Applying the four-part balancing analysis set out in Barker, we also conclude that the extraordinary delay in prosecuting Ross violated his speedy trial right. Accordingly, we are constrained to affirm the trial court’s dismissal of the murder charges against Ross.”

In addition, the Court of Appeals found the 38-year length of the delay significant, as was the very strong presumption of prejudice resulting from that lengthy delay. “Considering all the Barker factors, we are constrained to conclude that the balancing test weighs against the State,” said the Court. “Accordingly, we hold that the State violated Ross’s speedy trial right under the United States and Washington Constitutions. Dismissal of the charges against the accused is the only possible remedy for a violation of the constitutional right to a speedy trial.”

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges and there’s question whether the defendant’s right to a speedy trial were violated. Washington Court rule CrRLJ 3.3(b)(2) states that a defendant must be brought to trial within 60 days of arraignment if he is detained in jail and within 90 days if he is not. The purpose o f this rule is to provide a prompt trial for the defendant once they are prosecuted. Under the rule, a charge not brought to trial within the time limit will usually be dismissed with prejudice unless the defendant requests continuances.

 

Credit Card Value

Image result for cancelled credit card

In State v. Sandoval, the WA Court of Appeals held that an access device (credit card) need not be able to obtain something of value at the time it is found on a defendant. The access device need only be able to obtain something of value at the time it was last in the possession of its lawful owner.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Ms. Sandoval entered into an agreement with a car dealership. The agreement allowed Sandoval to take home and use a vehicle for three days to determine whether she wanted to purchase it. After three days, the dealership lost contact with Sandoval and made unsuccessful attempts to retrieve the vehicle. The dealership reported the vehicle stolen.

Eventually, the police found Sandoval and her husband in the stolen vehicle at the address
listed in the agreement. The police arrested Sandoval for possession of a stolen vehicle and
searched her incident to that arrest. In Sandoval’s purse, the police found a credit card with somebody else’s name on it, Sandoval’s sister’s birth certificate, and a pipe with methamphetamine residue.

The credit card had been stolen in early February. At that time, the card was active and could have been used to buy goods. Shortly thereafter, the card’s owner cancelled the card.

The State charged Sandoval with possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of stolen property in the second degree, identity theft in the second degree, and possession of a controlled substance.

At trial, the court instructed the jury on the elements of possession of stolen property in the second degree. The court told the jury that the State had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the stolen property was an access device.

The court defined an access device as, “any card, plate, code, account number, or other means of account access that can be used alone or in conjunction with another access device to obtain money, goods, services, or anything else of value. In the same instruction, the court stated, “The phrase ‘can be used’ refers to the status of the access device when it was last in possession of its lawful owner, regardless of its status at a later time.

The jury convicted Sandoval on all charges except identity theft in the second degree. The
State dismissed that charge.

Sandoval appealed on the argument that an access device must be able to obtain something of value at the time it is found on a defendant, not at the time it was last in the possession of its lawful owner.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that RCW 9A.56.010(1) defines “access device” as any card, plate, code, account number, or other means of account access that can be used alone or in conjunction with another access device to obtain money, goods, services, or anything else of value, or that can be used to initiate a transfer of funds, other than a transfer originated solely by paper instrument.

Here, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s definition containing the phrase “can be
used,” a phrase which is not statutorily defined. It reasoned that under State v. Schloredt, it was irrelevant whether a victim cancelled his or her account prior to a defendant’s arrest in determining whether stolen credit cards were “access devices” under the statute. Similar to the facts in Schloredt, it was irrelevant that the credit cards Ms. Sandoval possessed were cancelled by its lawful owner.

Also, the Court of Appeals rejected Sandoval’s argument that she received ineffective assistance of counsel when her attorney failed to request a jury instruction for unwitting possession as an affirmative defense for her possession of a controlled substance charge.

The Court reasoned that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 22 of the Washington State Constitution guarantee the right to effective assistance of counsel. Furthermore, in an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, prejudice exists if there is a reasonable probability that, except for counsel’s errors, the results of the proceedings would have differed.

Here, the Court reasoned that Sandoval testified that she obtained the credit card and methamphetamine pipe at the same time, and both items were found on Sandoval in the same location. Therefore, if the jury found that the State carried its burden in showing beyond a reasonable doubt that Sandoval knowingly possessed the credit card, then it is doubtful that Sandoval could have carried her burden to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that she unwittingly possessed the methamphetamine pipe.

“Thus, we conclude that it was not reasonably probable that the jury would have found Sandoval not guilty of possession of a controlled substance if they had been instructed on the unwitting possession defense.”

Therefore, the Court reasoned that Sandoval was not prejudiced by her counsel’s failure to request the instruction. Because Sandoval has not met her burden to prove prejudice, her ineffective assistance of counsel claim fails.

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