Category Archives: Sixth Amendment

The Limits of Expert Witness Testimony

Expert Witness - Dr. Elisabeth "Eli" Sheff

In State v. Caril, the WA Court of Appeals held that a lower trial court did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to present a defense by prohibiting the defendant’s expert witness from testifying to hearsay statements from another psychologist’s report.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Caril was convicted of second degree murder. He asserts he was in a state of compromised mental health when he stabbed and killed a person.

During the night of June 22-23, 2017, Mr. Ross, Ms. Nguyen, and Mr. Pimenthal enjoyed a night out with a group of friends. In the early morning hours, they obtained take-out meals and sat on the curb outside the restaurant to eat. From across the street, an individual shouted, “Shut the fuck up,” and threw a two-liter soda bottle in their direction. It landed by their feet. Ross shouted back that throwing the bottle was a “good way to get your ass kicked.”

Ross observed the individual – later identified as the defendant Mr. Caril – walk across the street. He walked towards the group brandishing a knife. Ross told everyone to “run” and that the approaching individual had a knife. Nguyen and Ross withdrew. Unfortunately, Pimenthal was not able to do so in time. While running away, Ross saw Caril stab Pimenthal. Nguyen saw Caril “punch” Pimenthal three times in the chest. Mr. Hussen, who observed these events from his car nearby, exited his vehicle and shouted at Caril. Hussen asked if Carilwas “crazy” and “why” he stabbed Pimenthal. Caril asked Hussen if he “wanted some too.” Pimenthal died from his injuries.

Caril was charged with first degree murder. He was later charged with an additional count of second degree murder.

At trial, Caril, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, called an expert psychologist. The expert testified that Caril lacked the capacity to form criminal intent at the time of the incident. The trial court allowed this testimony. However, the trial judge prohibited Caril’s expert witness from testifying to hearsay statements from another psychologist’s report that the expert relied on. The court reasoned that the excluded statements concerned the collateral issues of Caril’s competency to stand trial and potential future need for civil commitment.

Caril was acquitted of first degree murder, but the jury found him guilty of the lesser included crime of second degree murder (intentional murder) with a deadly weapon. Caril was found guilty of second degree murder (felony murder) with a deadly weapon on count II.

On appeal, Caril argued the trial judge abused his discretion and violated his Sixth Amendment right to present a defense by prohibiting the defendant’s expert witness from testifying to hearsay statements from another psychologist’s report.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court Appeals said that under the Sixth Amendment, a defendant has a constitutional right to present a defense. This right is not, however, absolute. It may bow to accommodate other legitimate interests in the criminal trial process, including the exclusion of evidence considered irrelevant or otherwise inadmissible.

Furthermore, an expert witness is permitted to base an opinion on facts or data that are not admissible in evidence. Ths can happen under ER 703 if the facts or data are “of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in the particular field in forming opinions or inferences upon the subject.” Consequently, the trial court has discretion to determine the extent to which the expert may convey this information.

Here, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the hearsay statements were relevant to explain the basis for the expert’s opinion. However, it further reasoned that admitting them could confuse or mislead the jury. This was because the hearsay statements concerned collateral issues related to the defendant’s competency to stand trial and potential future need for civil commitment.  Moreover, the probative value of the statements was low. They were inadmissible as substantive evidence and relevant only for the purpose of providing additional context for the expert’s opinion.

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

Right to Counsel At Critical Stages In Criminal Proceedings

Will Wearing an Orange Jumpsuit in Court Affect the Outcome? - Szar Bail Bonds

In State v. Charleton, the WA Court of Appeals held that even though a defendant lacks counsel at arraignment, this error is harmless because setting bail has no effect on the remainder of the case.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Charleton was arrested and held for 72 hours on allegations of a sex offense. During his initial appearance he did not have a defense attorney. After the State filed charges, the defendant appeared again without counsel. The court set bail and continued arraignment a few days. At arraignment, the defendant appeared with counsel and was granted release. The judge later found the defendant guilty of child rape and child molestation.

The defendant challenged his convictions on arguments that he lacked counsel at a critical stage of the proceedings. Therefore, this failure to appoint counsel violated the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and required reversal of his convictions.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals (COA) gave a 5-part analysis of the legal issues below discussed below:

The Constitutional Right to Counsel Attached at Charlton’s First Two Court Appearances.

The COA explained that superior courts are required to process defendants  in court as soon as possible, “but in any event before the close of business on the next court day.” A court must provide a lawyer at the “preliminary appearance” pursuant to court rule. And the right to an attorney accrues as soon as feasible after the individual is taken into custody, appears before a judge, or is formally charged, whichever occurs earliest. Consequently, the COA reasoned that Mr. Charleton’s right to counsel attached after he was charged and appeared for arraignment.

Charlton’s First Court Appearance Was Not a Critical Stage of the Criminal Proceedings. However, Charlton’s Second Appearance Was a Critical Stage Because the Trial Court Addressed the Setting of Bail.

Here, the COA explained that a “critical stage” is one which a defendant’s rights may be lost, defenses waived, privileges claimed or waived, or in which the outcome of the case is otherwise substantially affected. Critical stages involve pretrial procedures that would impair defense on the merits if the accused is required to proceed without counsel.

Even Though Charleton’s Second Appearance Involving Bail Was a Critical Stage, His Appearance Without an Attorney Was Harmless Error.

The COA reasoned that an error is harmless if the State establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that the verdict would have been the same result without the error. Here, the trial court’s imposition of bail on an unrepresented Mr. Charleston had no effect on his case resolution.

“Because of the court’s bail decision and the continuance of the arraignment, Charlton was in jail for an additional 10 days. His brief continued detention certainly did not pervade or contaminate the entire proceeding. Therefore, there was no structural error and we must apply the harmless error analysis.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

Accordingly, the COA affirmed Charlton’s convictions.

My opinion? Bad decision. Lack of defense counsel at bail hearings can potentially cripple a defendant’s ability to fight the charges. At arraignment, defense attorneys often argue bail and release conditions. A competent defense attorney can persuade the judge to lower the bail recommended by the prosecution. Even better, a defense attorney can persaude the judge to release the defendant on personal recognizance. Defendants who are released from jail are better positioned to assist in their defense. They can help locate  witnesses, enter treatment programs and contemplate substantive defenses.

Please review my Making Bail legal guide and 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.

Criminal Conviction Reversed on Prosecutor’s Race-Based Misconduct & Voir Dire.

Survey: Trump's immigration rhetoric is negatively impacting Latinos' health

In State v. Zamora, the WA Supreme Court held that a Prosecutor committed misconduct when, during jury selection, he repeatedly asked the potential jurors about their views on unlawful immigration, border security, undocumented immigrants, and crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

BACKGROUND FACTS

This case arises from a violent police confrontation that escalated far beyond what should have happened. On Super Bowl Sunday, February 5, 2017, Joseph Zamora was walking to his niece’s house. A neighbor called the police to report a possible vehicle prowler. When Zamora reached the driveway of his niece’s home, he was contacted by responding officer Kevin Hake. Hake quickly became nervous because of Zamora’s demeanor. Fearing Zamora had a weapon, Hake grabbed Zamora and attempted to restrain him.

A struggle ensued and escalated to include what may be described as extreme acts of violence. Ultimately, eight officers were involved in subduing Zamora. When responding paramedics arrived, Zamora was handcuffed, hog-tied, and lying face down in the snow with two officers restraining him. He had no heartbeat or pulse. It took the paramedics seven minutes to revive him. Zamora was taken to the hospital and remained in intensive care for approximately four weeks.

Zamora was charged with two counts of Assault Third Degree on the officers who “restrained” him. Officer Hake’s injuries included some small scratches around his hand and wrist and some bruising. Officer Welsh sustained an injury to his hand from punching Zamora in the back of the head multiple times. Zamora’s case proceeded to trial.

The Grant County Prosecutor began voir dire. He introduced the topics of border security, illegal immigration, and crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. The prosecutor repeatedly elicited potential jurors’ comments and views on these topics. At one point, he referred to “100,000 people illegally” crossing the border each month. He asked jurors whether “we have or we don’t have enough border security.” He also asked jurors if they had “heard about the recent drug bust down at Nogales, Arizona where they picked up enough Fentanyl to killed 65 million Americans.” Defense counsel did not object to the prosecutor’s questions and remarks on border security, illegal immigration, undocumented immigrants, and drug smuggling.

A jury found Zamora guilty as charged.

Zamora appealed. He argued his right to an impartial jury was violated when the Prosecutor appealed to jurors’ potential racial bias during voir dire. Division Three of the Court of Appeals affirmed Zamora’s convictions, concluding that his constitutional rights were not violated. Zamora appealed to the WA Supreme Court. They accepted review.

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether the prosecutor committed misconduct when, during jury selection, he repeatedly asked the potential jurors about their views on unlawful immigration, border security, undocumented immigrants, and crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court concluded that the prosecutor intentionally appealed to the jurors’ potential racial bias in a way that undermined Zamora’s presumption of innocence. Therefore, Zamora was denied his constitutional right to an impartial jury because of the prosecutor’s race-based misconduct.

Justice Charled W. Johnson authored the Court’s opinion. He began by explaining that the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Washington State Constitution guarantee a criminal defendant the right to an impartial jury. Justice Johnson said the Court has long recognized that the constitutional right to a jury trial includes the right to an unbiased and unprejudiced jury. He also upheld the right to fair trial in the face of prosecutorial misconduct:

“As a quasi-judicial officer and a representative of the State, a prosecutor owes a duty to a defendant to see that their rights to a constitutionally fair trial are not violated. Thus, a claim of prosecutorial misconduct directly implicates the constitutional right to a fair trial.” ~Justice Johnson, WA Supreme Court.

Justice Johnson also explained that in order to prevail on a prosecutorial misconduct claim, a defendant who timely objects must prove that the prosecutor’s conduct was both improper and prejudicial in the context of the entire trial. If the defendant does not object, on appeal the defendant must show the improper conduct resulted in incurable prejudice.

However, when the misconduct implicates racial bias, “flagrantly or apparently intentionally appeals to racial bias in a way that undermines the defendant’s credibility or the presumption of innocence,” courts will vacate the conviction unless the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the race-based misconduct did not affect the jury’s verdict.

“To determine whether the prosecutor’s conduct in this case flagrantly or apparently intentionally appealed to jurors’ potential racial bias, we ask whether an objective observer could view the prosecutor’s questions and comments during voir dire as an appeal to the jury panel’s potential prejudice, bias, or stereotypes about Latinxs. The objective observer is a person who is aware of the history of race and ethnic discrimination in the United States and aware of implicit, institutional, and unconscious biases, in addition to purposeful discrimination.” ~Justice Johnson, WA Supreme Court

Here, the Court reasoned that the prosecutor’s questions and remarks implicated the defendant’s ethnicity. The prosecutor’s conduct appealed to the jurors’ potential racial or ethnic bias, stereotypes, or prejudice. The Court said we must be vigilant of conduct that appeals to racial or ethnic bias even when not expressly referencing race or ethnicity:

“The state-sanctioned invocation of racial or ethnic bias in the justice system is unacceptable. Accordingly, we hold that the prosecutor in this case committed race-based misconduct during voir dire, and the resulting prejudice to the defendant is incurable and requires reversal. We reverse the Court of Appeals and reverse and vacate the convictions.” ~Justice Johnson, WA Supreme Court

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.

Confrontation, Video Testimony & COVID

Legal Videography - Compass Reporting | Litigation Support Concierge

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.

Language App Helps Police

LanguageLine Solutions(R) Launches Live Interpreting App

Tacoma police officers are now using a language translation tool to assist during emergency responses. Q13 Fox News reports that all officers have access to Language Line Solutions, a translator app on their phones.

In the past, officers used neighbors or even family members, like kids, to translate.

Lydia Zepeda, who is a member of the Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, worked with the Tacoma Police Department to introduce a better way for officers to help people in crisis.

“A lot of these people are experiencing domestic violence, they may have been sexually assaulted, or they may be some other victim of a crime and we certainly don’t want children to have to interpret for something like this.” ~Lydia Zepeda, Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.

“Language Line Solutions allows the Tacoma Police Department to offer equitable services to all members of the community,” said officer Wendy Haddow with the Tacoma Police Department.

The app offers translators for 240 different languages with voice options, and for some languages, video chat options. When you open the app, you can scroll or use the search feature to find the language you are looking for.

“This app is really, really important,” said Zepeda. She says this new tool, gives people going through an emergency an easier way to be heard, and get the help they need. She says it also protects children from having to be involved. “It minimizes trauma.”

My opinion? The language line app is an excellent use of police resources which serves everyone. In an emergency, getting information quick is vital. However, challenges arise when responding officers and the caller do not speak the same language.

Language barriers are the source of much litigation. In State v. Prok, the WA Court of dismissed a DUI case against a Cambodian DUI defendant because the police officer failed to advise Mr. Prok of his right to counsel in language easily understood. By itself, State v. Prok assisted defense attorneys who argued Motions to Suppress evidence based on language barriers between police and defendants.

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.

Right to Present a Defense

1538.5 Motions To Suppress Evidence In California

In State v. Jennings, the WA Court of Appeals held the trial court’s exclusion of a shooting victim’s toxicology report indicating the victim had methamphetamine in his body at the time of his death did not violate the defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On the date of the incident, the defendant Mr. Jennings accompanied his friend Mr. Redman to get Redman’s car from a mobile home in Puyallup, Washington. Redman had been living there, but had recently been kicked out. Drug activity occurred there. Jennings was there to defuse any hostilities between Redman and others at the house. Jennings armed himself with bear spray and a gun.

When they arrived, Jennings was on high alert. He knew violent events had recently occurred there. His friend Mr. Redman got into an argument with Mr. Burton, an individual at the house. Redman had his gun out. Jennings was familiar with the behavior of people who consumed methamphetamine. He realized that both Redman and Burton were high on methamphetamine and acting aggressively.

Burton and Redman argued about Redman’s car and then began to scuffle, wrestling in the foyer of the house. Jennings sprayed his bear spray at them to break up the fight. Burton then turned around and started walking toward Jennings, who backed up. Jennings believed Burton had Redman’s gun.

Jennings feared for his life. He was afraid Burton was reacting violently because he was high on methamphetamine. Jennings fired his gun and hit Burton twice. Burton died at the scene shortly after the shooting and before the ambulance arrived.

Jennings was arrested the next day. He was charged with second degree intentional murder (RCW 9A.32.050(1)(a)), second degree felony murder predicated on second degree assault (RCW 9A.32.050(1)(b)), and unlawful possession of a firearm.

At trial, Jennings claimed at trial that he shot Burton in self-defense. However, the judge excluded the toxicology report showing that Burton had methamphetamine in his body at the time of his death.  A jury found Jennings guilty of second degree felony murder.

Jennings appealed on numerous issues, including arguments that the trial court violated his constitutional right to present a defense by excluding a toxicology report showing that Burton had methamphetamine in his body at the time of his death.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by emphasizing that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to present a defense under the Sixth Amendment. Furthermore, evidence of self-defense must be assessed from the standpoint of the reasonably prudent person standing in the shoes of the defendant, knowing all the defendant knows and seeing all the defendant sees. Finally, the court reasoned that evidence that might impact a defendant’s assessment of the danger presented, like the victim’s prior specific violent acts, is admissible only if known to the defendant when the incident occurred.

“In analyzing the Sixth Amendment right to present a defense, we balance the State’s interest in excluding the toxicology report against Jennings’s need for evidence showing that his subjective fear was reasonable,” said the Court of Appeals.

The Court further reasoned that in this case, the toxicology report did not have extremely high probative value and it did not constitute Jennings’s entire defense. “At trial, Jennings testified that what he observed on the day of the shooting gave rise to his subjective fear . . . his belief that Burton was high on methamphetamine,” said the Court.

“Jennings has not shown that there was a reasonable probability that any additional corroboration from the toxicology report would have materially changed the result at trial,” said the Court. “We hold that even if the trial court abused its discretion by excluding the toxicology report under ER 401 and 402, this ruling was harmless error.”

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

My opinion? Evidentiary and legal issues aside, these facts are terribly tragic. My heart goes out to the friends and families of all who were impacted by this. From a legal standpoint, however, It appears the WA Court of Appeals conducted a basic balancing test under Washington’s Rules of Evidence and determined that the toxicology report of the victim’s meth/blood levels was neither probative nor relevant at trial.

Under Washington’s Rules of Evidence, relevant evidence is defined in ER 401 as “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. ER 402 provides that evidence which is not relevant is not admissible. Finally, ER 403 provides that relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by, among other things, the danger of unfair prejudice.

Here, the Court of Appeals was convinced that Mr. Jennings’ self-defense theory was properly supported by his testimony that he responded in self-defense to the victim’s meth-induced attack. Therefore, no other evidence was necessary to admit more evidence that the victim was high on meth. Jennings’ testimony, by itself, was enough. Any additional evidence on that issue was therefore cumulative, repetitive, unnecessary and potentially prejudicial to the State’s case under ER 403.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges and self-defense is a possible defense. It’s important to hire an experienced criminal defense trial attorney who understands the law, the rules of evidence and how both contribute to trial defenses.

Shackling Defendants In Court – Without Reason – Is Unconstitutional.

Court ruling about shackles puts stress on judicial system | Local ...

In State v. Jackson, the WA Supreme Court held that shackling in court without analyzing whether the shackles are necessary violates the defendant’s constitutional rights.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In 2017, Mr. Jackson,  was charged with assault in the second degree, domestic violence, for strangling his fiancée. At every court appearance, Jackson was forced to wear some form of restraints pursuant to jail policy. The trial court did not engage in any individualized determination of whether restraints were necessary for courtroom safety but, instead, filed a consolidated opinion adopting the jail policy for all superior court appearances for all incarcerated defendants.

After a jury found Jackson guilty, he appealed, arguing that his constitutional right to due process was violated when he was forced to wear restraints without an individualized inquiry into their necessity.

The Court of Appeals held that the shackling of Jackson without an individualized inquiry into whether shackles were necessary violated his constitutional rights. However, it also held that this violation was harmless; thus leaving Jackson with a constitutional violation without a remedy.

Both the Prosecutor and Mr. Jackson appealed to the WA Supreme Court. Jackson argued that the Court of Appeals did not apply the constitutional “harmless error test” correctly. The State, on the other hand, cross-petitioned for review of the constitutionality of the use of pretrial restraints.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court reviewed the history of defendants wearing pretrial restraints in court:

“The problems in the history of shackling in early America are not limited to the courts and incarcerated individuals . . . The use of shackling as a means of control and oppression, primarily against people of color, has run rampant in the history of this country . . . Shackles and restraints remain an image of the transatlantic slave trade and the systematic abuse and ownership of African persons that has endured long beyond the end of slavery.

Shackles and restraints also represent the forced removal of Native people from their homelands through the Trail of Tears and the slave labor of Native people. We recognize that although these atrocities occurred over a century ago, the systemic control of persons of color remains in society, particularly within the criminal justice system.” ~WA Supreme Court

Next, the Court reasoned that under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and article I, section 22 of the Washington State Constitution, it is well settled that a defendant in a criminal case is entitled to appear at trial free from all bonds or shackles except in extraordinary circumstances.

That said, the WA Supreme Court also mentioned that the right to be free from restraint is not absolute, and trial court judges are vested with the discretion to give measures that implicate courtroom security, including whether to restrain a defendant in some capacity in order to prevent injury.

Next, the court  identified several factors under State v. Hartzog which help a trial court determine if a defendant needs to be shackled:

“The seriousness of the present charge against the defendant; defendant’s temperament and character; his age and physical attributes; his past record; past escapes or attempted escapes, and evidence of a present plan to escape; threats to harm others or cause a disturbance; self-destructive tendencies; the risk of mob violence or of attempted revenge by others; the possibility of rescue by other offenders still at large; the size and mood of the audience; the nature and physical security of the courtroom; and the adequacy and availability of alternative remedies.” ~WA Supreme Court quoting State v. Hartzog

The Court reasoned that a trial court must engage in an individualized inquiry into the use of restraints prior to every court appearance. Furthermore, the State does not meet this burden by simply establishing that no jurors observed the restraints during trial.

“When the State does not meet its burden to prove that the use of restraints at trial was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant is entitled to a new trial and the defendant may only be restrained or shackled during any stage of the proceedings after the court makes an individualized inquiry into whether shackles or restraints are necessary,” said the Court.

With that, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals on harmlessness and remanded for a new trial with instructions that at all stages of court proceedings, the court shall make an individualized inquiry into whether shackles or restraints are necessary.

My opinion? Good decision. The manner in which the justice system treats people in these public settings matters for the public’s perception, including that of the defendant. Practices like routine shackling are inconsistent with our constitutional presumption that people who have not been convicted of a crime are innocent until proven otherwise.

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.

Forged Bank Applications

Victim of union forgery files lawsuit

In State v. Smith, the WA Court of Appeals held that a forged bank 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 Forgery 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 motive to testify.

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, especially deportable offenses like Domestic Violence. 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 disruptive defendant 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.