Category Archives: Skagit County Criminal Defense

The Do’s and Dont’s of Drinking at Whatcom County Parks

 

BELLINGHAM CITY PARKS

In general, it’s illegal to drink in Bellingham parks. The city’s municipal code states that “the opening or consuming of any alcoholic beverage on park property is prohibited.” They’ll only make an exception if you have a license from the state and the “explicit written permission of the director of parks and recreation.”

There’s a 2014 city memo titled “Alcohol use at Park Facilities”, which aims to clarify those exceptions. According to the document, the exemptions primarily leave room for people to host an event at a city park where alcohol is present. In order to do that, you have to apply for permission, provide any relevant details about the event, submit a damage deposit and provide proof of liquor liability insurance. Even if you get approved, only beer and wine are allowed.

WHATCOM COUNTY PARKS

Unlike the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County parks are slightly more lenient. While they don’t allow alcohol in open spaces, they allow drinking in reservable areas. These areas include picnic shelters and day lodges. If you plan to drink, however, you must pay an additional $60 fee with your reservation.

WA STATE PARKS

Journalist  your safest and most legal alternative to legally drink in a Whatcom County park would be state park. While drinking is generally off limits in these locations, too, state parks do allow alcohol at campsites, picnic tables, benches or reservable day-use areas. Whatcom County has three state parksLarrabeeBirch Bay and Peace Arch.

My advice? People who drink too much often commit crimes they would not consider doing while sober. Crimes like Assault, Malicious Mischief, Criminal Trespass and Domestic Violence are more likely to occur any time alcohol is involved. In some cases, Voluntary Intoxication is a defense.

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.

Prison Inmates Get To View The Eclipse

Prisoners demand to watch the solar eclipse

Photo courtesy of Gencraft AI

USA Today reports that inmates at a New York prison sued the state corrections department over the Monday total solar eclipse. Fortunately, the inmates will be able to see the celestial event after all.

The lawsuit came after one of the named plaintiffs, an atheist, received special permission last month to view the eclipse before the statewide prison lockdown was announced. However, prison officials ultimately denied permission to other inmates to be exempt from the lockdown order. Shortly after, the lawsuit was filed in federal court in upstate New York. It listed six plaintiffs of various religious faiths and claimed that the lockdown violated their religious rights.

“These inmates are asking for the most human of things: To gather and celebrate something that is greater than themselves. For many, this eclipse is a moment of monumental religious significance that cannot be overlooked or dismissed out of hand.” ~Court Documents Filed in Lawsuit

Corrections officials agreed Thursday to permit the plaintiffs – a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist, two practitioners of Santeria and an atheist – to view the eclipse in exchange for the lawsuit’s dismissal.

“We are pleased that, in response to our lawsuit alleging religious discrimination, New York State has entered into a binding settlement agreement that will allow our six clients to view the solar eclipse in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” ~Attorney Christopher L. McArdle, one of the attorneys representing the inmates.

New York, which has not experienced a total solar eclipse since 1925, is one of 13 states directly on the eclipse’s path of totality. The astral event has been widely anticipated for months, if not years. As a result, it is expected to draw a heavy influx of tourists as the moon completely blocks the sun’s disc. The rare celestial phenomenon will reveal the sun’s elusive outermost layer known as the corona.

PLAINTIFFS SAY ECLIPSE HAS RELIGIOUS MEANINGS

All plaintiffs claimed in the lawsuit that the solar eclipse was deeply intertwined with the teachings of their respective religions.

In Christianity, the darkness described in the Bible as accompanying Jesus’ crucifixion has been interpreted as an eclipse, while in Islam, sacred works similarly describe the passing of the Prophet Muhammad’s son. Practitioners of Santeria also trace historical ties to chanting rituals performed during a solar eclipse. For atheists, an eclipse may not be a time for worship, but it’s still a time to marvel about the natural wonders of the universe, the lawsuit contended.

My opinion? Great work by the Plaintiffs’ attorneys. And wonderful decision on the part of NY Corrections Department. Religious liberty is a foundational principle of enduring importance in America, enshrined in our Constitution and other sources of federal law.  Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. It also encompasses religious observance and practice. Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law. Therefore, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including the incarceration of prisoners.

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.

Study: Inadequate Health Care for Prisoners Leads to Premature Death & Illnesses

Judge: Arizona prison system healthcare violates constitutional rights

Incredible journalism and investigations from the Guardian reveals that prison inmates regularly die from preventable health conditions. They’re dying years younger than the overall population, often after receiving little healthcare after getting sick. Advocates believe that alarmingly premature death in state prisons is a hidden crisis that is routine across the U.S. All too often,  fueled by abysmal and unconstitutional standards of healthcare.

THE GUARDIAN’S INVESTIGATIONS OF NEW JERSEY STATE PENITENTIARY

By filing public records requests, the Guardian obtained data on all 272 individuals whom the DOC reported had died in New Jersey state prisons from 2018 to 2022, as well as autopsy results on 265 of those people. Heart disease accounted for 69 of the deaths, making it the leading cause, with people dying from the condition at age 62 on average. The next two most common causes of death were Covid-19 (average age of death: 60) and cancer (59).

From 2018 to 2022, men in New Jersey prisons died at an average age of 59 years and two months of age. Among those, Black men died at just under 57 years and four months of age. The incarcerated population is on average younger than the general population. However, these numbers are still startlingly low compared with the overall state average. The average age of death is 71 years and eight months for all men and 64 years and four months for the state’s Black men.

Examined in their entirety, the Guardian’s findings suggest that substandard healthcare is contributing to a pattern of early death behind bars.

David Fathi, an attorney and the Director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, reviewed the Guardian’s findings. He found there are red flags that New Jersey has a seriously dysfunctional prison healthcare system.

“Prisons are black boxes that are hidden from public view . . . It has to be someone’s job to make sure that adequate healthcare is being provided . . . What we know is that the provision of healthcare in prisons across the country is generally systemically inadequate.” ~David Fahti, Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

PRIOR RESEARCH SHOWS INADEQUATE HEALTH CARE FOR PRISONERS IS THE NORM

Previous academic research has found that prison can take a toll on life expectancy – as many as two years for every one year spent in prison. According to the US Department of Justice, in 2019 the No 1 cause of death in US jails, where people await trial or serve relatively short sentences, was suicide. But prisons, where people are sent after being convicted of serious crimes, are different. For example, according to the justice department, in 2019, 78.9% of state prisoners died due to illness, such as heart disease or cancer.

CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT

In its 1976 ruling in Estelle v Gamble, the US supreme court found that “deliberate indifference” to the health needs of incarcerated people violated the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Under the law, incarcerated people have a constitutional right to adequate healthcare that people outside prison do not – even if enforcing that protection has been a difficult task.

Prison is a terrible place. 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.

New Car Designs Also Create Blind Spots

I almost got hit by a car turning left today. I was able to get out of the way because I quickly realized I was in his A-pillar blindspot. I had recently

Photo Courtesy of Evo Magazine

Journalist Doug Dahl reports that visibility can be a big issue with new cars. In short, the popular A-Pillar car designs aren’t helpful for taller drivers, and can create blind spots.

WHAT IS AN “A-PILLAR” CAR DESIGN?

According to Wikipedia, one of the important design elements of modern cars is the A-pillar. This is because its location and angle impact the shape of the front of the car and the overall shape of modern vehicles or what designers call “volume.” For example, more forward positioned A-pillars provide for increased interior room and make for less angle and visual difference between the hood and windshield. This arrangement makes the side view of a car look aerodynamic. The A-pillars that are positioned further back on a vehicle are most often found on rear-wheel drive and SUV models. This arrangement provides a greater hood to windshield angle as well as achieving a bigger field of view for the driver, but at the disadvantage of encroaching on interior space.

“Big roof pillars protect vehicle occupants in a crash, but they’re bad for seeing pedestrians,” reports Dahl. “Giant displays in the car provide great maps for navigation, but they draw a driver’s focus away from the road. Cameras and sensors help the car assist you, but all the features can distract you from the actual driving. Misused, these ‘upgrades’ can put other road users at risk.”

We tend to link distracted driving with cell phones, but that’s only a piece of it. In the 2022 statewide distracted driving observational survey, over half of distracted drivers had diverted their attention to something other than a phone.

Distractions come in many forms. It could be spilled coffee, last minute personal grooming, kids in the back seat, eating any In N Out burger if you ordered it animal style, and fiddling with the technology that came with your car. Some of that tech was meant to keep drivers safer, but if you’re not familiar with it before you put the car in gear, trying to figure it out while driving takes attention away from where it belongs.

Despite all the potential distractions, most of the time drivers have their focus on the road. In the observational survey I mentioned, nine percent were engaged in distracting behaviors. But that small percentage has an outsized impact. Over the past ten years, distracted drivers have been involved in 23 percent of fatal crashes.

There is good news. Our attitudes about distracted driving have changed in recent years, and so have our behaviors. A decade ago, 69 percent of drivers admitted to using their phone while driving. In Washington’s most recent traffic safety survey, that dropped to less than one third. That’s translated into lives saved. In 2014 there were 171 fatalities involving distracted drivers. In 2022 there were 99.

We’ve gotten better at putting our phones down while driving. If we can also get better at avoiding all the other distractions, including the technology built into our vehicles (that’s often helpful but sometimes not so much) we’ll continue to move toward our goal of zero deaths on our roads.

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

9th Circuit Federal Court: Gun Prohibitions on Defendants Are “Historical Tradition of Firearms Regulation.”

13 Tips Whenever Cops Want to See Your Guns! - YouTube

In United States v. Garcia, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that pretrial release conditions forbidding a defendant from possessing firearms are consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearms regulation.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Fencl was arrested after police officers found more than 110 guns in his house, including 10 unregistered and untraceable “ghost guns,” 4 silencers, and 3 short-barreled rifles. Officers also uncovered thousands of rounds of ammunition, including armor-piercing and incendiary rounds and a tear-gas grenade.

In a different case, Mr. Perez-Garcia was arrested following a customs inspection at the United States-Mexico border. He was the passenger in a car in which officers found approximately eleven kilograms of methamphetamine and half a kilogram of fentanyl.

Both men were charged with multiple felony offenses. Consistent with the Bail Reform Act of 1984, two federal magistrate judges released Fencl and Perez-Garcia pending their trials. However, both were subjected them to a condition of pretrial release that temporarily barred them from possessing firearms pending trial. The magistrate judges concluded that the firearm condition was the least restrictive way to assure the safety of the community and the defendants’ appearances in court.

On appeal, Fencl and Perez-Garcia contend that the pretrial firearm condition violated their Second Amendment rights. They believe they were unlawfully  prohibited from possessing guns while they are released pending trial.

9TH CIRCUIT’S REASONING AND CONCLUSIONS

In short, the 9th Circuit upheld the appellants’ temporary disarmament as consistent with our nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.

The 9th Circuit reasoned that Congress passed the Bail Reform Act of 1984 to respond to the alarming problem of crimes committed by persons on release. The Act authorizes federal courts to release defendants awaiting trial subject to specific conditions that protect the community from the risk of crimes they might commit while on bail. Courts have discretion to choose which conditions will best keep the community safe. Furthermore, some conditions that are necessary to keep the community safe nevertheless burden constitutional rights.

“Bail Reform Act’s firearm condition on Appelants is justified by our nation’s history of disarming criminal defendants facing serious charges pending trial. Based on our historical review, we agree that our society has traditionally subjected criminal defendants to temporary restrictions on their liberty—including restrictions that affect their ability to keep and bear arms—to protect public safety and to ensure defendants’ attendance at trial. As we explain below, the combination of separate but related founding era practices supports this conclusion: (1) most serious crimes were eligible for capital charges; (2) the government had the power to detain, and usually did detain, defendants indicted on capital charges; and (3) once detained, criminal defendants were completely disarmed. The Bail Reform Act’s firearm condition as applied to Fencl and Perez-Garcia fits within this historical tradition of firearm regulation.” ~9th Circuit Court of Appeals

Next, the 9th Circuit explained that during the Founding Era, most serious criminal acts and felonies constituted capital offenses. As a result, defendants indicted on capital offenses were typically detained without bail, effectively disarming them.

With that, the 9th Circuit concluded that the Bail Reform Act’s pretrial release firearm condition as applied to Appellants was relevantly similar to the founding era tradition of disarming criminal defendants facing serious crimes.

My opinion? Often in my criminal practice I see lots in incidents involving guns. Clients ask  whether police can seize their firearms if a crime is pending. And what about situations where there was an incident, but no gun was involved? The short answer is yes, police can seize firearms and other weapons under these circumstances. This often happens in allegations involving Domestic Violence and felonies. However, there needs to be an order issued from a judge.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face crimes prohibiting the possession of firearms. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

WA Court of Appeals Upholds “Net Nanny” Sting Operation

Net Nanny' sting nets 21 child predator arrests in Pierce County – KIRO 7 News Seattle

Photo courtesy of Kiro News 7.

In State v. Stott, the WA Court of Appeals held that a “Net Nanny” police sting operation was not outrageous government conduct, even though the police used deception, because the defendant clearly pursued the “victim.”

For those who don’t know, “Net Nanny” sting operations infiltrate online communities where child exploitation activities often take place. Undercover officers pose as minors and engage with individuals involved in soliciting children for sexual purposes. Through careful investigation and monitoring, law enforcement agencies are able to gather evidence and identify perpetrators.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Stott allegedly communicated with an undercover Washington State Patrol (WSP) officer who was posing as a fictional 13-year-old girl (“Kaci”). Mr. Stott was now targetted in an online sting operation aimed to find and arrest adults seeking sex with children. Stott was apprehended by police upon leaving his home to meet up with “Kaci.” He was charged with numerous sex offenses.

Stott moved to dismiss the charges against him. He claimed he was denied due process as a result of outrageous government conduct stemming from the sting operation. The trial court, after applying the five-factor test outlined in State v. Lively, denied the motion. Stott was convicted following a jury trial. He appealed his conviction on grounds that the trial court improperly denied his motion to dismiss.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals (COA) began by saying outrageous government conduct happens when the actions of law enforcement officers are so outrageous that due process principles would absolutely bar the government from invoking judicial processes to obtain a conviction. For the police conduct to violate due process, the conduct must shock the universal sense of fairness.

Next, the COA re-analyzed the the five-factor test outlined in State v. Lively. The test addresses whether government conduct constitutes a due process violation under the “totality of the circumstances.” Our supreme court in Lively outlined five factors for courts to consider in determining whether outrageous government conduct occurred: The five factors are (1) whether the police conduct instigated a crime or merely infiltrated ongoing criminal activity; (2) whether the defendant’s reluctance to commit a crime was overcome by pleas of sympathy, promises of excessive profits, or persistent solicitation; (3) whether the government controls the criminal activity or simply allows for the criminal activity to occur; (4) whether the police motive was to prevent crime or protect the public; and (5) whether the government conduct itself amounted to criminal activity or conduct ‘repugnant to a sense of justice.’

1. Whether the Police Instigated the Crime

The COA reasoned the State did not instigate the crime, but merely infiltrated potential criminal activity. Here, the initial advertisement did not specifically target Stott. He initiated the exchange by responding to the ad. Stott continued to text “Kaci” after he learned that she was underage. He did not at any time seek to withdraw from the exchange, even when he expressed some concern that he was possibly being set up. Finally, it was Stott who introduced sexually explicit language to the conversation.

2. Overcoming Reluctance by Persistent Solicitation

The COA held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in weighing this Lively factor against Stott. The COA reasoned that other than brief mentions of his fear of being “catfished,” Stott willingly and repeatedly engaged “Kaci” and made no attempts to discontinue the interaction. Stott did not reject “Kaci” after being told that he was interacting with a minor. Moreover, Stott did not make affirmative attempts to end the conversation. Furthermore, Stott took affirmative steps to meet “Kaci” in person. He drove down to Puyallup to meet her and offered to pay for an Uber to bring her to Seattle on multiple occasions.

3. Control of Criminal Activity

This Lively factor asks “whether the government controls the criminal activity or
simply allows for the criminal activity to occur.” Here, the COA held the trial court rightfully concluded that Stott “was in the driver’s seat.” It reasoned Stott told “Kaci” what acts he wanted her to perform and negotiated how much he was willing to pay. Furthermore, Stott brought up the topics of contraceptives, payment, Ubers, and a meeting location.

4. The Government’s Motive 

This Lively factor asks whether the police motive was to prevent crime or protect the
public. Here, the COA reasoned the trial court rightfully found that the “Net Nanny” operation is designed to catch would-be sexual abusers before they have a chance to sexually assault an actual child. Furthermore, Stott’s suggestion that he was not otherwise inclined to engage in sex with a child and only acquired that inclination in response to “Kaci’s” enticements is wholly belied by the evidence that was presented to the trial court.

5. Repugnant to Sense of Justice

The final Lively factor is “whether the government conduct itself amounted to criminal activity or conduct “repugnant to a sense of justice.” On this issue, Stott argued that the government’s conduct was repugnant because “Kaci” used lewd and vulgar language during her communications. In response, however, the COA determined that Stott was just as lewd and vulgar in his language as “Kaci,” and the evidence presented to the court for its consideration on the motion supports that determination.

With that, the COA  concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Stott’s motion to dismiss for outrageous government conduct. Accordingly, the COA affirmed Stott’s conviction.

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.

Prosecution Must Prove Defendant Knowingly Violates a No-Contact Order

No-Contact Order Violation | Law offices of Alexander Ransom

In State v. Morales Sanchez, the WA Court of Appeals reversed a defendant’s conviction of Felony Violation of a No-Contact Order. In short, the Court reasoned that for an act to constitute a willful violation of a court order restricting contact, the restrained party must know of the specific provision of the Order that her or his act violates.  Therefore, to prove the mens rea of a willful violation, the State must prove the defendant knew of the specific provision of the Order that his or her act violates. To argue otherwise misstates the law.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The alleged victim Ms. Mejia procured a no-contact order prohibiting Mr. Morales Sanchez from contacting her. The State charged Morales Sanchez with two counts of violation of a court order— domestic violence. The case went to a jury. Ms. Mejia testified at trial as to the alleged violations. According to her, she was home with her children when she heard knocking on her bedroom window. She saw Morales Sanchez outside under a tree and called the police. Ms.  Mejia also testified that, about a week later, she received text messages from the defendant.

In closing arguments, the State Deputy Prosecutng Attorney (DPA) made multiple comments as to the knowledge requirement of violation of a no-contact order. First, it told the jury, “This element does not say the Defendant knew of the provisions of this order and knowingly violated this order. The knowing part refers solely to the violation.” The DPA also said the following:

“And, again, I want to emphasize this, because out of everything I’m going to say, this is one of the most important things for you to remember. This element does not say [Morales Sanchez] knew of the provisions of this order and knowingly violated a provision of this order. What I have to prove to you is that [Morales Sanchez] knowingly violated a provision of this order. There is a big difference.” ~State DPA at Closing Argument

Additionally, the State DPA showed the jury PowerPoint slides consistent with this notion. Morales Sanchez was convicted by the jury as charged. He appealed on arguments that the DPA misstated the law by inaccurately explaining the “knowledge” element of the charge.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals (COA) began by saying the crime of willful violation of a court order has three essential elements: (1) the willful contact with another; (2) that a valid no-contact order prohibits such contact; and (3) defendant’s knowledge of the no-contact order.

“Willfulness requires a purposeful act,” stated the COA. Inadvertent or accidental contact is not enough. It reasoned that not only must the defendant know of the no-contact order; they must also have intended the contact. Proof that a person acted knowingly is proof that they acted willfully. Furthermore, a defendant cannot be prosecuted unless they know of the existence of the order.

Here, the COA held that the State DPA made an improper remark that merits reversal of the conviction. Here, the DPA explained the law as requiring that Morales Sanchez knew of the order and knew that and knowingly violated a provision of that order. The COA believed the DPA statement was inaccurate:

“We hold that this is a misstatement of the law because it fails to fully explain what a knowing violation includes and instead misleads the jury into thinking the State had to only prove Morales Sanchez knew generally of the existence of an order. Rather, the State is required to prove that Morales Sanchez knew what he was doing and that he knew his conduct was a violation of the order. This remark by the prosecutor fails to appreciate the distinction.”

Without properly explaining this distinction to the jury, the State was relieved of its burden of proof to establish Morales Sanchez’s knowledge of the no-contact order and Morales Sanchez’s knowledge that his willful contact with Rivera Mejia violated the no-contact order. This is a misstatement of the applicable law, and was therefore improper.” ~WA Court of Appeals

In addition, the DPA’s aruments blurs the State’s burden of proof. Here, the DPA failed to convey that the State must prove that Morales Sanchez must have known of the no-contact order, intended the contact, and knew that the contact was a violation of the order.

“We hold that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct because it misstated the elements it was required to prove and thereby relieved itself of the burden of proof before the jury. This had a substantial likelihood of affecting the jury’s verdict. Accordingly, reversal is required.” ~WA Court of Appeals

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

Liberal Cities Are Embracing Conservative Anti-Crime Measures

O.C. prosecutor aims anti-crime campaign at surrounding areas - Los Angeles Times

Politico journalists Paul DemkoJeremy B. White and Jason Beeferman report that liberal cities are embracing conservative anti-crime measures.

The country’s biggest, bluest cities are embracing tough-on-crime policies that would have been politically heretical just a few years ago. They’re increasing criminal penalties and expanding police power amid fear over a rash of brazen crimes like theft, drugs and assaults.

These Democrat-led policy changes mark a stark reversal from 2020. At that time, the growing influence of progressives fueled a national effort to curb police powers and decreae police budgets following the murder of George Floyd.

Now, Democrats are in retreat on criminal justice.

“I don’t believe it’s progressive to allow people to get assaulted on the streets at night. I don’t believe it’s progressive to allow people to sleep in tents. This is not the city I grew up in. It’s not a city I recognize right now.” ~Mark Farrell, a moderate Democrat challenging San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

Blue cities are pushing these harsher policies even as crime has decreased significantly nationwide, following big spikes during the pandemic. It’s the perception of increased crime that is driving many of these changes as Republicans continue to pillory Democrats as weak on law enforcement in the run-up to the presidential election.

“What we’re seeing now is a recognition that we have to lean in and do more as government to provide for the safety and well-being of our residents.” ~Democrat Brooke Pinto, the Washington D.C Councilmember

CALIFORNIA

In San Francisco, voters passed a ballot initiatives to lift restrictions on police operations and screen welfare recipients for drug use — two traditionally conservative proposals that nevertheless resonated with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, illustrating voters’ frustration with public drug use.

NEW YORK

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday she is deploying the national guard to New York City’s subway system after a violent string of transit attacks, including one instance where a subway conductor was slashed in the neck while on the job.

WASHINGTON D.C.

The nation’s capital has also been beset by angst over crime. Washington D.C. has highest number of murders in more than two decades last year. A series of high-profile crimes in recent months have further heightened anxiety.

My opinion? It appears that politicians are responding to constituents who are fed up with crime problems. The politicization of criminal justice is an important topic in today’s narrative. Democratic Party politicians and officials are trying to cover areas Republicans are successfully jabbing at them – with soft-on-crime policy being the most evident among political strategies the GOP is using against Democratic incumbents.

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.

Most Americans Cannot Believe Violent Crime is Decreasing

Reported violent crime rate in the U.S. 2022 | Statista

In an article from NPR, journalists , and report that Americans can’t believe that violent crime is decreasing.

In 2020, the United States experienced one of its most dangerous years in decades. According to FBI statistics, the number of murders across the country surged by nearly 30% between 2019 and 2020, The overall violent crime rate, which includes murder, assault, robbery and rape, inched up around 5% in the same period.

But in 2023, crime in America looked very different.

VIOLENCE HAS DROPPED

“At some point in 2022 — at the end of 2022 or through 2023 — there was just a tipping point where violence started to fall and it just continued to fall . . . The national picture shows that murder is falling. We have data from over 200 cities showing a 12.2% decline in 2023 relative to 2022.” ~Jeff Asher, a crime analyst and co-founder of AH Datalytics.

Citing his own analysis of public data, Mr. Asher also found instances of rape, robbery and aggravated assault were all down too. Yet when you ask people about crime in the country, the perception is it’s getting a lot worse.

THE GALLUP POLL

Gallup poll released in November found 77% of Americans believed there was more crime in the country than the year before. And 63% felt there was either a “very” or “extremely” serious crime problem — the highest in the poll’s history going back to 2000. So what’s going on?

WHY IS VIOLENT CRIME DECREASING?

For cities like San Francisco, Baltimore and Minneapolis, there may be different factors at play. And in some instances, it comes as the number of police officers declines, too.

Baltimore police are chronically short of their recruitment goal, and as of last September had more than 750 vacant positions, according to a state audit report. In Minneapolis, police staffing has plummeted. According to the Star Tribune, there are about 560 active officers — down from nearly 900 in 2019.

In Minneapolis, the city is putting more financial resources into nontraditional policing initiatives. The Department of Neighborhood Safety, which addresses violence through a public health lens, received $22 million in the 2024 budget. And in San Francisco, police there say they’ve been better at making arrests.

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

Washington State Bar Association Approves Lower Caseloads for Public Defenders

Overworking Killed 745,000 People in 2016, WHO Finds

Photo Courtesy of: Stock Photos from STOKKETE/Shutterstock

According to U.S. News, the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) has approved far lower case limits for public defenders. This follows an effort to stop them from quitting, to help with recruiting and to make sure they have enough time to represent each client properly. The new limits adopted at a meeting of the Bar’s board of governors are designed to cut maximum caseloads by about two-thirds over the next several years.

“Public defense is in crisis right now,” Jason Schwarz, director of the Snohomish County Office of Public Defense, told the Bar, which regulates attorneys statewide. “If we do nothing, we’re going to remain in crisis.”

Skeptics agree the system is breaking down but are concerned about finding more attorneys to cover the cases. Many counties, especially rural ones, already struggle to employ enough public defenders and get almost no state funding.

“This could be what bankrupts smaller counties like ours, unless the new limits help persuade state lawmakers to allocate more funding . . . At some point, we simply will not be able to pay the bills anymore.” ~Franklin County Administrator Mike Gonzalez

Attorneys are supposed to be provided to criminal defendants who can’t afford to pay, but public defenders are in short supply and busy. So some people who are presumed innocent are spending more time in jail, prosecutions are being dismissed and county costs are climbing.

The Bar’s Council on Public Defense began working on new standards in 2022. In October, the WA State Supreme Court asked the Bar to recommend revisions for the state. This came after a national report reassessed public defender caseloads and proposed a new way of calculating reasonable limits.

During debate Friday, proponents urged the Bar to make the changes.

“I am horrified that in 2024, in our democracy, in this state, people wait before they get their constitutional rights. My clients sit in jail and rot.” ~Adam Heyman, King County Public Defender

For decades, public defender caseloads were capped at 150 felonies or 400 misdemeanors per year. That will change incrementally beginning in 2025 and reach a new cap of 47 felonies or 120 misdemeanors in 2027, with lower maximums for certain case types. A defender working only on murder cases would be limited to about seven per year.

WILL THE STATE SUPREME COURT ADOPT THE WSBA’S RECOMMENDATIONS?

The WA State Supreme Court wields ultimate authority over criminal proceedings and hasn’t decided yet whether to adopt the new limits. The court’s existing rules are modeled on the Bar’s old standards.

The momentum and political will certainly exists. Lawmakers passed a bill this month to train law students and new attorneys to serve as public defenders in rural and underserved areas, but advocates say that is unlikely to solve the crisis overnight.

My opinion? Clearly, public defenders face extremely heavy workloads that prevent them from providing effective legal representation to people accused of crimes. They are asked to juggle too much work against their will, a phenomenon that eventually causes harm to their clients. 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.