Category Archives: Washington Court of Appeals

“Victim Penalty Assessment” Court Fine Held As Constitutional

HB 1795 reduces driver's license suspensions for court fines and fees -  Oklahoma Policy Institute

In State v. Griepsma, the WA Court of Appeals held that a mandatory $500 victim penalty assessment is still not an excessive fine under the Eighth Amendment, even if it might be partially punitive.


IN 2019, a jury convicted Griepsma of six counts of third degree felony assault of a law enforcement officer and one count of third degree malicious mischief. The trial court imposed concurrent midrange sentences of 55 months for each of the assault convictions. It also imposed a current 364-day sentence for the misdemeanor, but it did not order community custody. Finally, the court imposed a mandatory $500 Victim Penalty Assessment (VPA).

Griepsma appealed imposition of the mandatory $500 VPA. He argued it was unconstitutional under the excessive fines clauses of the Eighth Amendment and the Washington State Constitution.


The Court explained that under the Eighth Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” And under the WA Constitution, “Excessive bail shall not be required, excessive fines imposed, nor cruel punishment inflicted.”  Finally, for a fine to be unconstitutional, it must be at least partially punitive and it must be excessive.

On appeal, Griepsma argued that the United States and Washington Supreme Court cases make clear that the VPA is at least partially punitive. In support of his argument, Griepsma pointed to Timbs v. Indiana and City of Seattle v. Long. Both cases held that in their specific circumstances, the excessive fines clause was aprtially punitive and therefore unconstitutional.

“But neither case addresses whether the VPA is subject to an excessive fines clause analysis,” said the Court of Appeals. With that, it affirmed the trial court’s imposition of the mandatory $500 VPA.

My opinion? States and municipalities are increasingly relying on fines and fees imposed on defendants by criminal courts to fund their court systems and other government operations. Rather than relying on taxes, state and local governments have opted to extract wealth from their poorest and most vulnerable citizens in the form of “criminal legal debt”—financial sanctions imposed as part of the criminal legal system.

These types of penalties are inherently regressive—that is, they have a greater impact on those who are poorer as compared to those who are richer. And such a financial sanction would be difficult for many Americans to bear. A 2020 report issued by the Federal Reserve found that nearly 40 percent of adults would be unable to immediately cover an unexpected $400 expense.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Avoid resolving your criminal case by paying excessive and/or punitive court fines. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

A Trial Court’s COVID-19 Protocols Are “Trial Management Decisions.”

Courts Making Juror Safety a Top Priority | United States Courts

In State v. Ferguson, the WA Court of Appeals held that imposing COVID-19 protocols are “trial management decisions.” The use of masks, a transparent partition between counsel and client, and some jurors being seated behind counsel table during trial to allow for social distancing did not violate the defendant’s rights at trial.


On April 16, 2019,  a man and his son went for a walk. When they returned home, they noticed a man inside the garage. They recognized the man as Mr. Ferguson. An altercation occurred. Afterward, Ferguson fled the scene by running through a nearby field to a neighbor’s home. The police responded and ultimately found Ferguson at the neighbor’s house. Ferguson was arrested.

Ferguson was initially charged with first degree burglary. His charges were later amended to also include felony harassment, third degree malicious mischief, second degree criminal trespass of the neighbor’s house, bail jumping, and witness tampering.


Following delay and multiple continuances partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ferguson’s case proceeded to trial. Ferguson’s jury trial was the first to take place in the county since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, the trial court implemented a variety of COVID-19 protocols for the trial.

Some members of the jury were seated behind the counsel tables in the courtroom gallery. This was done in order to socially distance the jurors and the participants. And everyone in the court room was instructed to wear face masks. The trial court also instructed the jurors to raise their hands if they could not hear something during the trial.

Plexiglass partitions were also placed between participants, including between Ferguson and his counsel at their table. Throughout the trial, Ferguson and his counsel would lean or move back behind the partition to speak to each other and would pass notes to each other.

After all witnesses had testified, Ferguson’s counsel requested a mistrial based on the COVID-19 protocols. Specifically, counsel argued the plexiglass partition between counsel and Ferguson, coupled with the seating arrangement for the jurors, compromised their ability to have necessary attorney-client communications. Ferguson’s counsel contended that because they could not hear each other through the plexiglass partition, the jurors were possibly able to overhear private communications. The trial court denied the motion for a mistrial.

The jury found Ferguson guilty of first degree burglary, third degree malicious mischief, second degree criminal trespass, bail jumping on a class A felony, and tampering with a witness.

Ferguson appealled his conviction on numerous arguments challenging the COVID-19 protocols used for his trial. Ferguson argued that the plexiglass between him and his counsel forced them to lean back to communicate with each other and may have allowed the jurors to overhear them. Ferguson also argued that the masks required him and his counsel to speak louder than they typically would, potentially disclosing their confidential attorney-client communications to the jurors and the State. Finally, he argued the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his request for a mistrial due to these protocols.


The Court of Appeals reasoned that Ferguson’s trial was the first in the county since the beginning of the pandemic and the suspension of all jury trials. The trial court implemented these protocols to ensure that the trial could safely proceed, as it was required to do by our Supreme Court.

“Plexiglass partitions, mandatory masking, and social distancing that forced jurors to be located throughout the gallery were all modifications to the trial court’s typical courtroom arrangement and procedures that fall within the court’s discretion and were based on the Supreme Court’s multiple orders.” ~WA Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals further reasoned that the impact on Ferguson’s rights, while not negligible, was not onerous. Although Ferguson and his counsel were not able to communicate as easily as they would have been without the COVID-19 protections in place, the video record of the trial shows that he and his counsel were able to lean back minimally to speak around the plexiglass partition and write notes to each other. And the record shows that Ferguson and his counsel communicated in those ways frequently. Ferguson claims that he spoke louder than normal because of the masks, but private communication with his counsel would have been more likely because of the same social distancing requirements about which Ferguson now complains.

“No reasonable juror would draw any inference personally against Ferguson because of the implementation of plexiglass partitions, masks, and social distancing. COVID-19 protocols are simply not comparable to other inherently prejudicial decisions, like requiring the defendant to wear prison clothes or restraints that could signal dangerousness. See Caver, 195 Wn. App. at 780-81. Because impermissible factors were not brought into play and the changes furthered essential state interests, the COVID-19 protocols satisfy the closer scrutiny required for inherently prejudicial trial management decisions.” ~WA Court of Appeals

With that, the Court of Appeals held that the COVID-19 protocols implemented in Ferguson’s trial were permissive trial management decisions. Also, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Ferguson’s motion for a mistrial.

Fortunately, I’ve held numerous jury trials in the era of COVID-19. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten an easier. How do you question a prospective juror when the juror is wearing a mask? Watch the eyes. After all, that is about all you can see of the juror’s face.  Body language plays a role.  Jury questionnaires are enormously helpful, as are the use of electronic exhibits. And making sure everyone—you, the judge, and jury—can hear what is being said is always important. It takes patience and care.

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.


Recording Your Spouse – A Preliminary Guide | Goranson Bain

In  State v. Fleeks, No. 82911-4-I (January 23, 2023), the WA Court of Appeals held that a recorded police interrogation – where the detective referred to the defendant as being “cold-hearted” – was improperly admitted opinion testimony.


Nineteen-year-old Mr. Fleeks often sold drugs on the streets of Seattle to make money. On December 3, 2018, Fleeks was in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle selling drugs. After Fleeks received a text message from an unknown number, one of Fleeks’s regular customers approached him and told him the text message was from Mr. George who wanted to buy some crack cocaine. Fleeks met George and sold him a small amount of crack cocaine.

Unfortunately, a confrontation took place. As a result, George died from a gunshot wound inflicted from Fleeks.

After arrest, the police interviewed Fleeks and he denied any connection with George’s death. When the police showed Fleeks surveillance footage, he continued to deny being the person in the footage. Detective Cooper continued to ask Fleeks to explain the encounter and shooting. Detective Cooper asked whether George was “fucking with you or . . . something like that?” Fleeks continued to deny any involvement. Detective Cooper made the following comment:

“Do you wanna explain anything to me? This, this is probably your last chance to try to make yourself not look so cold-hearted and stuff like that. We have witnesses that put you there, that identified you there. We have those pictures, that’s off a video, dude . . . I, I mean you’re 19 . . . was there an argument was there a disturbance, a fight, anything . . . so do you wanna explain what happened?”

The State charged Fleeks with one count of murder in the second degree, and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm in the second degree.

At trial, Fleeks raised self-defense. The State offered the police interview recording as evidence to prove its case. Defense counsel objected to the jury hearing the interview recording. However, the judge allowed the jury to review the transcript from a portion of the police interview with Fleeks. The jury watched the interview, including the police detective referred to Fleeks as “cold-hearted.”

Robert Fleeks Jr. was convicted as charged. He appealled his conviction on numerous issues. One issue was whether the trial judge improperly allowed opinion evidence of the police detective saying Fleeks was “cold-hearted.”


The Court of Appeals agreed with Fleeks that the officer’s opinion testimony was improper.

The Court reasoned that “Opinion Testimony” is testimony that is “based on one’s belief or idea rather than on direct knowledge of the facts at issue.” Furthermore, witnesses may not testify in the form of opinions about the defendant’s guilt or innocence. Opinions on guilt are improper because they impede the jury’s ability to make an independent determination of the facts. And testimony given by police officers possess an aura of reliability that make them particularly problematic.

“Testimony that is not a direct comment on the defendant’s guilt or on the veracity of a witness, is otherwise helpful to the jury, and is based on inferences from the evidence, is not improper opinion testimony. Opinion testimony is improper when it comments on the veracity or intent of a witness, tells the jury what decision to reach, or leaves no other conclusion but that a defendant is guilty.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Fleeks argued that the comment was an improper opinion of guilt, specifically, referring to Fleeks as “cold-hearted.” Conversely, the State argued that Detective Cooper was referring to his casual demeanor and unwillingness to cooperate, in conflict with Fleeks’s claim of self-defense. The trial court found the interview admissible:

“We disagree with the trial court. While Detective Cooper’s statement is an observation that Fleeks did not appear remorseful, it improperly commented on Fleeks’s intent and effectually directed the jury to not believe Fleeks’s self-defense theory. Detective Cooper’s opinion that Fleeks should make himself ‘look not so cold-hearted’ could easily appear to the jury as a belief that Fleeks was guilty of murder, not acting in self-defense. This testimony could interfere with the jury’s ability to determine every fact beyond a reasonable doubt. ~WA Court of Appeals

Consequently, the Court of Appeals reversed Fleeks’s conviction on other grounds and remand for a new trial with instructions that the detective’s testimony should be redacted to exclude the “cold-hearted” statement.

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.

Harming a Police Dog

Man Who Shot, Killed Ohio K-9 Officer Jethro Sentenced to 45 Years in Prison - ABC News

In State v. Moose, the WA Court of Appeals decided an interesting case involving a defendant maliciously harming a K-9 officer.


The Defendant Mr. Moose attempted to light a car on fire. In the process, he intentionally lit a police dog on fire while resisting arrest. The State filed four charges against him—attempted Arson in the Second Degree, Harming a Police Dog, Resisting Arrest, and attempted Malicious Mischief in the Third Degree. A jury convicted him of all charges. Mr. Moose appealed his conviction. He argued that the term “maliciously” under the Malicious Mischief statute does not include police dogs.


The Court of Appeals began by framing Mr. Moose’s appellate arguments. In short, Moose argued that the State lacked evidence to convict him because the Malicious Mischief statute defines “maliciously” as “an evil intent, wish, or design to vex, annoy, or injure another person.”  Because Mr. Moose harmed a police dog, not “another person,” the State failed to prove he acted maliciously as required by statute.

However, the Court of Appeals denied Moose’s interpretation of the statute:

“Mr. Moose’s argument is unconvincing . . . A statute criminalizing malicious injury of a police dog plainly requires a definition of “maliciously” that applies to police dogs. Further, Mr. Moose’s reading of “maliciously” in RCW 9A.76.200 to require acting against “another person” violates multiple canons of statutory interpretation . . .

He suggests we read RCW 9A.76.200 so as to render the entire statute meaningless. This is an absurd result that was clearly not intended by the legislature. The State was not required to prove Mr. Moose harmed “another person” to prove he harmed a police dog, and the evidence at trial was sufficient to sustain his conviction.”

With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Moose’s conviction.

My opinion? In nearly every state, there are specific laws that, for all intents and purposes, equate an attack on a police dog as the same as an attack on a regular officer. WA State is no different, and the penalties are incredible harsh. Recently, a man was sentenced to 45 years for killing a police dog. Generally, though, individuals do have the right to resist unlawful arrests, excessive force, and unprovoked attacks from officers and K-9s.

However, when a police dog is attacking a person, depending on what the dog is doing, a person may be able to claim that the use of a police dog constitutes excessive force. Many police dogs are trained to “bite and hold” suspects, which as the name implies, involves a K-9 literally biting down on a suspect in order to prevent them from fleeing until human officers can arrive. Because dog bites can be extraordinarily severe, an individual may be justified in fighting back in that situation. Self-Defense may apply if the bite is drawing blood, or severely injuring an individual.

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.

Trial Strategy: The Lesser-Included Jury Instruction

Some Thoughts About Trial Strategy - California Desert Trial Academy College of Law

At trial, criminal defendants have the right for the jury to be instructed on any applicable lower or lesser-included crimes. The evidence must support an inference that the lesser crime was committed instead of the greater offense.

However, should defendants always seek lesser-included jury instructions if the facts warrant this strategy? Isn’t it true that giving a jury too many alternatives to decide convict ultimately result in a conviction? A recent case captured the trickiness of deploying (or not) the lesser-included jury instruction at trial.

In State v. Conway (10/27/22), the WA Court of Appeals held that Defense Counsel’s “all-or-nothing” trial strategy was effective, even when counsel declined to seek a lesser included jury instruction. The Court found Counsel’s decision was deliberate and strategic, and did not prejudice the defendant at trial.


Mr. Conway allegedly attacked three different individuals at the Spokane Amtrak Station in a series of incidents. The State charged Conway with one count of second degree assault, one count of third degree assault, and one count of fourth degree assault. At trial, defense counsel admitted to the fourth degree assault. He also admitted that the other crimes amounted to fourth degree assault. However, counsel did not request an instruction for a lesser-included offense. The jury found Conway guilty of second and fourth degree assault but acquitted him of third degree assault.

On appeal, Conway argues ineffective assistance of counsel for his attorney’s failure to request an instruction for the lesser-included offense of fourth degree assault.


The Court of Appeals began by saying that Criminal defendants have a constitutionally guaranteed right to effective assistance of counsel. A defendant bears the burden of showing (1) that his counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness based on consideration of all the circumstances and, if so, (2) that there is a reasonable probability that but for counsel’s poor performance, the outcome of the proceedings would have been different.

The Court further elaborated that In reviewing the record for deficiencies, there is a strong presumption that counsel’s performance was reasonable. The burden is on a defendant alleging ineffective assistance of counsel to show deficient representation.

“A decision by defense counsel to forgo an instruction on a lesser-included offense may be a legitimate trial tactic . . . Both the defendant and the State have the right to present an instruction for a lesser-included offense if all of the requirements have been met.” ~WA Court of Appeals, Division III.

Here, defense counsel’s decision to forgo an instruction on the lesser-included offense was not deficient. It was clearly strategic.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that there was strong evidence in support of the State’s assault charges. “The State presented the jury with undisputed video evidence of Conway assaulting the victims,” said the Court. “Because the State presented undisputed video evidence of the assaults, it was a legitimate trial tactic for defense counsel to admit that Conway had committed fourth degree assault.”

Moreover, even though an all-or-nothing strategy is legitimate regardless of success, in this case it worked. The jury acquitted Conway of third degree assault even though counsel acknowledged the assault.

With that, the Court of Appeals decided that Conway’s attorney was not constitutionally ineffective. “Defense counsel made a strategic decision to forego a lesser-included instruction on a felony assault charge,” said the Court. “The decision was not deficient and did not prejudice Conway at trial.” The Court upheld Conway’s conviction second and fourth degree assault.

My opinion? The above case captures the trickiness of allowing juries to convict a defendant of a lesser charge. In many cases, lesser included charges are important to defendants because jurors do not always exactly follow the law. For example, in an assault case, the jury might be so outraged at what they consider to be a brazen attack by the defendant that they don’t carefully consider whether the injuries were significant enough to rise to a felony or misdemeanor before returning a guilty verdict.

If the defense requests a lesser included charge of a lesser crime, the jury is more likely to carefully look at the evidence presented. Consequently, they may convict the defendant of the lesser crime if that is the only charge that they feel the evidence supported.

Requesting a lesser included charge is a double-edged sword, however. Some juries might have acquitted the defendant of assault if they didn’t believe that the prosecution proved that the incident was an upper-level felony. Ultimately, the key to deciding whether to request a lesser included charge is weighing the risks against the rewards.

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

Prosecutor’s Use of Term “Mexican Ounce” At Trial Was Race-Based Misconduct

Mexican Ounce (Minus Tax) : r/heroin

 In  State v. Ibarra-Erives (9/19/2022), the WA Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s drug conviction because the Prosecutor ‘s use of the term “Mexican ounce” at trial was an intentional appeal to jurors’ potential bias.


In June 2018, the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force executed a search warrant to recover drugs and related evidence in an apartment. A detective persuaded Mr. Ibarra Erives to open the door. Officers then “pulled him out onto the front landing” and arrested him. On the kitchen counter, police found white powder later determined to be methamphetamine.

On the closet shelf in a bedroom, officers discovered a backpack. The backpack contained
seven one-ounce “bindles” of methamphetamine and five bindles of heroin. The backpack did not contain any information identifying its owner. On the shelf next to the backpack, police found a digital scale and a box of plastic sandwich bags.

Ibarra-Erives admitted that he “temporarily” lived at the apartment. He told police he sometimes slept on the couch and sometimes on the pile of blankets officers observed in bedroom where they found the backpack. Ibarra-Erives said the prescription medication and clothes found on the floor of the bedroom were his. But he denied owning the backpack.

When police searched Ibarra-Erives’ pockets, they found a broken glass pipe used for smoking methamphetamine that had white residue and burn marks on it. He also had $591 in cash in his wallet. The State charged Ibarra-Erives with unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture or deliver.

At trial, Ibarra-Erives, who is Latinx, used a Spanish interpreter. During the State’s case in chief, the prosecutor questioned the lead detective about the amount of drugs found in the backpack in room. The detective testified that each “bindle” of methamphetamine weighed 28 grams, or 1 ounce. He then described the bindles of heroin, which each weighed 24.6 grams. He explained that for heroin, “25 grams is considered an ounce.”

When asked why, the detective responded, “I don’t know what the answer is to why, but the term on the street is it’s a Mexican ounce across the board, regardless of who is selling or buying 25 grams of a Mexican ounce.” Then in his closing argument to the jury, the prosecutor twice emphasized that each bindle of heroin had been packaged as a “Mexican ounce.”

The jury convicted Ibarra-Erives as charged. He appealed his conviction on arguments that the prosecutor’s remarks suggested that a Latinx person likely packed or possessed the drugs.  He argues the prosecutor used this gratuitous reference to connect him to the drugs. Consequently, this terminology invoked stereotypes of Mexican drug-dealing and dishonesty against him.


The Court of Appeals reversed Ibarra-Erives’ conviction.

The Court reasoned that a prosecutor’s zealous pursuit of justice is not without boundaries. However, prosecutors have a duty to the defendant to uphold their right to a fair trial.

“Prosecutors commit misconduct when they use arguments designed to arouse the passions or prejudices of the jury . . . These kinds of arguments create a danger that the jury may convict for reasons other than the evidence produced at trial. In cases where race should be irrelevant, racial considerations, in particular, can affect a juror’s impartiality and must be removed. ~WA Court of Appeals.

The Court further reasoned that an objective observer could view the prosecutor’s references “Mexican ounce” to describe the way heroin was packaged for sale as an intentional appeal to the jury’s potential bias. The term specifically suggests that the defendant was more likely to have possessed drugs packed to a “Mexican ounce” because he speaks Spanish and appears to be Latinx.

“Testimony that heroin is packaged in an amount commonly sold on the street is probative of an intent to sell the drugs. But the street term attributing that practice to a particular racial or ethnic group is not. And when the defendant appears to be a member of that same racial or ethnic group, such comments improperly suggest that he is more likely to have packaged or possessed the drugs.” ~WA Court of Appeals

With that, the WA Court of Appeals reversed the conviction.

My opinion? Good decision.  The prosecution took advantage of despicable stereotypes. In the State’s closing argument at trial, the prosecutor used the term “Mexican ounce” two times. The prosecutor’s use of the term was an apparently intentional appeal to jurors’ potential bias. It improperly suggested that Mr. Ibarra-Erives was more likely to have possessed drugs packed to a “Mexican ounce” merely because he speaks Spanish and appeared to be Latinx.

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

Prosecutor’s Filing Delay Held Unconstitutional

Solutions to the burden of backlog of cases - iPleaders

In State v. Stearns, the WA Court of Appeals held that the Prosecutor’s delay in filing charges violated the defendant’s due process rights.


In November 2020, a jury found Mr. Stearns guilty of felony murder in the first degree with sexual motivation. The charges arose from a 1988 incident where the victim’s body was discovered at a park.

In 2004, DNA evidence retrieved from the victim and scene connected Stearns to the incident. In 2005, law enforcement interviewed Mr. Stearns. The prosecutor assigned to the case later acknowledged that sufficient probable cause existed to charge Stearns with the murder. However, the proseutor did not file charges until 2017.

By then, multiple eyewitnesses interviewed by police in 1998 passed away during the delay between the State’s development of probable cause and charging. However, the trial court denied Stearns’s pretrial motion to dismiss based on preaccusatorial delay. In January 2020, a jury trial ultimately resulted in a hung jury. The court declared a mistrial.  The State retried Stearns in November 2020. This time, the jury found Stearns guilty as charged.

On appeal, Stearns argued that the lower court’s ruling on preaccusatorial delay deprived him of a fair trial.


The Court of Appeals (COA) said that  under State v. Maynard, a court will dismiss a prosecution for preaccusatorial delay if the State’s intentional or negligent delay violates a defendant’s due process rights.

Here, the filing delay actually prejudiced the defendant because a key eyewitness died months after the State filed charges and was unavailable for trial. Furthermore, the State’s reasons for the negligent filing delay were significantly outweighed by the actual prejudice to the defendant.  The prosecutor’s heavy caseload and the defendant’s lengthy incarceration on another case were not valid reasons for the late filing.

The Court of Appeals also reasoned the State violated the fundamental conceptions of justice by failing to file a murder charge with well-developed probable cause for 12 years. This late filing happened despite repeated status inquiries from other investigators and government actors involved in its investigation.

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Stearn’s conviction and dismissed the case with prejudice.

Some legal insight is necessary. Pre-accusation delay motions (hereinafter “Due Process Motions”) are common among cold-case murders. For instance, investigators may not have enough evidence to legally effectuate an arrest at the time of the murder. The case goes “cold” until years later when DNA evidence links the original suspect to the murder. Due Process motions are brought to protect a criminal defendant for unfair delays which makes putting forth a defense impossible. To establish a due process violation a defendant must demonstrate prejudice. That is, the defendant must show that the pre-indictment delay impaired his or her ability to defend against the charge.

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

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.


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.


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.

Offender Scores Include Bail Jumping Even When the Underlying Conviction Was Dismissed Under State v. Blake

Felony Sentencing Guidelines | California Felony Attorney

In State v. Paniagua, the WA Court of Appeals held that convictions for Bail Jumping are appropriately included in the offender score even when the offender failed to appear at a scheduled hearing for a pending charge of Blake-related Drug Offense.


This appeal considered one of many consequences attended to the Washington Supreme Court’s landmark decision in charge of State v. Blake. The decision held Washington’s possession of a controlled substance criminal statute unconstitutional. In turn, Washington courts have removed, from offender scores, earlier convictions for possession of a controlled substance.

This appeal travels further down the path and asks whether a court should remove, from the offender score, a former conviction for bail jumping when the offender failed to appear at a scheduled hearing while on bail pending charges for possession of a controlled substance.

Victor Paniagua only challenges his sentence for his 2018 convictions for Homicide and other crimes. The relevant facts begin, however, with earlier convictions.

In 2007, the State of Washington convicted Victor Paniagua with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. In 2011, the State again convicted Paniagua with possession of a controlled substance and the additional charge of bail jumping. The bail jumping charge arose from Paniagua’s failure to appear at a court hearing on the 2011 possession charge.

In June 2018, a jury found Victor Paniagua guilty of second degree murder, second degree assault, unlawful possession of a firearm, and witness tampering. The trial court calculated Paniagua’s offender score at 8 for the murder and assault charges. It also calculated a 7 for the unlawful firearm possession and witness tampering charges. The offender score calculation included one point each for the 2007 and 2011 possession of a controlled substance convictions and one point for the 2011 bail jumping conviction. As a result, the
court then sentenced Paniagua to 453 months’ total confinement.

After the issuance of State v. Blake, Mr. Paniagua requested resentencing. He argued the superior court should resentence him and reduce his offender score by three points. Ultimately, the superior court deducted only two points from Paniagua’s offender score. The superior court resentenced Paniagua to 412 months’ total confinement.


The Court began by saying that State v. Blake held that Washington’s drug possession statute violated the due process clause. The statute penalized one for passive, innocent, or no conduct without requiring the State to prove intent.

“The Washington Supreme Court also did not address, in State v. Blake, the retroactivity of its decision,” said the Court of Appeals. “Nevertheless, the State and other courts have operated on the assumption that Blake should be applied retroactively. If a statute is unconstitutional, it is and has always been a legal nullity.”

Next, the Court of Appeals decided whether the bail jumping conviction was invalid on its face. When a defendant is convicted of a nonexistent crime, the judgment and sentence is invalid on its face. Here, however, the State did not convict Mr. Paniagua of a nonexistent crime when convicting him of bail jumping. “The crime remains in existence today,” said the Court of Appeals. “The conviction is not facially invalid.”

Next, the court raised and dismissed Paniagua’s arguments that the State convicted him of bail jumping while facing charges brought pursuant to an unconstitutional statute:

“Still, he cites no decision supporting the proposition that being convicted or held, under an unconstitutional criminal statute, renders escaping from jail or bail jumping permissible. To the contrary, under the universal rule, the unconstitutionality of a statute under which the defendant was convicted or charged does not justify escape from imprisonment . . . We find no decision addressing bail jumping when facing charges under an unconstitutional statute.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

With that, the Court of Appeals affirm the superior court’s inclusion of Victor Paniagua’s 2011 conviction for bail jumping in his offender score and affirmed his resentencing.

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.

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

Gorilla Pimp the skunk ape by seraphonfire on DeviantArt

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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