Category Archives: Washington Court of Appeals

Jury Questions

Should Jurors Be Allowed to Ask Questions During a Criminal Trial? – GRAND  JURY TARGET

In State v. Sutton, the WA Court of Appeals held that, when answering a deliberating jury’s questions, a trial court has a responsibility to ensure that the jury understands the law.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Law enforcement executed a search warrant looking for evidence of drug trafficking at an address on in Newman Lake, Washington. At the property, they found the defendant Ms. Sutton and numerous co-defendants. The ensuing investigation led to Sutton and the co-defendants being arrested for the Kidnapping and Murder.

The State charged Sutton with first degree felony murder predicated on kidnapping, first degree kidnapping, and Leading Organized Crime. With respect to the charge of Leading Organized Crime, the State alleged that Sutton did intentionally organize, manage, and direct three or more persons  with the intent to engage in a pattern of criminal profiteering activity, to-wit: Delivery of a Controlled Substance.

Sutton testified in her defense. She admitted she sold drugs, but denied she sold drugs or directed the co-defendants to commit any crimes.

During deliberations, the jury forwarded a written question to the judge.  “For instruction #25, must the defendant have organized (etc.) all three of the listed persons specifically, or just any 3 or more persons (as instruction #24 states)?”

The judge asked counsel for suggestions on how it should respond to the jury’s question. Both the Prosecutor and Defense Counsel agreed the answer was, “Yes.” Ultimately, the trial judge decided that the best answer was to simply direct the jury to refer back to its instructions. Soon after, the jury returned guilty verdicts.

Sutton appealed her conviction on arguments that the trial court abused its discretion by declining the proposed defense jury instruction that accurately stated the law.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by saying that Defendants are guaranteed a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which requires jury instructions that accurately inform the jury of the relevant law. Furthermore, CrR 6.15(f)(1) permits trial judges to give the jury supplemental written instructions on any point of law after deliberations begin. This is done to ensure a jury is informed of the relevant law.

“A trial court should ensure that the jury understands the law . . . When it is apparent the jury does not understand the law, the trial court may and should issue a supplemental written instruction. A failure to do so is inconsistent with its responsibility to ensure the jury understands the law and risks the jury rendering a verdict contrary to the evidence.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Next, the Court of Appeals addressed whether the trial court should have given a supplemental instruction to clarify the law. It raised and dismissed Mrs. Sutton’s arguments that under State v. Backemeyer, a trial court should ensure that the jury understands the law. “Backemeyer is distinguishable from this case,” said the Court of Appeals. “There, it was clear that the jury misunderstood the law. Here, the to-convict instruction was clear.”

The Court further reasoned that the jury’s question did not create an inference that the entire jury was confused or that any confusion was not clarified.

“At a minimum, the jury’s question showed that some jurors wanted assurance they need not be concerned about the different wording in instruction 24. And because the trial court has a responsibility to ensure that the jury understands the law, it should have answered the jury’s question. It could have answered: ‘To convict Sutton of leading organized crime, the State must prove the elements of that crime as set forth in Instruction 25 beyond a reasonable doubt.’ Nevertheless, the trial court’s decision not to answer the jury’s question was not an abuse of discretion.” ~ WA Court of Appeals.

With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Sutton’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.

Cell Site Location Info

Find Your Nearest Cell Tower in Five Minutes or Less: 2021 Edition
In State v. Denham, the WA Supreme Court held there was a sufficient nexus between the defendant’s seized phone records and the suspected criminal activity to support the issuance of a search warrant.
BACKGROUND FACTS
A valuable diamond was stolen from a jewelry store. Within days, the Defendant Mr.  Denham sold that diamond. Police suspected Denham committed the burglary and got a warrant for his cell phone records. Cell site location information included in those phone records placed Denham’s phone near the jewelry store around the time of the burglary.
Mr. Denham was charged and ultimately convicted with second degree burglary and first degree trafficking in stolen property. At Denham’s bench trial, The trial judge cited the
fact that Denham had made phone calls that were routed through the cell tower in
the parking lot of the jewelry store around the time of the burglary. Ultimately, the trial judge found Denham guilty as charged.
Mr Denham appealed his case to the WA Court of Appeals. He challenged the admissibility of the search warrant and the evidence it produced. His argument was that the warrant based on generalizations and did not establish that evidence of wrongdoing would likely be found in his phone records. The WA Court of Appeals agreed with Mr. Denham. The State, however, filed its own appeal. And Mr. Denham’s was heard in the WA Supreme Court.
COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS
The WA Supreme Court began by discussing the admissibility of cell phone records.
“Our constitutions protect individual privacy against state intrusion,” said Justice Gonzalez, who authored the opinion.  He said that under the U.S. Constitution and WA State Constitution, police must have either the authority of a warrant or a well-established exception to the warrant requirement to lawfully intrude into an individual’s private affairs.
“This constitutional protection extends to cell phone location information held by cell phone companies,” said Justice Gonzalez.  He acknowledged that time-stamped data contained in cell phones provides an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.
Next, Justice Gonzalez described how a search warrant should be issued only if it shows probable cause that the defendant is involved in criminal activity and that evidence of the criminal activity will be found in the place to be searched. “There must be a nexus between criminal activity and the item to be seized and between that item and the place to be searched,” he said. “The warrant must also describe with particularity the place to be searched and the things to be seized.”
With that, Justice Gonzalez reasoned that the search warrant affidavits were proper:
“These affidavits present reasonable grounds to believe that the phones associated with the phone numbers belonged to Denham based on Denham’s own use of the numbers with his probation officers and with various businesses, that Denham had the phones around the time of the burglary because of specific facts suggesting he had the phones days before and after the date in question, that Denham burgled the store, and that Denham trafficked distinctive pieces stolen from the store. They also allege that Denham had both phones at the time of the burglary and used one to arrange the sale of the diamond that was the basis of the trafficking charge.
Taken together, this is sufficient to raise a reasonable inference that evidence of burglary would be found in the cell site location information . . . The fact that there are some generalizations in the inferential chain does not defeat the reasonableness of the inference.” ~Justice Gonzalez, WA Supreme Court
Justice Gonzalez concluded by holding that the search warrant contained sufficient detail to conclude that evidence of a crime would more likely than not be found in the cell site location information in telephone company records of Denham’s cell phones.
Accordingly, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed Denham’s convictions.

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.

Discarded DNA Admissible

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

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

BACKGROUND FACTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right to Present A Defense

Criminal Defendant Constitutional Rights- New Mexico Criminal Law

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

BACKGROUND FACTS

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

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

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deliberate Cruelty

Burning Red Flare Held Up At Night by RockfordMedia | VideoHive

In State v. Burrus, the WA Court of Appeals held there was sufficient evidence the defendant demonstrated deliberate cruelty to the victim when he poured gasoline on the victim, lit a flare and set the victim on fire.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Burrus poured gasoline on victim Mr. Busch and threw a lit flare at him, causing him to catch fire. Busch suffered second and third degree burns on 30 percent of his body. The State charged Burrus with attempted first degree murder with the aggravating factor that his conduct manifested deliberate cruelty. The jury found Burrus guilty as charged.

Based on the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty, the trial court imposed an exceptional  upward sentence. The trial court found that the aggravating factor of deliberate cruelty was a compelling reason to justify an exceptional sentence and imposed a sentence of 300 months.

On appeal, Mr. Burrus argued the the trial court erred in imposing an exceptional sentence based on the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty.

COURT’S RATIONALE & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals stated that under the Sentencing Reform Act, generally, a court must impose a sentence within the standard range. A court may depart from the guidelines and impose a higher sentence if it finds substantial and compelling reasons. The existence of an aggravating factor may support an exceptional sentence.

Next, the court addressed the issue of whether the lack of comparative evidence meant there was insufficient evidence to supported the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty.

“Burrus says insufficient evidence supports the jury’s finding of deliberate cruelty,” said the Court of Appeals. “He contends that because the State failed to provide comparative evidence of typical attempted first degree murders, the jury had insufficient evidence to determine whether the facts here were atypical.”

However, the Court of Appeals disagreed with Burrus and held that the State is not required to provide the jury with examples of typical attempted first degree murders:

“It is within a jury’s capability, based on their common sense and common experience, to determine that dousing a person in gasoline, lighting them on fire, and then leaving them to burn is deliberately cruel.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Consequently, the Court also reasoned that Mr. Burrus cannot assert a vagueness challenge to the deliberate cruelty aggravator, either.

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.

 

Openly Carrying A Sword

Austin, TX now with open carry swords - Album on Imgur

In Zaitzeff v. City of Seattle, the WA Court of Appeals held that while a sword is  constitutionally protected as an “arm,” the Defendant’s conviction for violating a Seattle’s Ordinance prohibiting the carrying of a dangerous weapon was valid.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In May 2018, Mr. Zaitzeff walked around Green Lake Park with a sheathed sword hanging from his neck. A citizen called 911. The caller said Zaitzeff was wearing a thong, approaching women, and taking photos of them. When police officers arrived, they confirmed he had a sword, which measured about 24 inches long.

Zaitzeff acknowledged he was aware of the ordinance against fixed blade knives and that he was not hunting, fishing, or going to or from a job requiring a sword. The officers took the sword and cited him.

The City charged Zaitzeff with Unlawful Use of Weapons under SMC 12A.14.080(B). Zaitzeff moved to dismiss the charge, challenging the ordinance as unconstitutional as applied to his case. The Seattle Municipal Court denied the motion, concluding that the sword is not a constitutionally protected arm. Zaitzeff went to trial. Despite arguing a Necessity Defense that he carried the sword because he was assaulted in the past, the court found Zaitzeff guilty as charged.

Zaitzeff appealed to King County Superior Court. However, the court concluded that sufficient evidence supported the conviction. Zaitzeff appealed to the WA Court of Appeals on the issues of the constitutionality of the ordinance and his ability to present a defense. The Court of Appeals granted review.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals held that the federal and state constitutions protect Zaitzeff’s sword as an arm:

“Historically, swords have been weapons of offense used to strike at others. And while law-abiding citizens do not typically carry swords for lawful purposes today, as further discussed below, swords were common at the time of founding . . . As law-abiding citizens traditionally used swords for self-defense, we conclude that both constitutions protect Zaitzeff’s sword as an arm.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Nevertheless, the Court also engaged a lengthy constitutional analysis and held that Seattle’s ordinance was reasonably necessary to protect public safety and welfare. Furthermore, the ordinance was substantially related to the goal of preventing sword-related injuries and violence:
“The ordinance does not severely burden his constitutional rights as it allows the defendant to purchase a sword and, in a secure wrapper, carry it home, carry it to be repaired, and carry it to abodes or places of business.” ~ WA Court of Appeals.
Next, the WA Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s rejection of Zaitzeff’s Necessity defense. It reasoned that Zaitzeff’s concession that there was no one imminently threatening him that particular day prevented him from proving his defense.
Woth that, the Court of Appeals upheld Zaitzeff’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.

NCO’s & Double Jeopardy

Brett Kavanaugh, Double Jeopardy, And Presidential Pardons

In State v. Madden, the WA Court of Appeals held that a defendant who contacted a person with three separate No-Contact Orders (NCO’s) against him may only be punished for a single count of Violation of a No-Contact Order.

BACKGROUND FACTS 

Mr. Madden Jr. contacted a person with three separate no-contact orders against him. For this single act, the State charged Madden with three counts of Violating a No-Contact Order (DV). The jury found him guilty as charged. Madden appealed on arguments that his three convictions for violation of a no-contact order violated Double Jeopardy principles

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals began with the background that Article I, section 9 of the WA State Constitution and the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protect against multiple punishments for the same offense.

“When a person is charged with multiple counts of the same offense, each count must be based on a separate and distinct criminal act,” said the Court, quoting State v. Mutch.  “It must be manifestly apparent from the record, testimony, and argument that identical charges are based on separate acts.”

Furthermore – and importantly – the Court of defined what a “Unit of Prosecution” was. “Unless the legislature clearly and unambiguously intends to turn a single transaction into multiple offenses, the Rule of Lenity requires a court to resolve ambiguity in favor of one offenses,” said the Court.

Consequently, the Court reasoned that while Mr. Madden violated multiple court orders, he committed only one act constituting a “violation.” The Court further reasoned that the State cites no case in which a court allowed multiple convictions under a single statute based on a single act. Finally, the court reasoned that when a person is charged with multiple counts of the same offense, each count must be based on a separate and distinct criminal act. “Any other interpretation would lead to an unconstitutional result.”

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed counts two and three of Madden’s No-Contact Order Violation convictions.

Please read my Legal Guide Defending Against Domestic Violence Charges and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Domestic Violence crimes, including Assault and/or No-Contact Order Violations. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Jail Phone Calls

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

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

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

BACKGROUND FACTS

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

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

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

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

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

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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

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.

Assault or Swim Lesson?

Backlash over 'self-rescue' swimming classes for toddlers | News | The Times

In State v. Loos, the WA Court of Appeals held that although the defendant repeatedly submerged a toddler in a river during an impromptu swimming lesson, there was a lack of evidence proving the defendant’s actions were Assault.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Defendant Ms. Loos was babysitting J.T.S., a nonverbal, speech-delayed two-and-a-half-year-old toddler whom she had cared for throughout his infancy. Loos and a friend, Ms. Tetzlaff, decided to take a group of seven children to swim in the Jordan River that day.

While swimming in the river, Tetzlaff became concerned about Loos’s conduct. Tetzlaff testified that Loos picked up J.T.S. and said “it’s time to swim.” For the next minute – which was caught on camera – Loos engaged an impromptu swim lesson and tried teaching J.T.S. a swim technique called “infant self-rescue” by teaching him to float on his back.

In the 51-second video, Loos can be seen holding J.T.S. on his back in the water, and is heard telling him “when we scream, we go under.” After a moment, J.T.S. was submerged in the water for a few seconds and Loos pulled him back up out of the water. Loos repositioned J.T.S. on his back, at which point he began to struggle and tried to pull away.

Loos told J.T.S. again not to scream and he was again submerged. This time, Loos had one hand under J.T.S. and one hand on his chest. At trial, Tetzlaff testified that Loos was “holding him under the water.” T.L. similarly testified he saw Loos push J.T.S. under water, and T.L. could see J.T.S. flailing his arms while submerged. When Loos lifted him out of the water, he came up coughing and screaming. Eventually, Loos ended the swim lesson.

On December 1, 2017, approximately two and a half years later, the State charged Loos with one count of assault of a child in the third degree. During trial, Loos moved to dismiss the charge for insufficient evidence. The trial court denied this motion, although it acknowledged its decision was a “close call.”

The jury found Loos guilty. She appealed on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

COURT’S RATIONALE & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by saying due process of law requires that the State prove every element of a charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a criminal conviction.

Furthermore, the court cited State v. Green in saying that in order to evaluate whether sufficient evidence supports a conviction, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the State to determine if any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Dismissal with prejudice is required when there is insufficient evidence at the close of the prosecution’s case in-chief to sustain a charged offense,” said the Court of Appeals.

Next, the court gave the statutory definition of “bodily harm” as “physical pain or injury, illness, or an impairment of physical condition,” And that this pain or impairment must be accompanied by “substantial pain.”

Finally, the Court of Appeals reasoned whether there was sufficient evidence that T.J. suffered substantial pain from the swimming incident. “J.T.S.’s coughing when pulled out of the water caused him some physical pain,” said the Court. “But neither the testimony nor the 51-second video of the incident supports any contention that J.T.S. was unable to quickly and easily eliminate the water from his throat or that he remained in any pain once he did so.”

“The evidence was undisputed that J.T.S. did not require CPR, did not vomit, did not lose consciousness, did not appear to have any swelling of his belly, did not sustain any lung injury, and needed no medical treatment. There is no evidence J.T.S. was inconsolable as a result of any ongoing pain or that any momentary pain he may have experienced lasted for any period of time after he coughed and Loos removed him from the water.” ~WA Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals concluded by saying that no reasonable jury would find that J.T.S. suffered substantial pain that extended for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering. With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Loos’s conviction.

My opinion? Good decision. The trial court erred when it denied Ms. Loos’ Motion to Dismiss pursuant to State v. Green. Better known as a Green Motion, this tactical trial maneuver allows defendants to request the judge dismiss criminal charges after the Prosecution has presented its evidence and rested its case.

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.