Category Archives: Washington Court of Appeals

Consecutive v. Concurrent Sentencing

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Clients often ask, “What’s the difference between consecutive and concurrent sentences?”

Quite a lot, actually!

The question applies to Clients facing criminal charges from numerous jurisdictions. For these clients, sometimes the best approach is to seek a global resolution. This can happen if the prosecutors of the different jurisdictions are willing to coordinate their efforts toward a plea bargain involving reductions and dismissals of some criminal charges in exchange for guilty pleas to other charges.

Naturally, a big question in these negotiations is whether the defendant shall serve their jail time under a consecutive sentence or a concurrent sentences. Here’s some definitions:

Concurrent sentences: When sentences run concurrently, defendants serve all the sentences at the same time. This outcome is favorable to the defendant.

Consecutive sentences: When sentences run consecutively, defendants have to finish serving the sentence for one offense before they start serving the sentence for any other offense. This sentence outcome is not favorable to the defendant.

To illustrate the point, in State v. Brown the WA Court of Appeals recently held that firearm enhancements must be served consecutively in cases in which the defendant was 18-years or older when s/he committed the crimes.

BACKGROUND FACTS

A jury convicted Mr. Brown of four counts of first degree robbery, one count of attempted first degree robbery, two counts of second degree assault, and one count of attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle. Five of the convictions included firearm enhancements, which are increased sentencing penalties.

At sentencing, the State recommended a sentence of 381 months. The State recommended five firearm enhancements ran consecutively to each other and to Mr. Brown’s base sentence of 129 months. The trial court imposed the State’s recommended sentence. Brown appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals raised and dismissed Mr. Brown’s arguments on appeal. It reasoned that under the Sentencing Reform Act – and specifically, RCW 9.94A.533(3)(e) – all firearm enhancements require prison time and shall run consecutively to all other sentencing provisions, including other firearm or deadly weapon enhancements.

“Brown’s sole claim is that he is entitled to resentencing because the sentencing court erroneously believed it lacked the discretion to depart from the required term of confinement for a firearm enhancement. We disagree.” ~WA Court of Appeals

To support its reasoning, the WA Court of Appeals relied on State v. Brown (no relation) a WA Supreme Court case which held that Washington law deprives sentencing courts of the discretion to impose an exceptional sentence with regard to firearm enhancements.

“In any event, a decision by the Washington Supreme Court is binding on all lower courts of the state,” reasoned the WA court of Appeals. “This court does not have the
authority to overrule Brown.”

With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Brown’s lengthy prison sentence.

My opinion? Again, if a defendant is convicted of a number of crimes that carry lengthy prison terms, the difference between consecutive and concurrent sentences can be tremendous. The same factors that judges tend to consider when deciding on the severity of a sentence (for example, a defendant’s past record) also affect their decisions on whether to give concurrent or consecutive sentences.

As you can see, however, some criminal statutes require that the sentence for the crime in question be served consecutively to any other crime committed in the same incident.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving the possibility of concurrent or consecutive sentencing. It’s crucial to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the law.

Illegal Search At Starbucks

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In State v. Martin, the WA Court of Appeals held that the fruits of a warrantless search of a sleeping individual in a Starbucks store should have been suppressed because the officer was not conducting a criminal trespass investigation when he removed a metal utensil that was sticking out of the defendant’s pocket.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On December 11, 2017, Officer Bickar responded to a 911 call from a Starbucks employee, requesting assistance with the removal of a sleeping person inside the store. When Bickar arrived, he saw Martin sleeping in a chair. Bickar gestured to the Starbucks employee and received a responsive gesture from the employee that Martin was the person identified in the 911 call.

When Bickar approached Martin, he noticed Martin was wearing multiple jackets that had pockets. Bickar attempted to wake Martin, first by raising his voice and then by squeezing and shaking his left shoulder. Martin remained unresponsive.

Bickar noticed the end of a metal utensil sticking out of Martin’s pocket. Bickar worried that the metal utensil could be a knife or another utensil sharpened into a weapon. Bickar also expressed concerns about sharp needles.

Without feeling the outside of the pocket, Bickar removed the utensil. The utensil was a cook spoon, had burn marks on the bottom, and a dark brown residue on the inside. At that point, Bickar determined that he had probable cause to arrest Martin for possession of drug paraphernalia and continued searching Martin. While searching Martin, Bickar found methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and other drug paraphernalia. Martin was arrested.

Martin moved to suppress all evidence collected as a result of the unlawful detention and search. The court heard testimony from Officer Bickar and denied Martin’s motion to suppress.

Martin proceeded to a stipulated bench trial on the charge of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. The court found Martin guilty. The court sentenced Martin to 30 days of confinement. Martin appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Court held that the search was not a valid Terry search. It explained that while Terry does not authorize a search for evidence of a crime, officers are allowed to make a brief, non-intrusive search for weapons if, after a lawful Terry stop, a reasonable safety concern exists to justify the protective frisk for weapons so long as the search goes no further than necessary for protective purposes.

“A reasonable safety concern exists, and a protective frisk for weapons is justified, when an officer can point to ‘specific and articulable facts’ which create an objectively reasonable belief that a suspect is ‘armed and presently dangerous.

Here, however, the Court of Appeals found the search was not a justifiable under Terry:

“This search fails to meet the requirements under Terry. Starbucks is open to the public. The record does not support the trial court’s finding that Bickar was conducting a criminal investigation for trespass because there is no evidence in the record that Starbucks had trespassed Martin from the premises. Also absent from the record is evidence supporting Bickar’s claim that Martin sleeping created a reasonable safety concern.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Consequently, the Court held the search was not lawful under Terry because there was no reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed, there was not a reasonable safety concern, and the search exceeded the lawful scope of a frisk.

The Court also rejected the State’s arguments that the search was lawful under the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement. It explained that the community caretaking exception applies when (1) the officer subjectively believed that an emergency existed requiring that he or she provide immediate assistance to protect or preserve life or property, or to prevent serious injury, (2) a reasonable person in the same situation would similarly believe that there was a need for assistance, and (3) there was a reasonable basis to associate the need for assistance with the place searched.

“Officer Bickar did not subjectively believe an emergency existed and a reasonable person in the same situation would not believe there was a need for assistance,” said the Court. “Furthermore, even if the community caretaking exception applied to this search, a simple pat-down on the outside of Martin’s coat pocket would have alleviated any concern that the metal utensil was a sharp object or weapon.” Consequently, the Court held that removing the spoon violated Martin’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

With that, the Court of Appeals vacated Martin’s conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges in the aftermath of a questionable search and seizure of their home, car or person. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.

Forged Bank Applications

Victim of union forgery files lawsuit

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

BACKGROUND FACTS

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

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

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

  1. Legal Principles

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

       2. Legal Sufficiency of Bank Account Applications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passive Obstructing

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In State v. Canfield, the WA Court of Appeals held that a defendant’s feigning sleep when first contacted by police and his repeated refusals to obey commands provided ample evidence to support an Obstructing a Public Servant conviction.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Law enforcement officers testified that Mr. Canfield feigned sleep when first contacted, disregarded several commands, and tried to start his vehicle as if to drive away from the scene. He also lied about his identity and tried to hide a gun while being arrested. Eventually, he was charged with numerous crimes to include Possession of Methamphetamine, Second Degree Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, Possession of a Stolen Firearm, and Obstructing a Public Servant.

At trial, the court convicted Mr. Canfield of Obstructing in addition to some of the aforementioned charges. He appealed on numerous issues, including whether there was sufficient evidence to arrest to support a conviction for Obstructing.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSION

The Court of Appeals reasoned upheld the lower court’s finding that Mr. Canfield hindered a public servant in the performance of his duties.

In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals raised and dismissed Mr. Canfield’s argument that his case was similar to State v. D.E.D. That case, which was a favorable legal precedent, involved a defendant who passively resisted an investigatory detention. In that case, the Court of Appeals held the defendant’s passive resistance to being handcuffed did not constitute obstructing a public servant.

“The comparison fails,” said the Court. It further reasoned that the law imposes a duty to cooperate with an arrest and makes it a crime to resist arrest, and actions that hinder an arrest short of resisting can constitute obstructing a public servant.

“Passive resistance to a lawful arrest can constitute obstructing by itself. Here, there was additional evidence beyond the handcuffing incident, including the repeated refusals to obey commands and feigning sleep. Mr. Canfield did not merely refuse to cooperate with the police. He actively tried to hinder them.”

With that, the Court of Appeals concluded the trial court rightfully concluded that Mr. Canfield was guilty of obstructing a public servant.

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

Victim’s Motive To Testify

Ulterior Motive

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

BACKGROUND FACTS

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

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

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

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

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DUI & Opinion Evidence

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In City of Seattle v. Levesque, the WA Court of Appeals held that a police officer, who is not a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE), may not opine that a driver was showing signs of being impaired by a stimulant or that the driver was impaired by drugs at the time of an accident.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On April 29, 2015, the Seattle Police Department dispatched Officers Hinson and Officer Coe to the scene of an automobile accident involving two vehicles. Levesque had failed to stop his vehicle prior to hitting the vehicle in front of him. The accident caused moderate to severe damage, and Levesque’s vehicle could not be driven.

Officer Hinson placed Levesque under arrest for DUI.

Although Officer Hinson had received training in field sobriety tests (FSTS), he did not perform any FSTs at the scene because of Levesque’s symptoms, the absence of any alcohol smell, and the location of the accident and corresponding impracticability of FSTs. Officer Hinson did not perform a horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test for signs of impairment. Officer Hinson, who is not DRE certified, testified that he attempted to contact a DRE by radio, but no DRE was available.

For those who don’t know, a DRE  is a police officer trained to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol.

After arresting Levesque, Officer Hinson transported Levesque to Harborview Medical Center, where he had his blood drawn. The drug analysis results showed that Levesque’s blood contained 0.14 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of amphetamine and 0.55 mg/L of methamphetamine. The City charged Levesque with DUI.

Before trial, Levesque moved in limine to exclude any testifying officer’s opinion on ultimate issues. The trial court granted the motion but ruled that an officer could state “in his opinion, based upon the totality of the circumstances, that Levesque was impaired.” The trial court also granted Levesque’s additional motion to exclude officers as experts but declared that an officer—testifying as a lay witness—could “certainly testify to what he objectively observed during the investigation.”

Officer Hinson testified that through his training and experience Levesque showed signs as possibly being impaired by a stimulant. When asked to opine as to whether Levesque was impaired by drugs, Officer Hinson testified that his opinion was that Levesque was definitely impaired at the time of the accident.” Levesque objected to Officer Hinson’s testimony and requested a mistrial outside the presence of the jury following a lunch recess. The court overruled Levesque’s objections.

Also at trial, Levesque offered an alternative theory for his perceived impairment. Levesque’s defense theory was that he was prescribed medication for injuries which explain his behavior. In support of this defense, Levesque presented testimony from his physician about treatment and prescriptions that she gave Levesque prior to the accident, her diagnoses, and Levesque’s symptoms.

The jury convicted Levesque of driving while under the influence. Levesque appealed his conviction to the superior court, which reversed based on Officer Hinson’s opinion testimony. The city of Seattle (City) appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that opinion testimony must be deemed admissible by the trial court before it is offered. Opinion testimony may be admissible under ER 701 as lay testimony or ER 702 as expert testimony. However, when opinion testimony that embraces an ultimate issue is inadmissible in a criminal trial, the testimony may constitute an impermissible opinion on guilt. Furthermore, impermissible opinion testimony regarding the defendant’s guilt may be reversible error.

Here, the opinion testimony at issue consists of Officer Hinson’s statements that Levesque showed signs and symptoms of being impaired by a specific category of drug – i.e., a CNS stimulant – and that Levesque was “definitely impaired” at the time of the accident.

“We conclude that because Officer Hinson was not a drug recognition expert (DRE) and lacked otherwise sufficient training and experience, he was not qualified to opine that Levesque showed signs and symptoms consistent with having consumed a particular category of drug.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Furthermore, the Court of Appeals reasoned that because the officer’s opinion that Levesque was “definitely impaired” constituted an impermissible opinion of Levesque’s guilt, the trial court’s admission of that testimony violated Levesque’s constitutional right to have the jury determine an ultimate issue. Finally, because Levesque presented an alternative theory for his behavior, the City did not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that any reasonable jury would have convicted Levesque. “Therefore, we affirm the superior court’s reversal of Levesque’s conviction,” said the Court of Appeals.

My opinion? Excellent decision. And excellent work on behalf of his defense attorney. They did a great job of making a record for not only trying to suppress the officer’s opinion evidence during motions in limine, but also for properly objecting at the right time and preserving the issue for appeal when the officer unlawfully offered the opinion testimony.

Under Evidence Rule 704, witnesses may not testify to opinions concerning intent, guilt, or innocence in a criminal case; the truth or falsity of allegations; whether a witness has testified truthfully; or legal conclusions. This is because testimony from witnesses on these issues is not probative and is, in fact, prejudicial to criminal defendants. Good opinion.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DUI. Hiring a competent and experienced criminal defense attorney who is well-versed on pretrial motions and the rules of evidence is the first and best step toward justice.

Entrapment & Sex Crimes

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In State v. Johnson, the WA Court of Appeals held that a Defendant cannot claim Entrapment for numerous attempted sex offenses by responding to a fake Craigslist add in the “Casual Encounters” section created by police officers conducting an online sting operation.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Law enforcement created a posting in the Craigslist casual encounters section. Mr. Johnson responded to the ad. His communications with the (as-yet-unknown) police led Mr. Johnson to believe the add was posted by a 13-year-old female named “Brandi” who was home alone. Mr. Johnson was instructed to drive to a minimart and await further instructions via text. Johnson drove to the designated minimart. “Brandi” then gave Johnson the address of the house and he drove toward that location. Law enforcement apprehended Johnson while on his way from the minimart to the house. At the time of his arrest, Johnson was carrying forty dollars.

Johnson was charged with (1) attempted second degree rape of a child, (2) attempted commercial sexual abuse of a minor, and (3) communication with a minor for immoral purposes. During trial, he requested the Entrapment Defense via a jury instruction. However, the trial judge denied Johnson the defense and jury instruction. The jury found him guilty of all charges.

Johnson appealed, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel and that the trial judge erred by denying the Entrapment defense.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The court explained that in order to prove the affirmative defense of entrapment, a defendant must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he committed a crime, that the State or a State actor lured or induced him to commit the crime, and that the defendant lacked the disposition to commit the crime. A defendant may not point to the State’s absence of evidence to meet his evidentiary burden for an affirmative defense. Importantly, as a matter of law, the Court also stated the following:

“Entrapment is not a defense if law enforcement merely afforded the actor an opportunity
to commit a crime.”

“Here, Johnson points to no evidence to support an entrapment instruction,” reasoned the Court. Here, law enforcement created a Craigslist posting purporting to be a woman looking for a man to teach her how to be an adult. This add, however, was not entrapment on the part of police. The add merely presented an opportunity for Mr. Johnson to incriminate himself and commit a crime:

“Johnson initiated contact by answering the posting. Johnson testified that no one forced him to answer the posting. Although Johnson stated he wanted to be cautious because ‘Brandi’ was underage, he steered the conversation into explicitly sexual territory by graphically explaining his sexual desires to the purported thirteen-year-old. When ‘Brandi’ suggested meeting at a later time, Johnson declined, stating that he was available to meet. There is no evidence that law enforcement lured or induced Johnson.”

The court also rejected Johnson’s argument that he was entitled to an entrapment instruction because the State failed to show he had a predisposition to commit the crimes against children, and there was no evidence of a history regarding perverse activity towards children.

“But pointing to the State’s absence of evidence does not meet Johnson’s evidentiary burden for his affirmative defense,” said the Court. Instead, explained he Court, the evidence shows that law enforcement merely afforded Johnson the opportunity to commit his crimes. Johnson willingly responded to the posting, steered the conversation to explicitly sexual topics, testified that he wanted to meet the person, and drove to the agreed locations.

The Court of Appeals concluded that because Johnson failed to show any evidence entitling him to a jury instruction on entrapment, the trial court did not err by refusing to instruct the jury on entrapment. The court also denied Mr. Johnson’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

My opinion? Entrapment is a very difficult defense to prove under these circumstances. Law enforcement officers are allowed to engage in sting operations, whereby they create circumstances that allow individuals to take criminal actions that they can then be arrested and prosecuted for. These are considered “opportunities” for individuals believed to be involved in criminal behavior to commit crimes. An opportunity is considered very different from entrapment and involves merely the temptation to violate the law, not being forced to do so.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges where Entrapment could be a substantive defense. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.

“You’re In Contempt!”

Contempt of Court and Child Custody - TDC Family Law

In State v. Dennington, the WA Court of Appeals held that a criminal defendant who responded inappropriately to the judge after the judge scolded him for making an inappropriate reference to the prosecutor’s personal appearance was properly found in contempt.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The State charged Dennington with multiple offenses related to vehicle theft. To ensure sufficient time to conduct witness interviews, defense counsel filed a motion to continue Dennington’s trial date, which the court granted over Dennington’s personal objection.

At the close of this discussion, Dennington made a reference to the prosecutor’s personal appearance, stating that “she needs to lose weight somehow.”

The defendant’s comment prompted the following hostile verbal exchange between the judge and defendant, who turned his back and walked away at least two times during their exchange:

The Court: Let’s go. Sir, you need to watch your conduct in my courtroom. Come back here.
Defendant: I don’t respect you. I don’t respect the court.
The Court: I got it—
Defendant: I don’t respect the liars that you entertain in your court.
The Court: But your conduct in my courtroom is important.
Defendant: Do something about it. I don’t care about that.
The Court: All right, I’m going to find you in contempt of court, sir.
Defendant: Thank you.
The Court: I’m going to add 30 days to your sentence, whatever it may be.
Defendant: Add it to my sentence. I’m not guilty.
The Court: You need to do an order on that.
Prosecutor: Thank you, your Honor.
Defense Counsel: Your Honor, I’ll just—
The Court: It wasn’t to his sentence. You may note your objection, but your client’s conduct in this courtroom is unacceptable, so he’s got 30 days in contempt of court.

Dennington later pled guilty to two counts of taking a motor vehicle without permission in the second degree.  Dennington appealed from the order holding him in contempt of court. On appeal, he argued that the contempt order must be reversed because (1) his actions did not constitute contempt of court under RCW 7.21.010, and (2) he was never given the statutorily required opportunity to speak in mitigation after the trial court held him in contempt.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by describing the statute defining Contempt of Court. Contempt of court is defined as intentional (a) Disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior toward the judge while holding the court, tending to impair its authority, or to interrupt the due course of a trial or other judicial proceedings; (b) Disobedience of any lawful judgment, decree, order, or process of the court; (c) Refusal as a witness to appear, be sworn, or, without lawful authority, to answer a question; or (d) Refusal, without lawful authority, to produce a record, document, or other object.

Also, the court found that the Contempt of Court statute requires that “the person committing the contempt of court shall be given an opportunity to speak in mitigation of the contempt unless compelling circumstances demand otherwise.

“This is so because the opportunity to mitigate does not enable the contemnor to avoid the finding of contempt but, rather, permits a contemnor to apologize for, defend, or explain the misconduct that the court has already determined constitutes contempt in an effort to mitigate the sanctions to be imposed,” said the Court, citing Templeton v. Hurtado. 

Here, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the judge properly found the defendant in contempt of court:

“Dennington’s actions—rudely commenting on the prosecutor’s physical appearance and, when admonished to adjust his behavior, turning his back on the judge and explicitly and rudely telling the judge that he did not respect the court or others involved in his case—plainly presented a direct threat to the authority and dignity of the court and to maintaining proper decorum during court proceedings . . . Dennington’s behavior, left unaddressed, could have encouraged others to similarly disrespect the court or similarly disrupt proceedings.”

However, the Court of Appeals also ruled that Mr. Dennington was denied his statutory right to speak in mitigation of his contempt. “Second, the court never asked Mr. Dennington if he had anything he wished to say to mitigate his contempt, said the Court of Appeals. “Following the summary contempt finding, the court was statutorily required to offer Dennington the opportunity to allocute in mitigation of his contempt before imposing sanctions. Here, the court erred by not doing so.”

With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed the finding that Dennington was in contempt, yet reversed the sanction imposed.

My opinion? Granted, it’s difficult for many defendants to be under the authority of a judge’s decision. However, respecting the judge is a necessary formality and like most formalities, it has very real purposes. Whether you actually respect the judge is irrelevant. At the end of the day, the judge is the one calling the shots. Therefore, it is symbolically important for everyone to make a showing of deference at the outset of the proceedings.

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

No Interpreter is Court Mismanagement

Image result for court interpreter

In State v. Jieta, the WA Court of Appeals held that a trial court judge may dismiss a criminal prosecution due to the court’s failure to arrange for an interpreter for all scheduled court hearings.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On May 19, 2015, Mr. Jieta was first arraigned on charges of fourth degree assault and third degree malicious mischief in Snohomish County District Court. The court continued the arraignment after ordering that Jieta be provided a Marshallese interpreter. Over the next 15 months, the court held 14 more pretrial hearings, and the interpreter repeatedly failed to appear telephonically or personally.

On August 26, 2016, Jieta moved under CrRLJ 8.3(b) to dismiss all charges. On September 12, — another hearing where the interpreter failed to appear — the court dismissed all charges with prejudice and found the interpreter’s absences “seriously interfered with Mr. Jieta’s right to representation by counsel.” In short, out of 14 pretrial hearings conducted after the court directed the appointment of a interpreter, the interpreter failed to appear 10 times, appeared by phone – ineffectively – two times, and appeared in person two times. The superior court affirmed the dismissal on the State’s appeal.

The State sought discretionary review in this court, which was granted on the narrow question whether CrRLJ 8.3(b) can apply when court administration mismanages a case.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Furthermore, the Court of Appeals explained that CrRLJ 8.3(b) gives courts discretion to dismiss “any criminal prosecution due to arbitrary action or governmental misconduct when there has been prejudice to the rights of the accused which materially affect the accused’s right to a fair trial.” To satisfy the rule, the alleged misconduct “need not be of an evil or dishonest nature; simple mismanagement is sufficient.”

The Court also reasoned that the judiciary has a statutory duty of appointing an interpreter to assist the defendant throughout the proceedings:

“Reliable interpreter services are necessary to secure a non-English speaking defendant’s fair trial rights. Thus, to assist a defendant throughout the proceedings, the interpreter must actually deliver translation services throughout the proceedings.”

The purpose of CrR 8.3(b) is to ensure fairness to defendants by protecting their right to a fair trial. Thus, when mismanagement by court personnel prevents a defendant from receiving reliable interpreter services and effective assistance of counsel for more than one year, the defendant has a viable claim of “governmental misconduct” consistent with the text and purpose of CrRLJ 8.3(b).

Here, the Court of Appeals reasoned that “governmental misconduct” can extend to mismanagement by court administration.

“We need not decide the exact types of court mismanagement that could warrant relief or when dismissal is an appropriate remedy for such mismanagement,” said the Court. “On the record before us, the State does not establish that the trial court erred in its conclusion that CrRLJ 8.3(b) may extend to a court’s administrative mismanagement of its statutory obligation to provide translator services.”

With that, the COurt of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of all charges.

My opinion? Good decision.

Court interpreters are important in legal proceedings, especially when criminal charges are involved. Interpreters ensure that defendants fully understand the charges and the proceedings. Indeed, the constitutional right to simply understand the charges and their maximum consequences is captured under the 6th Amendment.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime and they need an interpreter to move forward in their defense. Hiring a competent, experienced attorney is the first and best step toward achieving justice.

Imprisoned At 7-11

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In  State v. Dillon, the WA Court of Appeals held that in Unlawful Imprisonment charges, the State must prove that the defendant knowingly restrained another person, not that the defendant knowingly acted without legal authority.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On December 21 2017, the soon-to-be victim Mr. Favors entered a 7-Eleven after he got off his bus. Favors encountered the soon-to-be defendant Mr. Dillon standing near the entrance to 7-Eleven. Favors noticed that Dillon had scratches on his face, was bleeding, and intoxicated. Favors thought that Dillon was panhandling and told him he did not have change. Favors continued into the 7-Eleven.

Dillon entered the 7-Eleven 10 to 15 seconds after Favors. Favors finished making his purchase and started walking towards the exit. Dillon was standing three feet in front of the exit. Dillon told Favors in a slurred voice to “get your ass back over there” and threatened to cut and shoot him. Favors feared that the situation would escalate and went to the back of the store. Favors tried to leave a second time and Dillon said “I told you one time; get your ass back over there.” Favors, who is African-American, recalled hearing a racial slur. Favors discreetly called 911.

Police arrived and arrested Dillon. At one point he  “reared his head back” and hit a police officer on his forehead and the bridge of his nose. The officer recalled that Dillon was
intoxicated, his balance was poor, and was making incoherent statements.

The State initially charged Dillon with Third Degree Assault of the police officer and Harassment of Favors, but amended the information to include Unlawful Imprisonment of Favors.

The defense requested a jury instruction on Voluntary Intoxication and the State did not object. The jury acquitted Dillon of felony harassment, but convicted him of third degree assault and unlawful imprisonment.

Dillon appealed on the issue of whether State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dillon knowingly acted without legal authority.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The State presented sufficient evidence that a reasonable juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Dillon knew he was acting without legal authority when he committed the crime of Harassment.

“The threats that Dillon made had no lawful purpose. Depending on the level of intoxication, a person under the influence can still form the requisite intent to know that their actions are unlawful.”

Dillon made threats to “cut” and “shoot” Favors, both of which demonstrate that Dillon knew he was acting without legal authority. Dillon “jumped” at Favors to prevent him from exiting the 7-Eleven, further supporting a finding that Dillon knew his actions were unlawfully restraining Favors.

Regarding the Unlawful Imprisonment conviction, the WA Court of Appeals ruled that Dillon did not say anything that indicated he thought he had legal authority to restrain Favors. Also, the Court denied the argument denied the defense of Escape and held that that Mr. Favors could not have safely departed 7-11 due to Mr. Dillon’s actions:

“Viewed in the light most favorable to the State, Favor’s testimony is sufficient to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Dillon restrained Favors’s movement, in a manner that substantially interfered with his liberty through intimidation, threats of violence, and by blocking the 7-Eleven exit.”

With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Dillon’s convictions.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges like Assault, Harassment or Unlawful Imprisonment. It’s imperative to hire an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney who knows the law.