Category Archives: Washington Supreme Court

WA Supreme Court on Accessing Justice During the Pandemic: “Our Work Isn’t Done.”

COVID-19 and the Courts | RAND

In a press release, the Washington Courts describe the huge strides they’ve taken to keep courts accessible and safe during the pandemic. And in doing so, the judiciary learned a great deal about everyday challenges to equity and accessing justice for state residents. WA Supreme Court Chief Steven C. González addressed the matter in a joint session of the state Legislature.

“The pandemic made clearer than ever the inequities within our justice system, but by making them more visible, the pandemic also made them more addressable,” ~WA Supreme Court Chief Steven C. González.

The speech was broadcast live and recorded by TVW. A written State of the Judiciary report was released to lawmakers, judicial branch leaders and the public following the oral address.

González highlighted some key work and responses by the judicial branch to challenges and revelations:

  • Remote proceedings, now and future – Courts have broadly expanded remote proceedings to maintain safety during the pandemic, and in doing so learned a great deal about struggles to access courts. “Remote access has relieved the burden of travel for those unable to afford child care or to take off from work. It has allowed disabled people better, more inclusive access to justice,” Justice González said. Courts have launched remote and hybrid trials, have expanded electronic filing and use of electronic signatures, and have provided remote technology to litigants who did not have it. “Some of these pandemic necessities have become so effective, we will adopt rules to make them permanent. We’re in that process now.”
  • Racial disparities remain – The Board for Judicial Administration launched a Court Recovery Task Force to catalog pandemic revelations and adaptations and provide support and information. After the killing of George Floyd, the task force expanded its work to include examination of ongoing racial disparities in the justice system. Its final report is titled, “Re-Imagining Our Courts.” Powerful data on disparities in the justice system were also detailed in reports by The Race and Justice Task Force and the Gender and Justice Commission. “This hard data reinforces what many know from their own lived experiences, but these reports give us tangible, actionable data that we can point to as we push for improvements.”
  • Making progress – González highlighted expanded access to court interpreters enabled by the legislature, expanded use of therapeutic courts across the state which have proven successful in addressing underlying causes of criminal activity, new communication channels between state branches of government such as the new Interbranch Advisory Committee, and ongoing efforts such a Washington state court rule addressing both explicit and implicit bias in jury selection – the first in the nation to do so, and now a national model.
  • Immediate challenges – In addition to other ongoing issues, González pointed to significant concerns involving court fines and fees being used to fund so much of court operations, particularly technology system, and court security risks. “All too much of the funding for our IT systems come from district and municipal court fees and fines,” he said, which criminalize poverty. “These are disparately imposed on the poorest and most marginalized communities. This needs to change. It’s the right thing to do.” Maintaining secure, safe courts is also an issue affecting access to justice and the functions of a democratic society, he said, and court security concerns and incidents have been growing.

“We’ve travelled far along the road to justice, and we still have more to go . . . We need your help to continue that progress. I look forward to working with all of you to fulfill the great promise of our  nation of equal justice for all.” ~WA Supreme Court Chief Steven C. González.

My opinion? The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed and exacerbated inequities in our justice system. Our courts and legal service providers have been forced to curtail in-person operations. This has occurred often without the resources or technology to offer remote-access or other safe alternatives. Fortunately, our courts have takes impressive strides forward and effectively pivoted under the circumstances.

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.

Cross-Racial Identification

Frontiers | The Own-Race Bias for Face Recognition in a Multiracial Society

In State v. Butler, the WA Supreme Court upheld a defendant’s conviction for assault and held there was insufficient evidence supporting a jury instruction for false cross-racial identification.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Mr. Butler, a Black man, was convicted of assaulting two security officers in separate incidents at two Seattle light rail stations. Both assaults were caught on camera and the assailant appeared to be the same person in both. One of the victims, who appears to be white, identified Butler as his assailant at trial. The victim had not made an out-of-court identification. The victim did not identify Butler until the CrR 3.5 hearing and then at trial.

Naturally, the primary issue at trial was the identity of the assailant. The State sought to prove Butler was the person in the videos. The State argued that Butler was of the same build and race as the assailant. He also wore the same clothes and carried the same items—including the same shoes, skateboard, and backpack.

Butler asked the trial court to instruct the jury according to the pattern jury instruction on eyewitness identifications. It includes optional bracketed language that the jury may consider the witness’s familiarity or lack of familiarity with people of the perceived race or ethnicity of the perpetrator of the act.  The trial court agreed to give the pattern jury instruction, but declined to include that optional language. Mr. Butler was found guilty at trial.

On appeal, Butler argued that the trial court denied his right to present a defense by failing to give the cross-racial identification portion of the pattern instruction. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because there was insufficient evidence supporting the instruction, and it upheld Butler’s conviction. The WA Supreme Court addressed the issue and granted review.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court acknowledges racial bias is pervasive in our society.  However, it declined the chance to adopt a model jury instruction on cross-racial eyewitness identifications or to require that instruction be given whenever the defendant requests it. The Court’s review was strictly limited to considering whether the optional language on cross-racial identification should have been given.

Although Butler argued for a violation of his Due Process right to present a defense, S.Ct. concludes Butler was able to attack AV’s credibility and pursue his defense on the unreliability of the identification with the instructions that were given.

There was no abuse of discretion in denying the requested language in the instruction because the court reasonably concluded there was not sufficient evidence in the record supporting such a jury instruction.

“We leave for another day broader questions about what steps courts should take to mitigate the significant risk that eyewitness identifications are unreliable in the cross-racial context.” ~WA Supreme Court.

CONCURRING OPINIONS – CHIEF JUSTICE STEVEN GONZALEZ & JUSTICE MARY YU

Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote a separate concurring opinion. He reluctantly concurred only because Butler did not lay a foundation for the instruction he requested. However, Justice Gonzalez also took the opportunity to offer a deeper perspective on the negative impacts of improper identification of defendants.

“Mistaken eyewitness identifications have resulted in many innocent people being wrongfully convicted in our nation . . . The particular weaknesses of cross-racial identifications have been well known and well documented for decades.” ~WA Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez

Justice Gonzalez urged our Washington Pattern Jury Instructions Committee to craft an instruction that reflects what we have learned about the weaknesses of cross-racial identification.

Justice Mary Yu also wrote a concurring separate opinion. Similar to Justice Gonzalez, she recommended that Washington adopt an instruction that fully and accurately reflects the proven weaknesses of cross-racial identification.

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.

Exhaust Your Peremptory Challenges

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In State v. Talbott, the WA Supreme Court held that at trial, a defendant may not appeal the seating of a juror if the defendant could have struck that juror with a peremptory challenge. 

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2018, Mr. Talbott was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated first degree murder that occurred in 1987. The victims – Jay Cook and his girlfriend Tanya Van Cuylenborg – were a couple visiting from Canada. Their bodies were found in Snohomish County and Skagit County, respectively. Van Cuylenborg’s body displayed evidence of sexual assault. Despite a multicounty law enforcement effort to solve the murders, no arrests were made. It was not until 30 years later that law enforcement, with the assistance of a genealogist, identified Mr. Talbott as the source for DNA that was collected in 1987.

Jury Selection At Trial

During voir dire, Talbott moved to excuse juror 40 on a challenge for cause. A challenge for cause is a request to disqualify a potential juror for specific reasons. Typical reasons include an acquaintanceship with either of the parties. It also includes a juror’s prior knowledge that would prevent impartial evaluation of the evidence presented in court, bias, prejudice, or an inability to serve (such as being seriously mentally ill)

The judge denied the defendant’s motion to challenge juror 40 for cause. At the end of voir dire, the court provided both parties the opportunity to raise any additional for-cause challenges. However, both parties – the State and Defense Counsel – declined.

The parties then exercised peremptory challenges. This is one of a limited number of special jury challenges given to each party before trial.  A peremptory challenge results in the exclusion of a potential juror without the need for any reason or explanation – unless the opposing party presents a prima facie argument that this challenge was used to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex.

After the State exercised its first peremptory challenge, juror 40 moved into the jury box. Talbott never attempted to use a peremptory challenge to remove juror 40. He affirmatively accepted the panel after exercising only four of his six peremptory challenges. Talbott had at least two additional peremptory challenges that he did not use on any prospective juror. Thus, Talbott explicitly agreed to be tried by a jury that included juror 40.

Talbott was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole. He appealed, contending, among other things, that the seating of juror 40 violated his right to a fair trial by an impartial jury.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

WA Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu wrote the Court’s majority opinion, which was agreed  to unanimously by the other justices.

Justice Yu began opined that criminal defendants have the constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. However, the burden of preventing trial errors rests squarely upon counsel for both sides. State v. Farley. Therefore, even defense counsel in a criminal case must attempt to correct errors at trial, rather than saving them for appeal in case the verdict goes against them.

Next, the Court raised and dismissed Talbott’s legal arguments regarding peremptory challenges and long history of precedent cases on the issue. First, the Court rejected Talbott’s argument that State v. Clark should have been rejected in light of State v. Fire.

“He is incorrect,” wrote the Court. “Fire did not overrule Clark. The two cases address different scenarios because the appellant in Fire exhausted their peremptory challenges and the appellant in Clark did not.” Moreover, the Court wrote that the holdings of Clark and Fire were consistent with each other. It is only in dicta that the opinions seem to contradict one another. “It is this dicta in Fire that has created some confusion and uncertainty in this area of the law,” said Justice Yu.

“Thus, we take this opportunity to clarify that a party who does not exhaust their peremptory challenges and accepts the jury panel cannot appeal the seating of
a particular juror.” ~Justice Mary Yu, WA Supreme Court

My opinion? Justice Yu issued a straightforward and academic ruling. A party may not appeal the seating of a juror if the party could have struck that juror with a preemptory challenge.  Parties are obliged to use their preemptory challenges to strike jurors they unsuccessfully moved to excuse for cause.  Finally, it appears that a party may only appeal the jury’s composition if the party exhausted their preemptory challenges.

The take-away? Exercise your peremptory challenges at trial.

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.

Conviction Reversed Because Prosecutor Failed to Give Race-Neutral Reasons for Striking Jurors.

The Evolving Debate Over Batson's Procedures for Peremptory Challenges -  National Association of Attorneys General

In State v. Tesfasilasye, the WA Supreme Court reversed a sex offense conviction under GR 37 because the prosecutor failed to give race-neutral reasons for striking two minority jurors.

A brief explanation of GR 37 is necessary. When the WA Supreme Court adopted GR 37 in 2018, it became the first court in the nation to adopt a court rule aimed at eliminating both implicit and intentional racial bias in jury selection. The rule expanded the prohibition against using race based peremptory challenges during jury selection. Not only was intentional race discrimination outlawed, but also challenges based on “implicit, institutional, and unconscious” race and ethnic biases were rejected.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The defendant Mr. Tesfasilasye is a Black Eritrean immigrant whose primary language is Tigrigna. Tesfasilasye worked for Solid Ground as a driver for people with disabilities. C.R.R. used Solid Ground’s services. The alleged victim, C.R.R. is visually impaired. She sometimes uses a wheelchair due to balance issues.

The day after Tesfasilasye drove C.R.R. home, C.R.R. reported that Mr. Tesfasilasye assaulted her the day before. The State charged Tesfasilasye with third degree rape. During voir dire, the State brought peremptory challenges against Juror #25, an Asian woman, and Juror #3, a Latino.

The State sought to use a peremptory strike against Juror #25, an Asian woman. Tesfasilasye raised a GR 37 objection. The State denied it was striking Juror #25 because she was an Asian woman. The State called the court’s attention to the fact it was not seeking to strike the other Asian woman in the panel. Instead, the State contended it wanted to strike Juror# 25. The trial court overruled the GR 37 objection and granted the peremptory challenge.

Next, the State sought a peremptory challenge against Juror #3, the Latino. The court granted the peremptory challenge. However, the trial judge’s oral ruling was not based on
whether a reasonable juror could view race as a factor as required by GR 37.

The jury found Tesfasilasye guilty of third degree rape. Tesfasilasye appealed. He alleged that an objective observer could have viewed race as a factor for striking Juror #25 and Juror #3 as prohibited by GR 37. The Court of Appeals affirmed Tesfasilasye’s conviction. The WA Supreme Court granted review.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

“Our constitutions require a fair and impartial jury,” wrote Justice Gonzalez. “The parties and the jurors themselves have the right to a trial process free from discrimination.” Next, Justice Gonzalez discussed the nefarious use of peremptory challenges to strike qualified jurors without providing a reason. “These challenges however have a history of being used based largely or entirely on racial stereotypes or generalizations,” he said.

Justice Gonzalez explained how GR 37 was an attempt to address the shortcomings of Batson v. Kentucky. Batson was a landmark case prohibiting the use of peremptory challenges to automatically exclude potential members of the jury because of their race. “The protections under Batson were not robust enough to effectively combat racial discrimination during jury selection,” said Justice Gonzalez. In short, Batson failed to require a trial judge to make rulings without considering systemic and unconscious racial bias.

Justice Gonzalez explained that under GR 37, a peremptory challenge shall be denied if an objective observer could view race or ethnicity as a factor in the use of a peremptory challenge. He described at great length why both Juror #25 and Juror #3 were wrongfully struck by the State and concluded as follows:

“We hold that under these facts, an objective observer could view race as a factor for striking both Juror #25 and Juror #3. Tesfasilasye asks this court to reverse his conviction. The State does not dispute that the remedy for a GR 37 violation is reversal. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals and remand for a new trial.” Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez, WA Supreme Court.

My opinion? Good decision. The State has another opportunity for trial. Next time, let’s  hope they avoids striking jurors for race-based reasons.

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.

 

Washington Supreme Court Will Address How to Reduce Racial Disparities & Reform Juvenile Justice

Bias in Criminal Justice - Common Reading Research Guide 2020-21 -  LibGuides at Elon University

According to a press release, on July 13, 2022, a task force will present recommendations to the Washington Supreme Court on reducing and, where possible, eliminating racial disparities in Washington’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. The public presentation is scheduled for 10:30  AM – 12:00 PM, and will be livestreamed and recorded by TVW.

The recommendations come from a work group of Task Force 2.0: Race and Washington’s Criminal Justice System, a project coordinated by the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at the Seattle University School of Law. Presenters will include Korematsu Center Executive Director Professor Bob Chang, Assistant Directors Jessica Levin and Melissa Lee, public defense attorneys, child welfare experts, Pierce County Superior Court Judge André M. Peñalver, and more.

Task Force 2.0 last year presented extensive research to the Supreme Court detailing racially disproportionate treatment and outcomes in the state’s criminal justice system, outcomes significantly impacted by historically racist laws and practices. The follow-up presentation provides recommendations in 14 areas – such as policing and traffic stops, prosecutorial decision-making, pre-trial release, sentencing and prison, community supervision, legal financial obligations and more – as well as recommendations for reforming the juvenile justice system from a special sub-committee.

The Task Force was launched in mid-2020 by the deans of Washington’s three law schools following the death of George Floyd, nationwide protests for racial justice, and the June 4, 2020 Open Letter of the justices of the Washington Supreme Court challenging members of the state judiciary and legal community to recognize racial injustice and take steps to eliminate it.

The Task Force is dubbed “2.0” because it is a re-launch of the Race and Justice Task Force established in 2010 following comments made by two then-sitting Washington Supreme Court justices about criminality and race. That first task force produced a report in 2011 with data that has guided a number of efforts since then, including an annual symposium presented by the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission focusing on specific issues of racial disparity.

My opinion? We’ve GOT to be proud of our WA Supreme Court for being so proactive in resolving racial disparities in the justice system.

The rise of mass incarceration may seem like a recent phenomenon, but it is a repeating pattern throughout this country’s history. From America’s founding to the present, there are stories of crime waves or criminal behavior followed by patterns of disproportionate imprisonment of those forced to the margins of society: Black people, immigrants, Native Americans, refugees, and others.

The result has been the persistent and disproportionate impact of incarceration on people of color, immigrants, and people experiencing poverty. From 1850 to 1940, racial and ethnic minorities—including foreign-born and non-English speaking European immigrants—made up 40 to 50 percent of the prison population. In 2015, about 55 percent of people imprisoned in federal or state prisons were Black or Latino.

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.

Low-Level Robbery Won’t Get A Reduced Sentence

Why Grocery Stores are adding Supplemental Security during the Coronavirus Outbreak | CITIGUARD

In State v. Thomason, the WA Supreme Court held that the low-level, de minimis nature of some crimes can allow for an exceptional downward sentence. However, the minimal level of force used to prove Robbery makes it inappropriate to allow a downward sentence.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On September 5, 2018, Thomason entered Yoke’s Fresh Market grocery store in Spokane.  A plainclothes security guard, Mr. Swartz, followed Thomason around the store. Swartz watched Thomason pick up about $15 worth of meat and cheese. Thomason proceeded to another part of the store and tucked the food down his pants. Thomason then left the store without paying.

Swartz followed Thomason out and confronted him. Swartz grabbed Thomason’s arm, displayed his badge, and asked Thomason to go back inside the store. Thomason tried to pull free, and Swartz warned him that he was only making the situation worse. The two pulled at each other back and forth as Swartz tried to detain Thomason and Thomason tried to break free.

During this exchange, Thomason swung at Swartz two times. Thomason used a closed fist, aimed at Swartz’s face both times, and hit Swartz the second time with a glancing blow. Swartz yelled at his partner, a guard in training, to help. Thomason punched Swartz a third time. Swartz testified that the third punch “hurt” and caused a minor injury. His face was sore and slightly red for a day or two. Thomason escaped by pulling out of his sweatshirt and running. He was seen getting into a passenger car and was eventually apprehended.

The State charged Thomason with second degree robbery just before trial. A jury convicted him as charged.

THE SENTENCING

At sentencing, the parties agreed that Thomason’s offender score was 10. That made his standard sentencing range 63-84 months. Thomason requested a 12-month sentence. This was a exceptional downward departure from his sentencing range.

The trial court judge considered an exceptional sentence below the standard range. The judge said that the crime was no more than a “glorified shoplifting charge” that should have been treated as a misdemeanor. Nevetheless, the judge determined that the law barred him from imposing an exceptional downward sentence. The judge imposed 63 months, the bottom of the standard range, instead.

Thomason appealed on several grounds. However, the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction. The WA Supreme Court granted appellate review solely on the exceptional sentence issue.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court reasoned that Washington’s Sentencing Reform Act lists mitigating circumstances that can support an exceptional sentence below the standard range. It explained that in appropriate cases, the de minimis nature of a crime can support an exceptional sentence below the standard range. An appropriate case is one in which (1) the legislature did not consider the mitigating factor already when it listed the elements of the crime or set the standard sentence range and (2) the factor constitutes a substantial and compelling reason to depart below the range.”

The Court acknowledged Thomason’s argument that his crime was de minimis. The value of the items taken was low and no force was used to accomplish the taking. Although force was used to retain the property, it was “minor” force. However, the court disagreed with Thomasan’s argument that he was allowed an exceptional downward sentence.

The Court reasoned that the plain language of the robbery statute shows that the legislature did consider a defendant’s minimal use of force when it defined the crime of second degree robbery.

“As the emphasized language shows, the legislature clearly considered whether the crime of second degree robbery should punish a taking combined with a minimal showing of force. It criminalized a taking in which either ‘force’ ‘or’ no force at all—just ‘fear’—is used to accomplish the taking . . . The legislature even said that where, as here, such force or fear is used to obtain or retain possession of the property, or to prevent or overcome resistance to the taking, the degree of force is immaterial.”~WA Supreme Court

With that, the WA Supreme Court affirmed Mr. Thomason’s conviction.

My opinion? I agree with Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez’s concurring opinion. He wrote separately because he was increasingly troubled by our controlling, unchallenged precedents and the sentencing laws they interpret.

“Washington’s sentencing guidelines suggest, among other things, that unconstrained discretion in sentencing operates to favor whites and disfavor members of minority groups,” said Justice Gonzalez. As part of the concurrence, he references an article about prosecutorial discretion and sentencing guidelines. He ended his opinion with choice parting words:

“We must find a way to live justly with one another. We must not steal from each other or strike each other. But when it happens, the State must not respond with a disproportionate punishment. I am increasingly concerned that sentences like this for what amounts to glorified shoplifting are simply not just and speak to deep problems with our sentencing systems.” ~Chief Justice Steven C. Gonzalez, WA Supreme Court.

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

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

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

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

BACKGROUND FACTS

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

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

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

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

A jury found Zamora guilty as charged.

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

LEGAL ISSUE

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

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

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.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

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.

High Court: Race Must be Considered in Determining Legality of Police Stops and Seizures

Center for the Study of Race and Law | University of Virginia School of Law

In State v. Sum, the WA Supreme Court held that  a person’s race – and law enforcement’s long history of discrimination against people of color – should be taken into account when determining the legality of police seizures.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The case concerns Palla Sum, a person of color who identifies himself as Asian/Pacific Islander. Mr. Sum was sleeping in his car in Tacoma one morning in April 2019 when police came upon him. Deputy Rickerson An officer ran his plates. The car was not stolen. There is no indication that it was parked illegally. Nevertheless, the car attracted the deputy’s attention because “it was parked there.”

The officer knocked on the window, asked Sum questions and asked him for identification. Sum gave a false name and the officer went back to his cruiser to check records. Sum then drove off, crashed into a front lawn and was caught as he attempted to run away.

Sum was subsequently charged with Making a False Statement, Eluding and Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, after a gun was found in his car.

Sum filed a pretrial motion to suppress pursuant to CrR 3.6. He argued that he was unlawfully seized without reasonable suspicion when Deputy Rickerson requested Sum’s identification while implying that Sum was under investigation for car theft. The court denied Sum’s motion to suppress. It ruled that because Sum was not seized when Rickerson asked him to identify himself, because the did not retain Sum’s physical identification to conduct his records check. Sum was convicted of all three charges by a jury.

Although the WA Court of Appeals upheld his conviction, Sum again appealed to the WA Supreme Court. He argued  that there is no justification—aside from unacceptably ignoring the issue of race altogether—for courts considering the totality of the circumstances to disregard the effect of race as one of the circumstances affecting evaluation of police contact.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court discussed the standard of review for addressing similar cases. It reasoned that the search and seizure inquiry is an objective test. An allegedly seized person has the burden to show that a seizure occurred. It further clarified that a person is seized if, based on the totality of the circumstances, an objective observer could conclude that the person was not free to leave, to refuse a request, or to otherwise terminate the encounter due to law enforcement’s display of authority or use of physical force.

The Court also took its “objective analysis” test a step further:

“For purposes of this analysis, an objective observer is aware that implicit, institutional, and unconscious biases, in addition to purposeful discrimination, have resulted in disproportionate police contacts, investigative seizures, and uses of force against Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) in Washington.” ~Justice Mary Yu, WA Supreme Court

Furthermore, wrote the Court, if the person shows there was a seizure, then the burden shifts to the State to prove that the seizure was lawfully justified by a warrant or an applicable exception to the warrant requirement.

Next, the Court applied its now race-conscious test to the facts of the case. It reasoned that based on the totality of the circumstances, Mr. Sum was seized when Deputy Rickerson requested Sum’s identification while implying that Sum was under investigation for car theft.

“As the State properly concedes, at that time, the deputy did not have a warrant, reasonable suspicion, or any other lawful authority to seize Sum,” wrote Justice Yu. “As a result, Sum was unlawfully seized, and the false name and birth date he gave to the deputy must be suppressed. We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.”

My opinion? Good decision.

In an amicus brief, public defender and civil rights groups argued that law enforcement’s history of discriminating against people of color needs to be reflected in how the law is interpreted. The groups, including the King County Department of Public Defense and the ACLU of Washington, wrote the following:

“Centuries of violence and dehumanizing treatment of people of color have required BIPOC communities to develop survival strategies that demand over-compliance with law enforcement . . . For courts to continue to blind themselves to that reality when evaluating the freedom an individual would feel to unilaterally terminate a law enforcement contact is to further enshrine existing racial disparities into the legal system.”

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

WA Supreme Court Rules Against Edmonds Gun Storage Law

Gun Laws - FindLaw

In Bass v. City of Edmonds, the Washington Supreme Court struck down an Edmonds gun storage ordinance in a court order reaffirming state law that local governments can’t impose their own firearms regulations.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

After robust debate following a mass shooting at the nearby Marysville Pilchuck High School, the Edmonds City Council adopted an ordinance requiring residents to safely store their firearms when not in use. Ordinance 4120, codified as Edmonds City Code (ECC) chapter 5.26. The ordinance contains two operative provisions. Under the “storage provision,”

“It shall be a civil infraction for any person to store or keep any firearm in any premises unless such weapon is secured by a locking device, properly engaged so as to render such weapon inaccessible or unusable to any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user.”

“Notwithstanding the foregoing, for purposes of this section, such weapon shall be deemed lawfully stored or lawfully kept if carried by or under the control of tthe owner or other lawfully authorized user.”

ECC 5.26.020. Under the “unauthorized access” provision,

“It shall be a civil infraction if any person knows or reasonably should know that a minor, an at-risk person, or a prohibited person is likely to gain access to a firearm belonging to or under the control of that person, and a minor, an at-risk person, or a prohibited person obtains the firearm.”

Violation of either provision carries a civil fine of as much as $10,000 if an at-risk person or child gained access to an unsecured gun.

At around the same time, Washington voters enacted Initiative 1639. This initiative, among many other things, criminalizes unsafe storage of firearms but in more limited circumstances than Edmonds’ ordinance. Unlike the City of Edmonds ordinance, the voter  initiative – later codified as RCW 9.41.360 – specifically did not mandate how or where a firearm must be stored.

The legality of the Edmonds’ ordinance was challenged and eventually made its way to the WA Supreme Court.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Court found that the plaintiffs had legal standing to challenge the ordinance.

Next, the Court turned to the issue of whether existing statute under RCW 9.41.290 preempts this ordinance. The statute reads the following, in part:

“The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state, including the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components. Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law, as in RCW 9.41.300, and are consistent with this chapter.”  ~RCW 9.41.290

Ultimately, the court ruled that Washington state law RCW 9.41.290  “fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state.”

Thursday’s ruling was a victory for gun rights organizations, such as the National Rifle Association and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, both of which participated in the legal challenge.

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