Tag Archives: Mount Vernon Criminal Defense Attorney

WA: Bad State to Drive

New Jersey - We Live In The 8th Worst State To Drive In

Apparently, Washington is one of the nation’s worst states to drive in, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The study, by personal finance website WalletHub, found that Washington ranks as the third-worst state for drivers, thanks mainly to steep gas prices, high rates of car theft, poor overall road quality, traffic congestion and other factors.

The only states with a worse rating than Washington are California and Hawaii, the report found. The best state for drivers is Texas, followed by Indiana at No. 2 and North Carolina at No. 3, according to the analysis.

The study arrived at the rankings by comparing all 50 states across 31 key metrics, such as traffic congestion, gas prices, auto maintenance costs, car theft rate and number of days with precipitation.

Specifically, the analysis found that Washington has the third-highest gas prices in the nation, the eighth-worst roads and ninth-highest car theft rate.

The only categories in which Washington was rated above average were its overall safety ranking, the number of car dealerships per capita and the number of auto repair shops per capita. The study also found that traffic congestion costs U.S. drivers $88 billion per year and wastes 99 hours of their time.

It’s also heartening to officials with Washington State Patrol and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, which are among the agencies working toward Target Zero, a statewide effort to eliminate all fatal and serious injury traffic incidents by 2030. Critics of strict enforcement of speed limits charge that the link between speed and safety is exaggerated because of biases embedded in data collection and inaccuracies found in some police reporting on accidents.

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

Covid & Drug Overdoses

Coronavirus Leads to More Drug Overdose Deaths · Napoli Shkolnik

Excellent article by Adriana Belmonte of yahoo!news reports that the Coronavirus Pandemic has had devastating mental health effects on Americans, and drug abuse is hitting record levels.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. in the 12-month period ending in May 2020. That’s the highest number ever recorded by the CDC.

“This pandemic and all that’s come along with it has really just exacerbated those vulnerabilities and the shortcomings of our own approach to treating those people.” ~Dr. Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and emergency physician based out of Ohio.

Ms. Belmonte reports that in San Francisco, the number of overdose deaths (621) outpaced COVID-related deaths (173) in 2020. And more than 40 states reported annual increases in opioid overdose deaths, “as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder,” according to the American Medical Association.

According to Belmonte, a CDC survey in June found that 40.9% of Americans reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, with 13.3% of respondents having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19:

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal allegations such as Drug Charges, Assault or Domestic Violence. Chances are, the various compounding stresses brought by the Coronavirus Pandemic could factor into the allegations. Hiring and experienced and effective criminal defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.

DUI’s Raise Insurance

Best Car Insurance Options After A DUI

Great article by Andrew Hammond of the Tacoma News Tribune says that according to the Northwest Insurance Council, extra patrols will be deployed to look out for impaired motorists this holiday season. And unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there.

Hammond also reports that NW Insurance Council President Kenton Brine said, “Long after the arrest, conviction, possible jail time and fines, the consequences of having a DUI citation can continue to increase the cost of insurance for offenders.”

“To an insurer, having a DUI indicates a highly risky driving history, which is a primary factor insurers use to determine auto insurance premiums. Insurance companies may review a motor vehicle report upon renewal of an auto policy to discover any citations, including a DUI. Drivers with an infraction for DUI would likely see a premium increase or surcharge, or their policy may not be renewed.”  ~Kenton Brine, President of the Northwest Insurance Council.

DUIs can be caused by the use of marijuana, prescription drugs and even over-the-counter drugs like Nyquil and Ambien as well as alcohol.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family face alcohol-related charges as a result of holiday parties. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.

Average Washingtonian Drinks Six Days in a Row During Holidays

Infographic: Drinking and DUIs During the Holidays

A survey from the Addiction-treatment.com shows that among 3,000 state residents 21 and older, the average Washingtonian drinks for six days in a row over the holiday season, without having a day off. It could be wine, beer, cider, or whatever a particular person’s choice is.

That puts Washington drinkers at the top of the list of states, according to the group. The average American drinks for four days in a row over the holidays, it says.

Some may be drinking to celebrate the end of 2020 but others may be drinking due to loneliness, depression and isolation. Here’s some other highlights from the organization’s 12 Days of Christmas infographic:

  • Almost half of respondents say drinking at Christmas is a family tradition.
  • Over 1 in 3 say they give alcohol as a gift to loved ones at Christmas.
  • A quarter admit they spike their morning coffee with alcohol during the holidays.

“It’s important that people not use the pandemic or the holidays to justify excessive drinking,” Brittney Morse, a spokesperson for Addiction-Treatment.com, said in a statement.

“We know that overindulgence in alcohol can start the process for bad habits and lead to unhealthy coping skills that could ultimately result in alcohol dependence. Now is a great time to establish new, healthy traditions that are not centered around the consumption of alcohol. This ensures every family member, even those in recovery, can enjoy the holiday traditions together.” ~Brittney Morse, a spokesperson for Addiction-Treatment.com

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a drug crime or alcohol-related crime over the holidays. The temptation to imbibe is especially pronounced these days due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.

FBI Releases 2019 Hate Crime Statistics

Pie chart depicting breakdown of motivations of bias-motivated crimes in the Hate Crime Statistics, 2019 report.

In a press release issued today, the FBI gave Hate Crime Statistics, 2019, which is the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s latest compilation about bias-motivated incidents throughout the nation. The 2019 data, submitted by 15,588 law enforcement agencies, provide information about the offenses, victims, offenders, and locations of hate crimes.

Law enforcement agencies submitted incident reports involving 7,314 criminal incidents and 8,559 related offenses as being motivated by bias toward race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity.

Victims of Hate Crime Incidents

  • According to the report, there were 7,103 single-bias incidents involving 8,552 victims. A percent distribution of victims by bias type shows that 57.6% of victims were targeted because of the offenders’ race/ethnicity/ancestry bias; 20.1% were targeted because of the offenders’ religious bias; 16.7% were victimized because of the offenders’ sexual-orientation bias; 2.7% were targeted because of the offenders’ gender identity bias; 2.0% were victimized because of the offenders’ disability bias; and 0.9% were victimized because of the offenders’ gender bias.
  • There were 211 multiple-bias hate crime incidents, which involved 260 victims.

Offenses by Crime Category

  • Of the 5,512 hate crime offenses classified as crimes against persons in 2019, 40% were for intimidation, 36.7% were for simple assault, and 21% were for aggravated assault. Fifty-one (51) murders; 30 rapes; and three offenses of human trafficking (commercial sex acts) were reported as hate crimes. The remaining 41 hate crime offenses were reported in the category of other.
  • There were 2,811 hate crime offenses classified as crimes against property. The majority of these (76.6%) were acts of destruction/damage/vandalism. Robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, arson, and other offenses accounted for the remaining 23.4% of crimes against property.
  • Two hundred thirty-six (236) additional offenses were classified as crimes against society. This crime category represents society’s prohibition against engaging in certain types of activity such as gambling, prostitution, and drug violations. These are typically victimless crimes in which property is not the object.

In Washington, Malicious Harassment is a crime you may face in addition to any other existing charges if the prosecution has deemed that there is sufficient cause to believe that your actions were motivated by personal bias or bigotry. Malicious Harassment is a Class C Felony. The statute reads:

“(1) A person is guilty of malicious harassment if he or she maliciously and intentionally commits one of the following acts because of his or her perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap:

(a) Causes physical injury to the victim or another person;

(b) Causes physical damage to or destruction of the property of the victim or another person; or

(c) Threatens a specific person or group of persons and places that person, or members of the specific group of persons, in reasonable fear of harm to person or property. The fear must be a fear that a reasonable person would have under all the circumstances. For purposes of this section, a “reasonable person” is a reasonable person who is a member of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation, or who has the same mental, physical, or sensory handicap as the victim. Words alone do not constitute malicious harassment unless the context or circumstances surrounding the words indicate the words are a threat. Threatening words do not constitute malicious harassment if it is apparent to the victim that the person does not have the ability to carry out the threat.”

The jury must put themselves into the shoes of what the statute defines as a reasonable individual, rather than their own mindset.  From a defense standpoint, the prosecutor’s burden of proof may be difficult to properly enact if the jurors are not members of the group that the alleged hate crime has offended. Moreover, not all crimes that occur between people of different races and nationalities are necessarily hate crimes.

Please contact my office if you or a loved one is currently facing charges for a hate crime, and/or Malicious Harassment. Defending against these allegations is difficult, and there is very little room for negotiation. Hiring competent and experienced defense counsel is your first and best step towards justice.

Improper Opinion Testimony

Chicago cops reluctantly testify against 1 of their own

In State v. Hawkins, the WA Court of Appeals held that a police officer gave improper opinion testimony regarding the defendant’s guilt and credibility.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The Defendant Mr. Hawkins was arrested and charged with assault in the third degree for briefly strangling Mr. Ali, a King County Metro bus driver, over a fare dispute. The incident was witnessed by a passenger who did not speak English and a passenger who saw an argument occur, but did not witness actual physical touching.

The State’s only other witnesses were Deputy Baker and Deputy Garrison, the King County Sheriff’s detective that reviewed Baker’s initial investigation and referred Hawkins’s case for prosecution. Over defense counsel’s repeated objections, the prosecutor tried to elicit opinion testimony from both deputies concerning whether they believed whether the bus driver Ali was a credible witness.

Several of the defense’s objections were sustained, but the court eventually allowed Officer Baker to answer. Although Deputy Baker’s answer was couched in probable cause to arrest, Baker’s answer implied he believed Ali’s version of events over Hawkins.

Deputy Garrison’s answers also gave an opinion about credibility. Garrison stated he would only refer a case for prosecution if there was “some credible ability to prosecute.”

The jury convicted Hawkins as charged.

On appeal, Hawkins contends that the prosecutor committed prejudicial misconduct by eliciting opinion testimony from police witnesses concerning witness credibility.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals reasoned that a prosecutor must enforce the law by prosecuting those who have violated the peace and dignity of the state by breaking the law. A prosecutor also functions as the representative of the people in a quasi-judicial capacity in a search for justice.

The Court said the prosecutor owes a duty to defendants to see that their rights to a constitutionally fair trial are not violated. Thus, a prosecutor must function within boundaries while zealously seeking justice.

Also, the Court of Appeals emphasized there are some areas of opinion testimony that are inappropriate in criminal trials.

“This is particularly true when the opinion testimony is sought from law enforcement,” said the Court of Appeals. “Officer testimony has an aura of special reliability and trustworthiness.”

The Court of Appeals said the State’s case was weak.

“There is no question that the State’s case against Hawkins was weak. There was no physical evidence, there was no surveillance footage, and Ali had no visible injuries and declined medical attention. The State offered no firsthand witnesses other than Ali.” ~WA Court of Appeals

As a result, the Court reasoned that the State’s case inappropriately focused on the police officers’ opinion of the bus driver Ali’s credibility:

“Because the State’s case was weak, eliciting the officers’ opinions that they believed they had a credible witness in Ali had a clear prejudicial effect on Hawkins’s right to a fair trial.” ~WA Court of Appeals

The Court ruled the Defendant’s case was prejudiced and overturned his conviction.

My opinion? Good decision. A prosecutor functions as the representative of the people in the search for justice. The prosecutor also owes a duty to defendants to see that their rights to a constitutionally fair trial are not violated.

It is inappropriate in a criminal trial for the prosecutor to seek opinion testimony as to the guilt of the defendant, the intent of the accused, or the credibility of witnesses. This is particularly true where the opinion sought is that of a law enforcement officer.

Please review my Legal Guide on Prosecutorial Misconduct for more information on this subject. And please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. Hiring an experienced and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Excessive Parking Fines

How a Parking Ticket Impacts a Driver

In Pimentel v. City of Los Angeles, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applies to excessive parking fines.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The City of Los Angeles imposes civil fines for parking meter violations. Under an ordinance, if a person parks her car past the allotted time limit, she must pay a $63 fine. And if she fails to pay the fine within 21 days, the City will impose a late-payment penalty $6300. In sum, a person who overstays a parking spot faces a fine of $63 – $181.

Appellant Mr. Pimentel and the other appellants sued the City of Los Angeles under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that the fines and late payment penalties violate the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause and the California constitutional counterpart.

The case made its way through the lower federal district court. The lower court ordered that the initial parking fine was not grossly disproportionate to the offense and thus survives constitutional scrutiny. The case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit, however, who issued its own opinion below.

COURT’S REASONING & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals held that although the initial parking fine was not disproportionate to the offense, the the City’s late fee runs afoul of the Excessive Fines Clause.

The Court said the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment limits the government’s power to extract payments, whether in cash or in kind, as punishment for some offense. Also, the Court reasoned that the Excessive Fines Clause traces its lineage back to at least the Magna Carta which guaranteed that a free man shall not be fined for a small fault.

“For centuries, authorities abused their power to impose fines against their enemies or to illegitimately raise revenue,” said the Ninth Circuit. “That fear of abuse of power continued to the colonial times. During the founding era, fines were probably the most common form of punishment, and this made a constitutional prohibition on excessive fines all the more important.”

The Court extended the  four-factor analysis found in United States v. Bajakajian to decide whether a fine is “grossly disproportionate” to the offense: (1) the nature and extent of the crime, (2) whether the violations was related to other illegal activities, (3) the other penalties that may be imposed for the violation, and (4) the extent of the harm caused.

The Court reasoned that under the first Bajakajian factor—  the nature and extent of the crime — the plaintiffs were indeed culpable because there was no factual dispute that they violated the parking infraction code for failing to pay for over-time use of a metered space. However, the Ninth Circuit also found the the parking transgressions were small:

“But we also conclude that appellants’ culpability is low because the underlying parking violation is minor. We thus find that the nature and extent of appellants’ violations to be minimal but not de minimis.”

The Court further reasoned that the second Bajakajian factor — whether the violations was related to other illegal activities — was not as helpful to its analysis: “We only note that there is no information in the record showing whether overstaying a parking meter relates to other illegal activities, nor do the parties argue as much.”

Similarly, the Court said that the third Bajakajian factor — whether other penalties may be imposed for the violation — also did not advance its analysis. “Neither party suggests that alternative penalties may be imposed instead of the fine, and the record is devoid of any such suggestion.”

Finally, the Court turned to the fourth Bajakajian factor — the extent of the harm caused by the violation. “The most obvious and simple way to assess this factor is to observe the monetary harm resulting from the violation,” said the Court. Ultimately, it reasoned that while a parking violation was not a serious offense, the fine is not so large, either, and likely deters violations.

With that, the Ninth Circuit held that the City’s initial parking fine of $63 was not grossly disproportional to the underlying offense of overstaying the time at a parking space. Nevertheless, the Court also held that the 100% late fee on the initial fine must be remanded back to the lower district court for the City to justify:

“The government cannot overstep its authority and impose fines on its citizens without paying heed to the limits posed by the Eighth Amendment. Yet in its brief to this court, the City of Los Angeles did not even bother addressing the constitutionality of its late fee. Based on the record, we do not know the City’s justification for setting the late fee at one hundred percent of the initial fine.”

With that, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals gave the case back (remanded) to the lower court for a further analysis on this issue.

My opinion? Good decision. At the end of the day, paying a 100% late fee for a parking fine is truly excessive. The case is novel because we don’t see much litigation surrounding the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. We do know, however, that the Eighth Amendment also encompasses the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, which is the most important and controversial part of the Amendment.

The issues relating to that constitutional amendment are, in some ways, shrouded in mystery. What does it mean for a punishment to be “cruel and unusual”? How do we measure a punishment’s cruelty? And if a punishment is cruel, why should we care whether it is “unusual”?

Again, good decision.

True Threats

P Emojis and Emoticons in Court – The Air Force JAG Corps Reporter

In State v. D.R.C., the WA Court of Appeals held that a 17-year-old girl’s text messages to friends which aired her grievances about her mother after they verbally argued did not constitute “true threats” for purposes of proving Harassment.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The case against 17-year-old juvenile defendant D.R.C. began with a mother-daughter dispute over whether D.R.C. violated house rules by possessing gang-colored clothing. The argument took place in D.R.C.’s bedroom, and at some point D.R.C. slammed her door shut. D.R.C.’s mother responded by removing the door from its hinges.

During the argument with her mother, D.R.C. was on her phone and texting with several friends, indicating she wanted to kill her mother. The texts were vaguely worded and peppered with smiling emojis and the initialism “LOL.”

After removing D.R.C.’s bedroom door, the mother confiscated D.R.C.’s phone and turned to leave the room. As she was leaving, D.R.C.’s mother heard a loud noise. D.R.C. had punched her bedroom wall, leaving a hole in it. D.R.C.’s mother called the police. The police arrived and talked to D.R.C. and her mother, but did not take further action. Later that night, D.R.C.’s mother reviewed D.R.C.’s phone and discovered the text messages.

D.R.C.’s mother shared the text messages with the police. The State charged D.R.C. with felony harassment in juvenile court. The case proceeded to trial. The juvenile court found D.R.C. guilty of harassment.

D.R.C. appealed under arguments that the State failed to meet the additional burden of proving a true threat.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that in order to penalize a defendant for harassment, the State must prove not only the elements of the offense but also that the defendant’s words were not the type of speech protected by the First Amendment.

“A true threat is a serious threat,” said the Court. “It is not an idle statement, a joke, or even a hyperbolic expression of frustration.” The court further reasoned that when analyzing whether a statement is a “true threat” it looks carefully at the context of the inflammatory statement in order to avoid infringement on the precious right to free speech.

“The focus of the true threat analysis is on the speaker. But we do not look at the speaker’s actual intent . . . Instead, the test is objective . . . We ask whether a reasonable person in the speaker’s position would foresee their statement would be interpreted as a serious expression of intent to cause physical harm.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Next, the Court of Appeals examined whether D.R.C.’s friends thought the threats were “true threats.” It reasoned that D.R.C.’s past conversation with one friend supports D.R.C.’s testimony that she tended to use hyperbolic language with her friends. “In the prior text between D.R.C. and Lexy, D.R.C. accompanied her statements about harming or killing a mutual acquaintance with ”Lmfao”; the face with tears of joy emoji, ; a shrug emoji, ; a smiling face with horns emoji, ; a zany face emoji, ; and a heart emoji,” said the Court of Appeals. “The combination of the initialism and emojis conveyed an unmistakable message of sarcasm, as opposed to a serious intent to cause harm or death.”

“The language used by D.R.C. was distastefully violent, but it was not as disturbing as some of the past statements held to fall within First Amendment protections.” ~WA Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals reversed D.R.C.’s conviction – but not without warning:

“While we rule in D.R.C.’s favor, our disposition should not be interpreted as approval of D.R.C.’s choice of language . . . We, like the trial court, find nothing funny in the texts. Nevertheless, the First Amendment protects all sorts of speech, even when the sentiment is hurtful or vile.” ~WA Court of Appeals

My opinion? I’ve gained jury acquittals in similar cases. In proving harassment charges, the State must prove that a reasonable person would have felt the threats were true threats under the circumstances. That’s a high burden to prove. Many people – indeed, most people – are guilty of making threats during or after an emotional situation. However, simply uttering threats does not logically mean that the threat is intended to be carried out out.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Harassment. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney like myself is the first and best step towards justice.

Reasonable Suspicion & 911 Calls

Concealed Carry and Alcohol - What's the Bottom Line? - Alien Gear ...

In United States v. Vandergroen, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the police’s search of a suspicious person was reasonable under the circumstances when bar patrons called 911 minutes before to report the man had a pistol on him.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Late on a Saturday evening of February 17, 2018, a worker at a bar in California called 911 to report that three patrons had seen a man in the area with a pistol on him. In response to this call, the police stopped the man as he drove away, discovered a pistol in his car, and placed him under arrest. The man, Mr.  Vandergroen, argued a Rule 12 motion to suppress the evidence. The lower federal court denied the motion. Vandergroen was subsequently convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), which is a federal criminal conviction.

On appeal, Vandergroen now argues that the 911 call should never have led to his stop in the first place because it did not generate reasonable suspicion, and that the evidence of the pistol should therefore have been excluded.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Mr. Vandergroen. It affirmed the lower court’s denial of Vandergroen’s motion to suppress and upheld his conviction.

The Court began by saying that under the Fourth Amendment, an officer may conduct a brief investigative stop only where s/he has a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity, commonly referred to as “reasonable suspicion.”

The Court further elaborated that while a 911 call may generate reasonable suspicion, it can only do so when, under the totality-of-the circumstances, it possesses two features. First, the tip must exhibit sufficient indicia of reliability, and second, it must provide information on potential illegal activity serious enough to justify a stop.

Finally, the Court identified a number of factors that demonstrate the reliability of a tip. These facts include (1) whether the tipper is known, rather than anonymous; (2) whether the tipper reveals the basis of his knowledge; (3) whether the tipper provides detailed predictive information indicating insider knowledge, id.; whether the caller uses a 911 number rather than a non-emergency tip line; and (4) whether the tipster relays fresh, eyewitness knowledge, rather than stale, second-hand knowledge.

With the above in mind, the Court of Appeals delved into its analysis.

“The totality of the circumstances in this case demonstrates that the 911 call was sufficiently reliable to support reasonable suspicion,” said the Court. It reasoned that first, the statements by an independent witness were undoubtedly reliable. “Witness #2 provided his name and employment position, making him a known, and therefore more reliable, witness,” said the Court.

Second, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the statements by the bar’s patrons were also reliable. “Although the patrons remained anonymous during the call, which generally cuts against reliability, their statements exhibited sufficient indicia of reliability to overcome this shortcoming,” said the Court. Finally, the Court reasoned that the reported activity — possessing a concealed weapon  was presumptively unlawful in California and was ongoing at the time of the stop.

In conclusion the Court of Appeals held that the 911 call generated reasonable suspicion justifying the stop and the lower court was correct to deny Vandergroen’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the stop. His criminal conviction was upheld.

My opinion? Mind you, this is a federal opinion. Under Washington law, however,  a bare report that someone is in possession of a firearm does not provide reasonable suspicion for an investigative stop. This is because Washington is both an open carry state and liberally grants concealed weapons permits. United States v. Brown.

In Washington, under RCW 9.41.300(1)(d), a stop may have been permissible in this case if the individual with the pistol had been in that portion of the lounge classified by the state liquor and cannabis board as off-limits to persons under twenty-one years of age. That’s because it is unlawful for any person to enter a bar with a firearm.

Please read my Legal Guide on Search and Seizure and contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving a questionable search or seizure of evidence. Hiring a competent and experienced defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.

Illegal Search At Starbucks

In Starbucks incident, Philly cops and employees acted 'in ...

In State v. Martin, the WA Court of Appeals held that the illegal search of a person 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.