Tag Archives: Mount Vernon Criminal Defense Attorney

Jail Populations Are At Risk For Spreading CV-19

The 5 Worst Prisons On Earth: Step Inside A Living Hell

Great article by Anna Flagg and Joseph Neff of the Marshall Project says describes how jail populations are potentially risky environments for transmitting COVID-19.

For jails across the country, the churn of people moving in and out threatens to accelerate the spread of the disease, endangering the incarcerated, the staff and the larger community.

Analysis of a database of county- and jurisdiction-level jail populations built by the Vera Institute of Justice shows the short-term flow of people through local facilities, including some who were admitted more than once, for an average week in 2017 (the most recent year with available data). Apparently, in a given week, more than 200,000 people are booked into jails across the country; roughly the same number walk out every week.

Thankfully – and according to the article – some states and jurisdictions have responded by releasing prisoners or cutting jail time.

“Jails are transient,” say the authors. “Most there have been charged with crimes but not convicted. Many are waiting to pay bail to be released until trial or can’t afford bail. The rest have misdemeanor convictions with sentences counted in months instead of years.”

Preventing the spread of the virus in jails is challenging. Social distancing is crucial, but it’s virtually impossible in dormitories with rows of beds in a common room. The same is true of two people in a single cell, or group showers or bathrooms that serve dozens. All these dangers escalate when jails are overcrowdedfilthy or understaffed.

Making matters worse, physical contact between staff and the incarcerated is often unavoidable: Officers fingerprint, handcuff and supervise prisoners, as well as escort them to court and drive them to medical appointments. Many other people also flow in and out of jails, like family members who visit; volunteers who counsel or teach or preach; contractors who stock vending machines; and lawyers who meet their clients. Many jails have cut much of that traffic in response to coronavirus by limiting visits, services and vendors, and by moving to online and phone communication.

The authors say that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Correctional Association and other groups offer guidance for corrections departments on containing the virus: Start frequent temperature screenings; take oral medical histories; limit visitors and vendors; increase cleaning; restrict movement; create spaces for isolating; coordinate with health providers; and plan for possible staff shortages.

The authors also suggest “de-densifying” our jails by reducing bookings and accelerating releases, something over which sheriffs have limited control.

My opinion? Desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps persuading judges to set low bond amounts and minimal conditions of pretrial release is a good starting point. Police officers can be persuaded to make mindful decisions when they decide whether to arrest and book a person into jail, or issue a citation with a court date. For the most part, it’s advisable that police officers simply write citations for misdemeanors except for drunken driving and domestic violence charges.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are jailed and incarcerated during this time of CV-19 outbreaks. And hiring an experienced, effective attorney is the best step toward making that happen. Getting out of jail is a huge priority.

Skagit Courts Respond to Coronavirus

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Reporter Kera Wanielista of the Skagit Valley Herald says in a recent article that the Skagit County Superior Court is suspending some of its operations in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. These efforts include postponing trials, asking lawyers to only seek hearings on matters that cannot wait and telling those who are showing signs of illness to avoid courtrooms and court offices.

“We’re not going to be able to stop,” presiding Skagit County Superior Court Judge Dave Svaren said. “What we can do is reduce the population.”

As a result, all 12-person jury trials are suspended for at least two weeks, according to an administrative order signed Thursday by Svaren.

“Attorneys and pro-se litigants should use their best judgment in deciding whether a matter is emergent taking into consideration the current public health emergency,” the order states.

My opinion? Good decision. Although defendants have the constitutional right to a speedy trial, the public health concerns brought by COVID-19 create a risk that the juries can be unnecessarily exposed to the virus.

Coronavirus Suspends Local Jury Trials

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Informative article by Denver Pratt of the Bellingham Herald reports that several Whatcom County courts are suspending jury trials due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Whatcom County Superior and District Courts and Bellingham Municipal Court announced they are suspending all jury trials until early April and May, respectively.

Pratt reports that the emergency administrative orders that were signed on Wednesday, March 11, by the courts’ presiding judges are due to concerns over the risk of bringing together jurors in small spaces and large groups of people called for jury duty.

Last week, the Washington State Supreme Court signed an order that gave county courts’ presiding judges the authority to change or suspend court rules as a way to address the public health emergency. On Friday, March 6, federal courts in Seattle and Tacoma also suspended jury trials in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Also according to Pratt, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee banned gatherings and events of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. The World Health Organization also declared Wednesday that the global coronavirus crisis is now a pandemic.

Whatcom County had its first confirmed case of novel coronavirus Tuesday, March 10, and the county declared a public health emergency. As of Thursday, March 12, afternoon, Whatcom County had 19 pending tests for COVID-19, which is down from 21 on Wednesday.

New Year’s Eve DUI Patrols

Image result for A New Year but an old truth- There’s no safe place for impaired drivers to hide. 

The WA State Patrol (WSP) issued a press release stating WSP Troopers will be out looking for impaired drivers this week in preparation for the New Year. Patrols will be increased to include Troopers brought out to supplement regularly assigned patrols. WSP has partnered with five other states to form the Western States Traffic Safety Coalition. Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona are working together to save lives by removing impaired drivers from all of our roadways. The message is clear; A New Year but an old truth- There’s no safe place for impaired drivers to hide.

These extra patrols will include specially trained troopers to help identify and detect drug impaired drivers. Most WSP troopers receive additional training in drug impaired driver detection. This training, Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) is specifically focused on detecting drivers impaired by drugs. Troopers trained as Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) will also be out to assist in identifying and detecting drug impaired drivers. DREs receive training to identify what drugs a driver may be impaired by.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face DUI or any other alcohol-related driving crimes. It’s imperative to hire an experienced defense attorney who is knowledgeable of DUI defense.

Rape By Forcible Compulsion or Consent?

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In State v. Knapp, the WA Court of Appeals held a defendant charged with rape by forcible compulsion is not entitled to a jury instruction that requires the State to prove the absence of consent beyond a reasonable doubt.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Knapp and Ms. Spaulding met in high school and were friends for more than a decade. On February 7, 2016, Ms. Spaulding was preparing to watch the Super Bowl when Knapp came to her home. Ms. Spaulding let him in. The events following this were disputed.

According to Ms. Spaulding, Knapp began to make sexual comments toward her and expressed an interest in having sex. Ms. Spaulding denied his advances. Knapp then left, but soon returned to the home, claiming he forgot his bandana. Ms. Spaulding let him in again and while she was sitting on the couch, Knapp threw her to the ground and pulled down her pants.

Ms. Spaulding screamed for her neighbors, but they did not hear her. Knapp then used his bandana to gag her. The struggle continued until Knapp pinned her against a wall and raped her. Ms. Spaulding continued to say, “No,” “Stop,” and “Don’t do this.” Knapp left, and Ms. Spaulding called her mother and then the police. Ms. Spaulding was taken to the hospital where she underwent a sexual assault examination.

According to Knapp, he and Ms. Spaulding were “friends with benefits” for years and engaged in sex together on and off. After Ms. Spaulding let him in the first time, Ms. Spaulding realized Knapp was high on methamphetamine and she hinted that she wanted some. Knapp refused to give her any. Ms. Spaulding became upset, and Knapp decided to leave.

After he left, Knapp realized he forgot his bandana and returned to retrieve it. Ms. Spaulding let him in again, and she pressed Knapp to get her high. Eventually, Ms. Spaulding offered sex for drugs. At that point, Knapp “gave in” and they had sex. Afterward, Knapp could not find the methamphetamine to give to her. Ms. Spaulding became upset and threatened to call the police and falsely accuse him of rape. Knapp left and was later arrested. The State charged Knapp with rape in the second degree by forcible compulsion.

THE TRIAL

At trial, Knapp requested a jury instruction that told the jury the State had the burden of proving an absence of consent beyond a reasonable doubt. The State opposed this instruction, arguing it was not a correct statement of the law. The State instead proposed Washington pattern jury instruction 18.25, which reads, “Evidence of consent may be taken into consideration in determining whether the defendant used forcible compulsion to have sexual intercourse.”

The trial court declined to give Knapp’s proposed instruction and instead gave the State’s. The jury found Knapp guilty of second degree rape. The trial court sentenced Knapp to a midrange sentence—110 months to life.

Knapp appealed on the issue of whether the jury was properly instructed on the issue of consent.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by saying that at trial, each party is entitled to have the jury instructed on its theory of the case when there is sufficient evidence to support that theory.

“Jury instructions are sufficient if they are supported by substantial evidence, allow the parties to argue their theories of the case, and when read as a whole properly inform the jury of the applicable law,” said the Court. “Read as a whole, the jury instructions must make the legal standard apparent to the average juror.”

Here, both parties relied heavily on State v. W.R., a case which apparently offers confusing interpretations of which party in a criminal sex case has the burden of proving consent.

The Court acknowledged that Knapp argued that W.R. stands for the proposition that the burden to prove consent has now shifted to the State, and the State must prove a lack of consent beyond a reasonable doubt. Knapp’s proposed jury instruction read: Consent means that at the time of the act of sexual intercourse there are actual words or conduct indicating a freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse. The Defendant has no burden to prove that sexual intercourse was consensual. It is the State’s burden to prove the absence of consent beyond a reasonable doubt.”

However, the Court of Appeals disagreed with Knapp:

“The court in W.R. focused on whether the burden to prove consent was correctly placed on the defendant. It did not hold that the State must prove the absence of consent.”

The Court ruled that the trial court did not commit legal error when it denied Knapp’s proposed instruction. “Knapp’s proposed instruction was an incorrect statement of the law,” it said. “W.R. did not hold that the burden to prove an absence of consent shifted to the State. Instead, it held that the burden to prove consent cannot be placed on the defendant.”

Furthermore, when read as a whole, the trial court’s instructions allowed Knapp to argue his theory of the case. “Knapp claimed the sexual intercourse was consensual,” said the Court of Appeals. “The court’s instructions on the elements of the offense and consent allowed Knapp to argue his theory of the case—that Ms. Spaulding consented to sexual intercourse and the State failed to prove forcible compulsion beyond a reasonable doubt.”

With that, the Court of appeals affirmed Knapp’s conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal sex charges. Consent is a viable defense, and evidence of consent may be considered by the jury. Therefore, it’s imperative to hire a defense attorney knowledgeable of the law surrounding these issues.

State-Created Danger Doctrine and Domestic Violence Victims

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In Martinez v. City of Clovis, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that police officers investigating a DV crime breached the victim’s Due Process rights by intensifying her peril. The Court held that the State-Created Danger Doctrine applies when an officer reveals a domestic violence complaint made in confidence to an abuser while simultaneously making disparaging comments about the victim in a manner that reasonably emboldens the abuser to continue abusing the victim with impunity. Consequently, the police officers breached Due Process by intensifying the victim’s peril.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Ms. Martinez was a victim of domestic violence. After reporting an incident to police, the investigating officers took her statement in confidence as to physical and sexual abuse by her boyfriend Mr. Pennington in a hotel and then repeated the substance in the presence of the abuser. That night or the next day, Pennington again attacked Martinez, this time resulting in his arrest. Consequently, Ms. Martinez recanted her accusations out of fear that she would again be attacked. Later, Ms. Martinez sued the investigating officers and the Clovis Police Department.

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether Ms. Martinez can recover damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 from the law enforcement officers who allegedly placed her at greater risk of future abuse.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the State-Created Danger Doctrine applies because actions of the police put Martinez in greater jeopardy than if they had not arrived. It reasoned that officer Hershberger told Mr. Pennington about Martinez’s testimony relating to his prior abuse, and also stated that Martinez was not ‘the right girl’ for him.

“A reasonable jury could find that Hershberger’s disclosure provoked Pennington, and that her disparaging comments emboldened Pennington to believe that he could further abuse Martinez, including by retaliating against her for her testimony, with impunity,” said the Court. “The causal link between Hershberger’s affirmative conduct and the abuse Martinez suffered that night is supported by Martinez’s testimony that Pennington asked Martinez what she had told the officer while he was hitting her.”

“A reasonable jury could find that Pennington felt emboldened to continue his abuse with impunity.”

The Court further reasoned that the State-Created Danger Doctrine applies when an officer praises an abuser in the abuser’s presence after the abuser has been protected from arrest, in a manner that communicates to the abuser that the abuser may continue abusing the victim with impunity.

Nevertheless, the Court also decided the officers were entitled to Qualified Immunity because the law with respect to state-created danger doctrine was not clearly established. He added: “Going forward, the law in this circuit will be clearly established that such conduct is unconstitutional.”

Good opinion. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges relating to domestic violence allegations.

Warrant Quash Day!

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In an effort to address the warrants currently in the system, the Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will be holding their annual Warrant Quash Day event Wednesday, November 20, 2019 from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Anyone with an outstanding warrant, issued in Whatcom County, is encouraged to come to the event. Individuals will be issued a notice to appear document with a new court date, so they can take care of their original violation, without fear of arrest. The outstanding arrest warrant for the original charge will be removed from the warrant system.

“We are hopeful the annual Warrant Quash Day will provide a pathway for individuals to get their cases back on track,” stated Eric Richey, Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney. “We are providing community members with active warrants the opportunity to take control of their current situation.”

Participating courts include Bellingham Municipal Court, Blaine Municipal Court, Everson Municipal Court, Ferndale Municipal Court, Lynden Municipal Court, Sumas Municipal Court, and Whatcom County courts.

My opinion? This is good. I join the Prosecutor’s Office in urging defendants to quash their warrants, especially as the holidays approach. Avoid going to jail on unresolved criminal charges. And please read my Legal Guide Titled, “Quash Your Bench Warrant” and contact my office if you, a friend or family member have an open warrant for an unresolved criminal matter.

 

 

 

A Cell Phone “Ping” Is a Search

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In State v. Muhammad, the WA Supreme Court held that a warrantless cell phone “ping” is a search under the WA Constitution and the Fourth Amendment.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Police investigated the rape and murder of Ms. Ina Claire Richardson. The night she was killed, Richardson had shopped at a local grocery store.  Security cameras recorded her walking through the parking lot toward a distinctive maroon sedan. Minutes later, the vehicle’s headlights switched on, and the vehicle exited the parking lot, drove onto an access road behind a nearby hotel, and parked. Two individuals appeared in the car, which remained parked for approximately one hour. Police officers later discovered a condom wrapper at this location.

On November 10, 2014, a law enforcement officer recognized the unique features of the maroon sedan from the security footage and conducted a traffic stop. The driver was Mr. Muhammad. During the stop, the officer asked Muhammad about his vehicle, asked him whether he had gone to the grocery store or had been in the area on the night of the murder, and obtained Muhammad’s cell phone number before letting him go.

After this encounter, law enforcement “pinged” Muhammad’s cell phone without a warrant. The ping placed Muhammad in an orchard in Lewiston, Idaho. Washington and Idaho police arrived, seized Muhammad’s cell phone, and impounded his car. Police also sought and obtained a search warrant for Muhammad’s car.

Muhammad was taken into custody. He denied any involvement in the rape and murder and eventually asked for legal counsel. Police later searched Muhammad’s car. They discovered blood on the passenger seat; in the trunk, they found latex gloves and other incriminating evidence. The police also discovered condoms in the trunk of the sedan. These condoms matched the condom wrapper found by the hotel service entrance. Finally, The blood was matched to that of Ms. Richardson. Autopsy swabs of Richardson’s vagina and fingernails revealed a limited amount of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) matching Muhammad’s profile.

The police obtained a search warrant for Muhammad’s cell phone records. These calls he made on the night of the incident connected to multiple cell towers, indicating that Muhammad was moving. One such cell tower placed Muhammad in the location where Richardson’s body was found.

Muhammad was arrested and charged with rape and felony murder.

At trial, Muhammad moved to suppress all physical evidence collected as a result of the warrantless ping of his cell phone. After a CrR 3.6 hearing, the trial court issued a written order denying the motion based in part on exigent circumstances. A jury convicted Muhammad as charged. Muhammad appealed his convictions.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

  1. The Cell Phone “Ping” Tracking Was A Warrantless Search.

The WA Supreme Court held that the “ping” tracking of Muhammad’s cell phone was indeed a search.

“When law enforcement loses sight of a suspected individual, officers need merely ask a cellular service carrier to ping that individual’s phone and almost instantaneously police acquire data on the suspect’s past and present location,” said the Court. “This location tracking technique does substantially more than binoculars or flashlights; it enables officers to see farther than even the walls of a home—it pierces through space and time to pinpoint a cell phone’s location and, with it, the phone’s owner.”

The Court further reasoned that this type of search was exactly what happened to Mr. Muhammad. “The police could not locate Muhammad,” said the Court. “They knew only that he had likely left the area after officers returned to his apartment complex and found the maroon sedan had disappeared. As Muhammad pointed out, the officers’ senses alone could not locate him unless they converted his phone into a tracking device,” said the Court.

“Historical and real-time CSLI, like text messages, reveal an intensely intimate picture into our personal lives. Our cell phones accompany us on trips taken to places we would rather keep private, such as the psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the by-the-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, synagogue or church, the gay bar and on and on.”

              2. Exigent Circumstances Exist to Justify the Warrantless Cell Phone Search.

The Court said that because the State failed to get a warrant prior to pinging Muhammad’s cell phone, the evidence obtained pursuant to the improper search should be suppressed unless the State proves that an exception to the warrant requirement applies. “Exigent Circumstances” is one of those exceptions.

To prove exigent circumstances, the State must point to specific, articulable facts and the reasonable inferences therefrom which justify the intrusion. “The mere suspicion of flight or destruction of evidence does not satisfy this particularity requirement,”said the Court.

The Court reasoned that under the facts of this case, the State has proved exigent circumstances—specifically that Muhammad was in flight, that he might have been in the process of destroying evidence, that the evidence sought was in a mobile vehicle, and that the suspected crimes (murder and rape) were grave and violent charges.

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

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges and the evidence was obtained through a warrantless search of cell phone data and/or location. It is imperative to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who is well-versed in the law regarding search and seizure of this evidence.

Search Incident to Arrest

Image result for open purse with drugs inside

In State v. Richards, the WA Court of Appeals held that a search of an arrestee’s person, purses or handbags extends to closed, but not locked containers found on their person at the time of arrest.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On November 11, 2017, a loss protection officer at a retail store in Woodland, observed Richards placing store merchandise into her purse. The officer approached Richards after she left the store without paying for the items in her purse. Two police officers, who were waiting outside, detained Richards and escorted her to the loss protection office.  There, the officers arrested Richards and searched her purse.

During the search of the purse, the officers discovered the stolen merchandise and a closed, zippered pouch. They opened the pouch and searched it, looking for theft tools used for removing secure access devices. The pouch contained drug paraphernalia, foil residue, straws, and syringes.

The State charged Richards with unlawful possession of heroin. Richards filed a motion to suppress the contents of the pouch found in her purse. The trial court considered the evidence set out above and denied the motion. Richards subsequently was convicted of possession of heroin. She appeals her conviction.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

In short, the Court of Appeals held that officers did not exceed the scope of a lawful search incident to arrest when they searched a closed pouch in Richards’s purse that she was carrying at the time of arrest. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed Richards’s conviction.

The Court reasoned that both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution prohibit warrantless searches unless one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement applies.

One exception to the warrant requirement is a search of a person incident to a lawful arrest of that person. Under this exception, an officer making a lawful custodial arrest has authority to search the person being arrested as well articles of the arrestee’s person such as clothing and personal effects.

“An article immediately associated with the arrestee’s person may be searched if the arrestee has actual possession of it at the time of a lawful custodial arrest,” reasoned the Court of Appeals. “This rule is referred to as the ‘time of arrest’ rule. Based on this rule, an officer may search a purse or a bag in the arrestee’s possession at the time of arrest.”

However, the Court of Appeals also reasoned that the search incident to arrest exception did not apply to the search of a locked box inside a backpack an arrestee was carrying at the time of the arrest. For example, in State v. VanNess, the court concluded that the locked box in the backpack could not be searched without a warrant because the arresting officer raised no concerns about his safety and there was no indication that the officer believed that the box would contain evidence relevant to the crime of arrest.

“The issue here is whether the same rule applies to a closed, unlocked container in Richards’s purse. We conclude that it does not.”

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the search of a closed, unlocked pouch in a purse in the arrestee’s possession simply does not implicate the type of significant privacy interests that would render the search of the pouch unlawful.

The Court concluded that officers searching a purse or bag incident to arrest may lawfully search closed, unlocked containers within that purse or bag. “Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err in denying Richards’s motion to suppress the evidence discovered in the search of the pouch in her purse.”

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving a search of persons, vehicles or homes. It’s critically important to retain experienced defense counsel like myself who are knowledgeable of Washington’s search and seizure laws.

Some States Are Suppressing BAC Results

An alcohol breath test from 1937.

Excellent article in the New York Times by Stacy Cowley and  

The Times interviewed more than 100 lawyers, scientists, executives and police officers and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of court records, corporate filings, confidential emails and contracts. Together, they reveal the depth of a nationwide problem that has attracted only sporadic attention.

Judges in Massachusetts and New Jersey have thrown out more than 30,000 breath tests in the past 12 months alone. According to the authors, the invalidated tests in Massachusetts were already used to convict drivers, state records show. This month, the state will begin informing those defendants that they can seek a new trial, and lawyers are bracing for a flood of requests. So are lawyers in New Jersey, where more than 13,000 people were found guilty based on breath tests from machines that hadn’t been properly set up. This was largely because of human errors and lax governmental oversight.

A county judge in Pennsylvania called it “extremely questionable” whether any of his state’s breath tests could withstand serious scrutiny. In response, local prosecutors stopped using them. In Florida, a panel of judges described their state’s instrument as a “magic black box” with “significant and continued anomalies.”

Even some industry veterans say the machines should not be de facto arbiters of guilt. “The tests were never meant to be used that way,” said John Fusco, who ran National Patent Analytical Systems, a maker of breath-testing devices.

Yet the tests have become all but unavoidable. Every state punishes drivers who refuse to take one when ordered by a police officer.

“The consequences of the legal system’s reliance on these tests are far-reaching,” say the authors. “People are wrongfully convicted based on dubious evidence. Hundreds were never notified that their cases were built on faulty tests. And when flaws are discovered, the solution has been to discard the results — letting potentially dangerous drivers off the hook.”

My opinion? Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DUI charges or any other alcohol-related driving charges. The “science” behind DUI investigations is very suspect. Hand-held portable breath tests like Alco-Sensor IV, contain fuel cells that react to the alcohol in exhaled breaths and generate an electric current — the stronger the current, the higher the alcohol level. They are inexpensive and easy to maintain, but their results can be inconsistent. Older women sometimes have trouble producing enough breath to get the machines to work. Toothpaste, mouthwash and breath mints — even hand sanitizer and burping — may throw off the test results.