Tag Archives: Mount Vernon Criminal Defense

Domestic Violence: The Pandemic Within the Pandemic

Image result for coronavirus domestic violence

Excellent article by Jeffrey Kluger of Time discusses how growing evidence shows the Coronavirus Pandemic has made Domestic Violence more common—and often more severe.

Surveys around the world have shown domestic abuse spiking since January of 2020—jumping markedly year over year compared to the same period in 2019. According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine and the United Nations group U.N. Women, when the pandemic began, incidents of domestic violence increased 300% in Hubei, China; 25% in Argentina, 30% in Cyprus, 33% in Singapore and 50% in Brazil. The U.K., where calls to domestic violence hotlines have soared since the pandemic hit, was particularly shaken in June by the death of Amy-Leanne Stringfellow, 26, a mother of one and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, allegedly at the hands of her 45-year-old boyfriend.

In the U.S., the situation is equally troubling, with police departments reporting increases in cities around the country: for example, 18% in San Antonio, 22% in Portland, Ore.; and 10% in New York City, according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. One study in the journal Radiology reports that at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, radiology scans and superficial wounds consistent with domestic abuse from March 11 to May 3 of this year exceeded the totals for the same period in 2018 and 2019 combined.

And as the pandemic has dragged on, so too has the abuse. Just as the disease continues to claim more lives, quarantine-linked domestic violence is claiming more victims—and not just women in heterosexual relationships. Intimate partner violence occurs in same-sex couples at rates equal to or even higher than the rates in opposite sex partners.

What’s more, the economic challenges of the pandemic have hit same-sex couples especially hard, with members of the LGBTQ community likelier to be employed in highly affected industries like education, restaurants, hospitals and retail, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. That means higher stress and, concomitantly, the higher risk that that stress will explode into violence.

Please read my Legal Guide titled Defending Against Domestic Violence Charges and  contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a DV crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

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 member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward 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.

Crime Fell In First 6 Months of COVID

Coronavirus Is Slowing Down the Criminal Justice System. Will Criminals Cash In?

According to a recent FBI Report, crime fell in the first 6 months of Covid. More specifically, violent and property crime both plunged across the United States in the first six months of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic swept the country.

Even though lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were inconsistent and non-existent in some areas, murders fell 14.8 percent from a year earlier and rapes dropped 17.8 percent, according to preliminary data compiled by the FBI.

Violent robbery fell 7.1 percent, and non-violent thefts and larceny fell by slightly more from the first half of 2019, the FBI said.

But arson jumped in the first half of this year, especially in large cities and in West, it said. Arson cases rose more than 52 percent in cities with populations over one million, and were up 28 percent in the western part of the country. The FBI did not offer any explanation of the decline in crime overall, or the surge in arson.

But the period covered by the data coincides with the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including the declaration of a national emergency on March 13, California’s stay-at-home order on March 19, and New York issued a stay-at-home order on March 20.

Violent crime of all types fell in the period by 4.8 percent in the northeast and by smaller levels in the West and Midwest. But violent crime increased compared to 2019 in the South, by 2.5 percent. Generally southern states lagged others in taking serious steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the 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.

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.

Entrapment & Sex Crimes

Online sting was 'clear case of entrapment:' lawyer | CTV News

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

BACKGROUND FACTS

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

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

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

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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