Tag Archives: Mt. Vernon Criminal Defense

Jail Phone Calls

SUNDAY EDITION | Kentucky jails scrutinized for recording attorney-inmate  phone calls | In-depth | wdrb.com

My clients in jail often ask me whether their phone calls from jail are recorded by the jail staff. In short, yes, they are. A recent case gives helpful insight to this  issues.

In  State v. Koeller, the WA Court of Appeals held that a jail inmate’s phone call with counsel that was recorded and was accessed by a deputy prosecuting attorney (DPA) did not establish a basis for dismissal of charges.  The DPA was the only person who accessed the 15-minute long call, and he stopped listening to the call after 8 seconds when he recognized defense counsel’s voice.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The defendant Mr. Koeller was alleged to have sexually abused his stepdaughter for years. The State also alleged aggravating circumstances of domestic violence and of an ongoing pattern of sexual abuse.

The Island County jail records incoming and outgoing phone calls, except for calls from attorneys. On October 11, 2017, Defense Counsel Mr. Platt provided his cell phone number to the Island County jail so the automated recording system would not record any calls made between him and the defendant Mr. Koeller. The jail failed to do so.

The next day, Island County chief criminal deputy prosecutor (Prosecutor) checked the automated recording system and saw Koeller made an outgoing, 15-minute phone call that day. Prosecutor began playing the call and heard Defense Counsel’s voice, so he shut off the recording. Prosecutor heard only eight seconds of the phone call. He immediately told Defense Counsel about the recording and told the jail to register Defense Counsel’s phone number because it had failed to shield Platt from being recorded.

On March 26, 2019, about one week before the scheduled start of trial, Koeller filed a CrR 8.3(b) motion to dismiss as a result of the recording. The court denied the motion. In its ruling, the court found no one else “in connection with the State of Washington listened to the conversation.”

At trial, Koeller was convicted of multiple charges, including first degree child molestation. He appealed on arguments that the trial court mistakenly denied his Motion to Dismiss.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to confer privately with Defense Counsel. Where the government violates this right, it creates a rebuttable presumption of prejudice to the defendant.

Here, however, Prosecutor heard only eight seconds of the call between Koeller and Defense Counsel. He heard no substance of the conversation and no one else in connection to the Prosecutor’s Office listened to the conversation. The State did not obtain any information material to the defense.

“Although Koeller argues the court abused its discretion because the State did not prove Chief Briones did not listen to the call, the trial court found otherwise, and its finding is supported by substantial evidence. Because the court’s findings support its conclusion that Koeller was not prejudiced, the court did not abuse its discretion by denying the CrR 8.3(b) motion to dismiss.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

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.

Prosecuting Poverty?

Seattle considers excusing misdemeanor crimes if they can be linked to poverty

Should we be prosecuting poverty? Great article by of KUOW reports that Seattle lawmakers are considering a law that would excuse suspects from most misdemeanor crimes if they can be linked to poverty or mental illness.

If approved, it would make the Emerald City the nation’s first to have such a measure on the books.

“Good prosecutors don’t take any satisfaction in prosecuting that type of offense.” ~Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes

The Seattle City Council said the proposal, crafted with input from local public defenders, would excuse suspects from minor crimes like theft, trespassing, or assault — but not in cases of domestic violence or DUI, KUOW-TV reported.

“In a situation where you took that sandwich because you were hungry and you were trying to meet your basic need of satisfying your hunger, we as a community will know that we should not punish that,” Anita Khandelwal, King County Director of Public Defense, told KUOW. “That conduct is excused.”

Anita Khandelwal said the “poverty defense” isn’t meant to ignore the needs of businesses and others harmed by these offenses. She said the current system doesn’t provide them redress either, and it does more harm to offenders.

“It’s meeting nobody’s needs. This is not that we don’t care about the business community or about people who have experienced harm. It is that we know that this process – this processing of human beings through the system – is harmful to our clients and again very racially disproportionate, and also not getting business owners what they need either.” ~ Anita Khandelwal, King County Director of Public Defense,

The push comes as crime has spiked in Seattle this year, including during the Capitol Hill Occupied Zone protests in the city, Fox affiliate WSFX-TV reported.

At the same time, the city’s homeless population has risen by 5 percent since last year. However, not everyone in the Northwest city is on board with the proposed law change.

“It sends this powerful signal that as a city government, we don’t really care about this type of criminal behavior in our city,” former city councilman Tim Burgess told KUOW.

Burgess called the proposal “a defense lawyer’s dream.” Briefing documents say the Council would need to define whether the new affirmative defense applies only to someone meeting immediate basic needs, like stealing a sandwich in order to eat, or to items that are stolen for resale “so the defendant can pay rent.” Herbold says her committee will continue its work on the proposal in January.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime like Theft, Possession of  Stolen Motor Vehicle, etc., and the Poverty Defense might apply. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Twitch Cracks Down on Hate Speech & Harassment

Hard Questions: Where Do We Draw the Line on Free Expression? - About Facebook

Great article by reporter of the New York Times reports that Livestreaming platform Twitch stops hate speech by releasing updates to its Hateful Conduct and Harassment Policy aimed at better protecting its community of gamers and users from hate speech, sexual harassment and other harmful online attacks.

“We know that many people on Twitch — particularly women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Black, Indigenous, and people of color — unfortunately continue to experience a disproportionate amount of harassment and abuse online, including on our service. . . Not only is this blatantly unacceptable, it also undermines the community we’re building on Twitch and threatens the long term viability of streaming as a career for everyone who wishes to pursue it.” ~Twitch Post Regarding Updates to Its Hateful Conduct and Harassment Policies

The changes make several aspects of Twitch’s current policy clearer and more explicit, banning actions like encouraging people to doxx another user, repeatedly commenting on someone’s physical appearance if you’ve been asked to stop, or displaying the Confederate flag.

The new policy will take effect on Jan. 22, 2021. Until then, Twitch’s team will continue to moderate content using its existing guidelines, the post said.

Interesting.

Apparently, Twitch is responding to the call for more and better moderation/management of its online platforms. In all likelihood, the recent presidential elections ushered an increase in all types of harassment, including Hate Crimes and Felony Harassment. These crimes are felonies in the State of Washington.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family are charged with Hate Crimes and Felony Harassment. Not all commentary is abusive, bullying and/or hate speech. Indeed, most content is protected by the First Amendment. Hiring an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.

The Consequences of Arrest Leads to Different Outcomes for Black, White Youth

Why are black kids arrested more often than white kids?C-VILLE Weekly

For black youth, the Consequences of Arrest by eighth grade predicts they will be arrested by young adulthood – but the same is not true for white youth, a new University of Washington study finds.

The study, titled, The Usual, Racialized, Suspects: The Consequences of Police Contacts with Black and White Youth on Adult Arrest, finds that Black young adults are 11 times more likely to be arrested by age 20 if they had an initial encounter with law enforcement in their early teens than Black youth who don’t have that first contact.

In contrast, white young adults with early police contact are not significantly more likely to be arrested later, compared with white peers without that history.

The study also found that Black youth are more likely than white youth to be treated as “usual suspects” after a first encounter with police, leading to subsequent arrests over time. Even as white young adults report engaging in significantly more illegal behavior, Black young adults face more criminal penalties, the study finds.

Researchers also said it’s not just the number of stops, but what transpires during a police stop that sets the tone for future interactions with police.

“What we know about police contacts and youth generally is that Black youth are more likely to be stopped by police to begin with, and are more likely to have a negative experience when that happens,” said first author Annie McGlynn-Wright, a postdoctoral fellow at Tulane University who led the study while pursuing her doctorate at the UW. “What we haven’t known previously is the long-term effects of police contacts in terms of criminal justice outcomes.”

Racial differences in who is stopped, why and for what penalty have been well documented, the researchers said. Also, police stops have been linked to individuals’ later run-ins with law enforcement.

While the data was collected in Seattle, researchers say the patterns they found are likely occurring in cities around the country — Seattle is “more like every other town” than some larger metro areas like Chicago and Philadelphia, where many criminal justice studies are located, noted co-author Robert Crutchfield, a professor emeritus of sociology at the UW.

“When police interact with communities, and young people in communities, they have to be especially mindful of the nature and substance of the encounters, and police really need training to avoid negative interactions. What we found is that contact matters. In this study, we couldn’t parse out the nature of the interactions, but I suspect most kids experienced the interaction in a negative way. The message is, cops need to do better to minimize unnecessary contacts, and when they do contact people, to treat them better.” ~Robert Crutchfield, UW Professor Emeritus of Sociology.

For this study, UW researchers wanted to examine the effects of the first stop on the lives of Black and white adolescents, and whether a stop in the early teen years is associated with “secondary sanctioning,” or a “usual suspects” treatment by police that plays out over future stops and/or arrests. The study is among the first to explore the racial differences in police contact over time.

It also comes during a period of significant reckoning over race and policing in the United States, after a series of law enforcement killings of Black people around the country. As communities grapple with how to address institutionalized racism, police procedures and accountability, many school districts, including Seattle, have ended their contracts with law enforcement agencies for school resource officers, the personnel who are assigned to specific school buildings. Research has shown that students of color are disproportionately subject to discipline and monitoring by school resource officers.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged and arrested and race might play a factor in the charges. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Animal Cruelty Has Risen

Tabby Cat with sad looking eyes

Animal Cruelty Has Risen. According to the Seattle Times and Q13 Fox Seattle, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office had filed 19 animal cruelty cases so far this year. These case include 12 counts of first-degree felony animal cruelty. In comparison, the office filed only nine cases in 2019 and 10 in 2018.

King County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tali Smith chimed in on the subject.

“It’s concerning when we’re filing (more cases) in one month this year … than (all of) last year,” she said. And we’re concerned about these animals and the neglect or violence they’re suffering from.”

The office has also filed two felony animal fighting charges, the most recent case involving 91 roosters.

“My guess is that the pandemic has been hard on a lot of people, both in terms of their resources and their mental health. And so it’s kind of a pressure-cooker situation. You have people that are angry and they’re at home a lot. That anger can be taken out on an animal.” ~King County Deputy Prosecutor Tali Smith.

Smith added, however, that there’s no definitive evidence of the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on animal abuse cases.

“It’s just what we know about people, what we know about violence and these cases,” she said. “And we’ve seen violence increase in the other areas of our office. It makes sense that with this other vulnerable population, we also see an increase.”

Prosecutors are reporting animal cruelty cases in King County, like cases in other categories of crime such as homicides, domestic violence and shootings, have increased this year, raising concern among law enforcement and animal agencies and prompting them to remind residents to report any issues they might see involving animal care.

The prosecuting attorney’s office filed 1,103 felony domestic violence cases between January and October, including assaults and homicides – an increase from the 983 cases filed during the same period last year.

The increase in animal cruelty cases has also worried prosecutors who have studied the connection between violence against animals and violence against people, Smith said.

According to the news articles, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which aims to protect animals in the legal system, said animal abusers are five times as likely to also harm people. The organization references a 2013 study that found 43% of people involved in “school massacres” have also committed violence against animals, usually dogs and cats.

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

President-elect Joe Biden on the U.S. Drug Epidemic

Joe Biden says he 'regrets' supporting 'tough-on-crime' drug laws in 1990s as he considers presidential bid | The Independent | The Independent

Excellent article in Politico by staff reporters Dan Goldberg and Brianna Ehley discusses how President-elect Joe Biden will emphasize drug treatment and prevention, not law enforcement, in addressing a drug epidemic that’s only grown more dire during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

According to the article, Biden will take office at a crucial moment in the fight against drug addiction. Some states are contending with double-digit spikes in overdose deaths, sparse public health workforces are already stretched thin fighting the coronavirus and widening budget deficits brought on by the pandemic could force states to make painful cutbacks to public services.

Also, more than 76,000 people died of a drug overdose between April 2019 and April 2020, according to the most recent preliminary federal data, the most ever recorded during a 12-month period. Federal health officials say the drug crisis has only been amplified by months of social isolation, high unemployment and the diversion of resources to combat the virus.

Biden, who often spoke during the campaign about his son Hunter’s struggles with substance abuse, has called for record investments in drug prevention and treatment while also holding drug companies accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic.

According to the article, it’s staggering how much the pandemic has exacerbated the drug crisis this year. Ohio recorded 543 overdose deaths in May, the most ever in a single month. Overdose deaths in the state this year may even surpass a record 4,800 in 2017, said Dennis Cauchon, president of Harm Reduction Ohio.

“I never thought we could top 2017 levels of death and I was wrong . . . It’s a slaughter out there.” ~Dennis Cauchon, president of Harm Reduction Ohio.

Oregon reported a 70 percent increase in the number of overdose deaths in April and May compared to the same two months in 2019. In Maine, overdose deaths during the first half of 2020 were up 27 percent from the previous year. Spikes have also been documented in Colorado, Kentucky and Louisiana.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face drug charges. The search and seizure of the drugs may have violated the defendant’s Constitutional rights. Hiring an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.

Constructive Possession

Constructive Possession | Murphy's Law Office

“How can I be arrested for possessing drugs when I didn’t have the drugs anywhere on my body?”

A recent case handed down from the Washington Court of Appeals succinctly answers that question in the context of an unlawful possession case involving the search and seizure of drugs from a vehicle.

In State v. Listoe, the Court held that sufficient evidence existed to establish the defendant had constructive possession over the illegal drugs discovered on the back floorboards of the car he was driving.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On May 11, 2018, Deputy Andrew Hren observed a black car parked at a 7-Eleven convenience store. On running the license plate, Hren discovered that the car’s registration had expired. The car pulled out of the 7-Eleven parking lot, Hren got behind it and pulled it over. Listoe, who was driving the car, did not pull over immediately but traveled for about 1,000 feet first, which Hren believed was uncommon.

As Hren approached the car, he could see Listoe making a series of movements with his hands. Listoe opened the door and began to step out, but Hren ordered him to get back in the car. Hren observed Listoe making additional “furtive movements” in his lap area. Hren then ordered Listoe to place his hands on the steering wheel, and Listoe complied.

Hren informed Listoe of the reason for pulling him over, and Listoe responded that the car was not his and that he did not know the registration was expired. A passenger named Ms. Lemon was sitting in the car’s passenger seat. After briefly speaking to Lemon, Hren told Lemon that she was free to leave, and she left. Lemon was not searched during the encounter.

Hren ordered Listoe out of the vehicle and placed Listoe under arrest. During the search incident to Listoe’s arrest, Hren found a plastic bag that contained a white crystalline substance on Listoe’s person. The substance appeared to be methamphetamine. Listoe also had $221 in his wallet.

A K-9 unit alerted to the presence of controlled substances in the car Listoe was driving. Due to the K-9 alert, Hren obtained a search warrant to search the interior of the vehicle for additional evidence of controlled substances. Police found numerous items associated with drug dealing activities: a notepad with a name and phone number, a digital scale, a plastic Tupperware container that had white residue, a factory packaged plastic bag with syringes, and a mint container that contained shards of a white crystalline substance that Hren believed was methamphetamine.

Listoe was charged with one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to
manufacture or deliver and one count of possession of a controlled substance (Suboxone). The jury found him guilty as charged.

On appeal, Listoe claims that there was insufficient evidence that he had constructive possession over the methamphetamine and Suboxone discovered on the back floorboards of the car he was driving. Listoe asserts that evidence was insufficient because (1) the car was not his, (2) the officers did not find evidence proving that Listoe had dominion and control over the car and its contents, and (3) the drugs on the rear floor of the car could have reasonably belonged to Lemon.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

In short, the Court of Appeals held that We hold that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Listoe had constructive possession over the items the officers discovered in the back of the car.

“The facts that (1) Listoe was driving the vehicle, (2) Listoe had methamphetamine on his person, which is one of the same drugs found in the back of the vehicle, and (3) Deputy Hren observed Listoe making furtive movements while taking an uncommonly long time to pull over, provide sufficient evidence of constructive possession to support Listoe’s convictions.” ~WA Court of Appeals

The Court reasoned that under State v. Reichert, possession can either be actual or constructive. It also reasoned that under State v. George, whereas actual possession requires an individual to have physical custody of a given item, constructive possession may be shown where the individual has “dominion and control” over that item. Control need not be exclusive to establish possession, and more than one person can be in possession of the same item.

“We examine the totality of the circumstances and look to a variety of factors to determine whether an individual has dominion and control over an item,” said the court. The court further said for example, that it may consider whether the individual could readily convert the items to his or her actual possession and/or the defendant’s physical proximity to a given item.

Finally, the court said it may also consider whether the defendant had dominion and control over the broader premises in which the item was located. In cases where the defendant was driving a vehicle that the defendant owned, courts have found sufficient evidence that the defendant had dominion and control over the vehicle’s premises and its contents.

With that, the Court rendered its decision.

“The fact that Listoe was driving the car weighs in favor of finding that Listoe had dominion
and control over the vehicle and its contents,” said the court. The court also reasoned that the fact that fruits and vegetables, which are perishable items, were discovered in the same reusable black grocery bag as the white bag containing the contraband, shows that these items likely belonged to either Listoe or Lemon.

“It is unlikely that perishable items were left in the car by a prior driver or passenger,” said the Court. “Further, Listoe’s furtive hand movements on two occasions, as well the fact that Listoe drove an uncommonly long distance before pulling over, raise an inference that the was handling the contraband at that time, or possibly strategizing about where to hide it.”

The Court believed this same fact could also support a reasonable inference that Listoe could convert dominion and control over the items in the vehicle into his actual possession. In addition, because Hren found methamphetamine on Listoe’s person during the search incident to arrest, and methamphetamine was also discovered in the back of the vehicle, a rational trier of fact could infer that the methamphetamine in the back of the vehicle belonged to Listoe as well.

Finally, the Court of Appeals reasoned that while the above facts may not have been sufficient to establish constructive possession in isolation, taken together, they would lead a rational trier of fact to find that Listoe had constructive possession over the items in the back of the vehicle he was driving. ”

Ultimately, although the court found that Listoe’s convictions were supported by sufficient evidence, it reversed his conviction on the technicality that the trial court improperly applied GR 37 when considering his objection to the State’s peremptory challenge of a non-white juror.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving the search and seizure of vehicles, homes and/or persons. Sometimes, police officers violate people’s Constitutional rights during the course of a search. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows the law is the first and best step toward justice.

Coronavirus Crime Trends

Coronavirus Quarantines Spark Drop in Crime – for Now | National News | US News

Excellent and informative article in Safewise.com written by lead safety reporter and in-house expert gives us updates on the latest crime statistics and trends in the major cities throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

The gist?

“It depends on who you ask. From a research standpoint, it’s difficult to make a sweeping assumption—even after six months of living in a COVID-19 world. But there are consistent signs across the country that certain crimes have seen jumps during the global pandemic. The biggest increases have been in violent crimes, particularly murder, aggravated assault, and shooting incidents.” ~Rebecca Edwards, Lead Safety Reporter, Safewise.com

  • Preliminary FBI data for the first six months of 2020 shows murder and non-negligent homicide as up nearly 15% compared to the same time period last year.
  • report by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) paints an even more dire picture—showing a 53% jump in homicides in 27 major US cities this summer, compared to the last.
  • FBI data also shows a 4.6% jump in aggravated assaults between January and June 2020, versus the same period in 2019.
  • Aggravated assault rose 14% summer over summer, according to the CCJ analysis.
  • Gun violence has been relentless for much of 2020, particularly in major cities like ChicagoNew York City, and Philadelphia.
  • As of September 28, the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) has recorded 13,641 homicides, murders, and unintentional gun-related deaths for 2020. That’s almost 90% of the total recorded for all of 2019.

“It’s not all bad news, though,” reports Edwards. “There are plenty of other crimes that have dropped dramatically amid stay at home orders, physical distancing, and other pandemic conditions.” She gives us the following data:

  • Counts of rape have dropped, according to FBI data—falling almost 18% year over year.
  • Robberies have also been on the decline, dropping 7% for the first half of 2020.
  • Overall, property crimes have been on a downward trajectory this year.
  • According to a preliminary FBI report,  property crime saw an 8% decrease nationwide between January and June 2020, compared to the same timeframe last year.
  • The FBI shows burglaries down across the board by nearly 8% year over year, although cities like Seattle and San Francisco have seen drastic increases.
  • Larceny thefts also dropped by nearly 10% in the first half of 2020, according to FBI data.
  • Car thefts and break-ins have been on the rise during the pandemic. The FBI shows a 6% climb in vehicle thefts between January and June 2020, compared to the same time in 2019.
  • Cities like Los AngelesDenver, and Scarsdale, New York have broken records for the number of cars stolen so far in 2020.
  • The FBI also reports a drastic jump of 19% in arson offenses nationwide. The majority (52%) of that increase came from cities with more than one million residents.

Edwards also gives statistics on Washington State:

  • Seattle had 32 more burglaries per 100,000 people between March 16 and April 12, compared to the same time period last year.
  • One Seattle precinct saw an 87% jump in burglaries in March, as businesses shuttered due to the pandemic. Overall, the city has seen 21% more burglaries.
 Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Right to Present a Defense

1538.5 Motions To Suppress Evidence In California

In State v. Jennings, the WA Court of Appeals held the trial court’s exclusion of a shooting victim’s toxicology report indicating the victim had methamphetamine in his body at the time of his death did not violate the defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On the date of the incident, the defendant Mr. Jennings accompanied his friend Mr. Redman to get Redman’s car from a mobile home in Puyallup, Washington. Redman had been living there, but had recently been kicked out. Drug activity occurred there. Jennings was there to defuse any hostilities between Redman and others at the house. Jennings armed himself with bear spray and a gun.

When they arrived, Jennings was on high alert. He knew violent events had recently occurred there. His friend Mr. Redman got into an argument with Mr. Burton, an individual at the house. Redman had his gun out. Jennings was familiar with the behavior of people who consumed methamphetamine. He realized that both Redman and Burton were high on methamphetamine and acting aggressively.

Burton and Redman argued about Redman’s car and then began to scuffle, wrestling in the foyer of the house. Jennings sprayed his bear spray at them to break up the fight. Burton then turned around and started walking toward Jennings, who backed up. Jennings believed Burton had Redman’s gun.

Jennings feared for his life. He was afraid Burton was reacting violently because he was high on methamphetamine. Jennings fired his gun and hit Burton twice. Burton died at the scene shortly after the shooting and before the ambulance arrived.

Jennings was arrested the next day. He was charged with second degree intentional murder (RCW 9A.32.050(1)(a)), second degree felony murder predicated on second degree assault (RCW 9A.32.050(1)(b)), and unlawful possession of a firearm.

At trial, Jennings claimed at trial that he shot Burton in self-defense. However, the judge excluded the toxicology report showing that Burton had methamphetamine in his body at the time of his death.  A jury found Jennings guilty of second degree felony murder.

Jennings appealed on numerous issues, including arguments that the trial court violated his constitutional right to present a defense by excluding a toxicology report showing that Burton had methamphetamine in his body at the time of his death.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by emphasizing that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to present a defense under the Sixth Amendment. Furthermore, evidence of self-defense must be assessed from the standpoint of the reasonably prudent person standing in the shoes of the defendant, knowing all the defendant knows and seeing all the defendant sees. Finally, the court reasoned that evidence that might impact a defendant’s assessment of the danger presented, like the victim’s prior specific violent acts, is admissible only if known to the defendant when the incident occurred.

“In analyzing the Sixth Amendment right to present a defense, we balance the State’s interest in excluding the toxicology report against Jennings’s need for evidence showing that his subjective fear was reasonable,” said the Court of Appeals.

The Court further reasoned that in this case, the toxicology report did not have extremely high probative value and it did not constitute Jennings’s entire defense. “At trial, Jennings testified that what he observed on the day of the shooting gave rise to his subjective fear . . . his belief that Burton was high on methamphetamine,” said the Court.

“Jennings has not shown that there was a reasonable probability that any additional corroboration from the toxicology report would have materially changed the result at trial,” said the Court. “We hold that even if the trial court abused its discretion by excluding the toxicology report under ER 401 and 402, this ruling was harmless error.”

With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Jennings’ conviction.

My opinion? Evidentiary and legal issues aside, these facts are terribly tragic. My heart goes out to the friends and families of all who were impacted by this. From a legal standpoint, however, It appears the WA Court of Appeals conducted a basic balancing test under Washington’s Rules of Evidence and determined that the toxicology report of the victim’s meth/blood levels was neither probative nor relevant at trial.

Under Washington’s Rules of Evidence, relevant evidence is defined in ER 401 as “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. ER 402 provides that evidence which is not relevant is not admissible. Finally, ER 403 provides that relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by, among other things, the danger of unfair prejudice.

Here, the Court of Appeals was convinced that Mr. Jennings’ self-defense theory was properly supported by his testimony that he responded in self-defense to the victim’s meth-induced attack. Therefore, no other evidence was necessary to admit more evidence that the victim was high on meth. Jennings’ testimony, by itself, was enough. Any additional evidence on that issue was therefore cumulative, repetitive, unnecessary and potentially prejudicial to the State’s case under ER 403.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges and self-defense is a possible defense. It’s important to hire an experienced criminal defense trial attorney who understands the law, the rules of evidence and how both contribute to trial defenses.

Assault or Swim Lesson?

Backlash over 'self-rescue' swimming classes for toddlers | News | The Times

In State v. Loos, the WA Court of Appeals held that although the defendant repeatedly submerged a toddler in a river during an impromptu swimming lesson, there was a lack of evidence proving the defendant’s actions were Assault.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Defendant Ms. Loos was babysitting J.T.S., a nonverbal, speech-delayed two-and-a-half-year-old toddler whom she had cared for throughout his infancy. Loos and a friend, Ms. Tetzlaff, decided to take a group of seven children to swim in the Jordan River that day.

While swimming in the river, Tetzlaff became concerned about Loos’s conduct. Tetzlaff testified that Loos picked up J.T.S. and said “it’s time to swim.” For the next minute – which was caught on camera – Loos engaged an impromptu swim lesson and tried teaching J.T.S. a swim technique called “infant self-rescue” by teaching him to float on his back.

In the 51-second video, Loos can be seen holding J.T.S. on his back in the water, and is heard telling him “when we scream, we go under.” After a moment, J.T.S. was submerged in the water for a few seconds and Loos pulled him back up out of the water. Loos repositioned J.T.S. on his back, at which point he began to struggle and tried to pull away.

Loos told J.T.S. again not to scream and he was again submerged. This time, Loos had one hand under J.T.S. and one hand on his chest. At trial, Tetzlaff testified that Loos was “holding him under the water.” T.L. similarly testified he saw Loos push J.T.S. under water, and T.L. could see J.T.S. flailing his arms while submerged. When Loos lifted him out of the water, he came up coughing and screaming. Eventually, Loos ended the swim lesson.

On December 1, 2017, approximately two and a half years later, the State charged Loos with one count of assault of a child in the third degree. During trial, Loos moved to dismiss the charge for insufficient evidence. The trial court denied this motion, although it acknowledged its decision was a “close call.”

The jury found Loos guilty. She appealed on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

COURT’S RATIONALE & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by saying due process of law requires that the State prove every element of a charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a criminal conviction.

Furthermore, the court cited State v. Green in saying that in order to evaluate whether sufficient evidence supports a conviction, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the State to determine if any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Dismissal with prejudice is required when there is insufficient evidence at the close of the prosecution’s case in-chief to sustain a charged offense,” said the Court of Appeals.

Next, the court gave the statutory definition of “bodily harm” as “physical pain or injury, illness, or an impairment of physical condition,” And that this pain or impairment must be accompanied by “substantial pain.”

Finally, the Court of Appeals reasoned whether there was sufficient evidence that T.J. suffered substantial pain from the swimming incident. “J.T.S.’s coughing when pulled out of the water caused him some physical pain,” said the Court. “But neither the testimony nor the 51-second video of the incident supports any contention that J.T.S. was unable to quickly and easily eliminate the water from his throat or that he remained in any pain once he did so.”

“The evidence was undisputed that J.T.S. did not require CPR, did not vomit, did not lose consciousness, did not appear to have any swelling of his belly, did not sustain any lung injury, and needed no medical treatment. There is no evidence J.T.S. was inconsolable as a result of any ongoing pain or that any momentary pain he may have experienced lasted for any period of time after he coughed and Loos removed him from the water.” ~WA Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals concluded by saying that no reasonable jury would find that J.T.S. suffered substantial pain that extended for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering. With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Loos’s conviction.

My opinion? Good decision. The trial court erred when it denied Ms. Loos’ Motion to Dismiss pursuant to State v. Green. Better known as a Green Motion, this tactical trial maneuver allows defendants to request the judge dismiss criminal charges after the Prosecution has presented its evidence and rested its case.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face charges and the Prosecution has evidentiary proof problems. Hiring an effective and experienced attorney is the first and best step towards justice.