Tag Archives: Mt. Vernon Criminal Defense

Imprisoned At 7-11

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In  State v. Dillon, the WA Court of Appeals held that in Unlawful Imprisonment charges, the State must prove that the defendant knowingly restrained another person, not that the defendant knowingly acted without legal authority.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On December 21 2017, the soon-to-be victim Mr. Favors entered a 7-Eleven after he got off his bus. Favors encountered the soon-to-be defendant Mr. Dillon standing near the entrance to 7-Eleven. Favors noticed that Dillon had scratches on his face, was bleeding, and intoxicated. Favors thought that Dillon was panhandling and told him he did not have change. Favors continued into the 7-Eleven.

Dillon entered the 7-Eleven 10 to 15 seconds after Favors. Favors finished making his purchase and started walking towards the exit. Dillon was standing three feet in front of the exit. Dillon told Favors in a slurred voice to “get your ass back over there” and threatened to cut and shoot him. Favors feared that the situation would escalate and went to the back of the store. Favors tried to leave a second time and Dillon said “I told you one time; get your ass back over there.” Favors, who is African-American, recalled hearing a racial slur. Favors discreetly called 911.

Police arrived and arrested Dillon. At one point he  “reared his head back” and hit a police officer on his forehead and the bridge of his nose. The officer recalled that Dillon was
intoxicated, his balance was poor, and was making incoherent statements.

The State initially charged Dillon with Third Degree Assault of the police officer and Harassment of Favors, but amended the information to include Unlawful Imprisonment of Favors.

The defense requested a jury instruction on Voluntary Intoxication and the State did not object. The jury acquitted Dillon of felony harassment, but convicted him of third degree assault and unlawful imprisonment.

Dillon appealed on the issue of whether State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dillon knowingly acted without legal authority.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The State presented sufficient evidence that a reasonable juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Dillon knew he was acting without legal authority when he committed the crime of Harassment.

“The threats that Dillon made had no lawful purpose. Depending on the level of intoxication, a person under the influence can still form the requisite intent to know that their actions are unlawful.”

Dillon made threats to “cut” and “shoot” Favors, both of which demonstrate that Dillon knew he was acting without legal authority. Dillon “jumped” at Favors to prevent him from exiting the 7-Eleven, further supporting a finding that Dillon knew his actions were unlawfully restraining Favors.

Regarding the Unlawful Imprisonment conviction, the WA Court of Appeals ruled that Dillon did not say anything that indicated he thought he had legal authority to restrain Favors. Also, the Court denied the argument denied the defense of Escape and held that that Mr. Favors could not have safely departed 7-11 due to Mr. Dillon’s actions:

“Viewed in the light most favorable to the State, Favor’s testimony is sufficient to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Dillon restrained Favors’s movement, in a manner that substantially interfered with his liberty through intimidation, threats of violence, and by blocking the 7-Eleven exit.”

With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Dillon’s convictions.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges like Assault, Harassment or Unlawful Imprisonment. It’s imperative to hire an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney who knows the law.

Unlawful Jury Selection

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In State v. Guevara Diaz the WA Court of Appeals held that seating a juror without questioning from either defense counsel or the court into her ability to be fair can never be harmless and requires a new trial without a showing of prejudice.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The State charged Mr. Diaz with one count of second degree rape and one count of third degree rape. At the beginning of trial, the judge explained to the jury that he and the attorneys would be asking them questions, first with a questionnaire and then orally. The judge told the potential jurors that counsel had prepared a questionnaire and pointed out that each juror had “the opportunity to be questioned outside the presence of the other jurors in the event that certain questions are answered yes.”

Thirteen jurors stated that they wished to be questioned outside the presence of other jurors. Seven of them had answered they could not “be fair.” Six others, including juror 23, who also answered that they “could not be fair” did not ask to be questioned outside the presence of other potential jurors.

At the conclusion of jury selection, the court seated two jurors who said that they could not be fair. One of those jurors included juror 23. The jury found Mr. Diaz guilty of one count of second degree rape and one count of third degree rape (this conviction was later overturned on double jeopardy grounds).

On appeal, Mr. Diaz argued that the trial court violated his constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury by allowing a biased juror to serve.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the WA Court of Appeals held that the trial court should not have allowed juror 23 to serve because she expressed actual bias without further inquiry.

“A criminal defendant has a federal and state constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. Seating a biased juror violates this right. Because the presence of a biased juror cannot be harmless, seating an actually biased juror requires a new trial without a showing of actual prejudice.”

Second, the Court held that juror 23 demonstrated actual bias when she answered “No” to the fairness question.

The Court explained that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 22 of the Washington Constitution both guarantee a criminal defendant the right to trial by an impartial jury. To protect this right, a party may challenge a juror for cause. Actual bias provides a basis to challenge a juror for cause.

“The trial court should have addressed this actual bias by questioning juror 23 or allowing defense counsel to question her outside the hearing of other jurors,” said the Court. “Under the circumstances of this case, any court questioning also should have occurred outside the hearing of other jurors because of defense counsel’s viable concern over questioning potentially biased jurors in front of the jury pool.”

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Mr. Diaz’s conviction and remanded his case for a new trial.

End ICE Courthouse Arrests

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Excellent article in Crosscut by  Lilly Fowler describes how the Washington state Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit federal immigration agents without a warrant from making arrests within one mile of a courthouse.

If signed, the legislation – SB 6522 – would also require judicial warrants to be reviewed by a court before being used. And federal immigration agents would have to check in with local court staff before entering a courthouse. A website monitored by the state Administrative Office of the Courts would track all arrests made at courthouses.

Finally, the bill would prohibit court staff, including prosecutors, from sharing information with federal immigration officials. A recent report from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights revealed that county prosecutors have been sharing information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol agents to facilitate the arrests of undocumented immigrants at state and local courthouses.

As reported by Ms. Fowler, the outcry over immigrants being arrested at courthouses by plainclothes ICE and Border Patrol officials has been persistent. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the federal government last month in an attempt to stop such arrests, and the state Supreme Court is looking at rules that would bar the apprehensions.

At a hearing on the bill last week before the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee, legislators heard testimony in Spanish from a man named Carlos. He told lawmakers he and his wife recently visited the courthouse in Ephrata, Grant County, to renew his car’s license plates. While his wife waited in the vehicle, Carlos stood in line inside the courthouse and noticed a man staring at him. As Carlos exited the courthouse, another man with a gun approached him, introduced himself as a federal immigration official and, in Spanish, said, “Soy la migra” (or “I am ICE/Border Patrol”). Carlos was promptly arrested. Although he was eventually released by the ICE agent, the experience left him shaken and terrified.

Enoka Herat, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said the state would not be the first to protect its court system. In November, the Oregon Supreme Court barred warrantless arrests at courthousesCaliforniaNew York and New Jersey have also sought similar protections for immigrants. In Massachusetts, a federal judge barred courthouse arrests while a lawsuit makes its way through the court system.

My opinion?

I hope SB 6522 gains support and passes. The bill  isn’t about hampering the work of law enforcement. It’s about but ensuring the public can use courts to pay fines, serve as witnesses, seek protection orders and pursue other matters related to the justice system, without the fear of unexpected encounters with law enforcement.  Equal access to courts is something both Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree upon.

Felony Voting Rights Bill Pending in WA Legislature

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Excellent article in the Tacoma News Tribune by reporter James Drew describes how Senate Bill 6228 would make about 9,000 felons eligible to vote is moving ahead in the Washington state Legislature, as Democratic senators vow to expand democracy by removing a barrier they say is rooted in systemic racism.

Senate Bill 6228 would make felons automatically eligible to vote once they are released from state prison. Under current law, they are eligible once they have completed community custody — formerly known as probation — and that can take several years.

“The very essence of community custody is to get people back on the right track, to reintegrate them into society and to reduce the chances of re-offending,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Patty Kuderer, a Bellevue Democrat. “Restoring the right to vote and the right to participate in our democracy is an important tool for that reintegration process.”

“Until someone can show me that there’s a good reason to deprive someone of the right to vote because of the commission of a crime, then I will rethink that. But for now, I have seen zero evidence for that.”    ~Senator Patty Kuderer.

Stressing that her bill addresses a “major equality and social justice issue,” Kuderer said blacks and Native Americans are overly represented in the criminal justice system. As a result, they are “disproportionately stripped of their voting rights, diminishing their representation,” she said.

A Senate committee on Friday approved the bill, putting it one step closer to a vote by the Democratic-controlled Senate. If it becomes law, the measure would take effect in 2021.

Senate GOP Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, is opposed to the bill, saying it removes an incentive for felons to fulfill obligations under community custody such as making restitution to crime victims. The bill states that sanctions for violating community custody requirements or failure to pay court costs, restitution to victims, or fines and fees would not take voter eligibility away from a former inmate.

Samuel Merrill, clerk of the criminal justice working group for the Olympia-based Quaker Voice on Washington Public Policy, said whites after the Civil War and Reconstruction adopted laws targeting former slaves for felonies to deprive them of their voting rights. The practice continued into the voter suppression laws under Jim Crow — “vestiges of which continue today,” Merrill said.

Supporters of the bill include the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the state Department of Corrections, the ACLU of Washington, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Meth Hurts Opioid Treatment

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The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment  published a new study which found that methamphetamine use was associated with more than twice the risk for dropping out of treatment for opioid-use disorder.

The origins of the study are interesting. Apparently, Judith Tsui, a UW Medicine clinician specializing in addiction treatment, was seeing more and more patients she was treating for opioid-use disorder also using methamphetamines, a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system.

She would start the patients on buprenorphine, a medication to treat opioid use disorder, but they would often drop out. So she and colleagues wanted to see if this was a common problem. They conducted a large study (799 people) at three sites — Harborview Adult Medicine Clinic in Seattle and Evergreen Treatment Services in Olympia and Grays Harbor.

“This study confirms anecdotally what we sensed,” said Tsui. “The next step is to build into treatment models how we can help those patients who struggle both with opioids and methamphetamines to be successful.”

“A substantial proportion of these patients are homeless and may use meth to stay awake at night just to stay safe and keep an eye on their belongings.”              ~Judith Tsui, UW Medicine Clinician

Dr. Tsui also said patients also tell her the streets are flooded with the drug and it’s hard for them to say no. Some patients have requested treatment with prescribed stimulant medications like Adderall and Ritalin to help them stop using methamphetamines.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges for illegal possession and/or distribution of unlawful drugs. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. In many cases – including drug cases in particular – the legality of how law enforcement officials obtained the evidence used to support the State’s case is a central and debatable issue. If the government’s conduct violated a person’s rights, the evidence is deemed inadmissible. And without the necessary evidence to prove the criminal charges, the judge may dismiss the State’s case.

Support Legislation Ending Felony Charges for Missing a Court Hearing

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Did you know that a person who misses just one court hearing can be charged with Bail Jumping and be convicted of a new felony simply for missing that court hearing?

Fortunately, legislation proposed by WA Representative Mike Pellicciotti could possibly end this travesty.

THE PROBLEM

When the Legislature enacted the “Bail Jumping” statute, the intent wasn’t to criminalize every missed court date or failure to appear (FTA), rather lawmakers wanted to give the courts a tool to deter people charged with serious crimes from fleeing.

The legislature gave discretion to prosecutors to add a felony charge if someone “jumped bail.” Sadly, this prosecutorial discretion is being overused. The charge of “Bail Jumping” has now led to a long list of unintended consequences that disproportionately harm Washington’s low income and most marginalized citizens.

Research shows that most people charged with “Bail Jumping” were not intentionally avoiding court. Many had difficult life circumstances that made it hard or impossible to attend a court hearing on a particular day. They were not fleeing from the court, and they wanted to resolve their cases.

Research also shows that many people who miss court are experiencing difficulties with transportation, childcare, job disruption, homelessness, health problems, mental illness and other challenges related to poverty. Under current “bail jumping” laws, Washington disproportionally and unjustly allows for longer criminal sentences for people who are low-income or experiencing a crisis for the charge of “Bail Jumping” even though that was never the legislature’s intent.

THE SOLUTION

WA HB 2231 is legislation would would amend the current Bail Jump statute in two ways: (1) it makes bail jumping a misdemeanor, and (2) it requires the state to prove that a person received written notice of the court date that the person missed.

Here is a position paper about the bill. It is supported by the WDA, ACLU, WACDL, the Northwest Community Bail Fund and numerous other organizations.  This bill sponsored is by Mike Pellicciotti of the (Democratic Party). He is a member of the Washington House of Representatives, representing District 30-Position 1.

My opinion? This is great legislation.

Please contact my office if you face felony charges which include Bail Jumping. It is a nasty, unjust felony charge. They are often used by prosecutors to coercively leverage a plea. Although there are substantive defenses to the charge, those who face barriers getting to court are frequently subject to this coercive manner of resolving cases that results in an unjust and disproportionate number of convictions for the most vulnerable.

Sexsomnia

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In State v. Pratt, the WA Court of Appeals held that Sexsomnia is an abnormal activity, similar to sleepwalking, that involves people engaging in sexual acts during sleep.  However, the trial court’s exclusion of expert testimony regarding sexsomnia did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to present a defense because no psychological evaluation could determine whether the defendant suffered from sexsomnia at the time of the offense or that the defendant had the disorder.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The State charged Mr. Pratt with child molestation in the first degree based on an allegation by the juvenile victim MB that Pratt had sexually assaulted her while they were both sleeping in a tent for her cousin’s birthday sleepover party. The party occurred at the home of Pratt’s aunt and uncle. MB is the daughter of Pratt’s aunt’s stepsister.

Before trial, Dr. C. Kirk Johnson, a psychologist, evaluated Pratt to determine if he suffered from a sleep disorder called sexsomnia. Sexsomnia is an abnormal activity, similar to sleepwalking, that involves people engaging in sexual acts during sleep. Johnson concluded that a possible explanation for Pratt’s actions included sexsomnia, but he could not confirm it happened.

At a pretrial evidentiary hearing, Pratt indicated he wanted Johnson to testify as an expert at trial about sexsomnia. Although Johnson could not conclude that Pratt had the disorder, he would testify that sexsomnia exists. Pratt wanted to use this testimony to support his general denial defense. Pratt wanted to argue at trial that if a person is asleep, they cannot be guilty because any touching would not have been done for the purpose of sexual gratification. Pratt viewed being asleep as a general denial.

The State moved to exclude the testimony on grounds of relevance. The judge was concerned that calling an expert to testify about sexsomnia could amount to “a back door diminished capacity.” The judge granted the State’s motion to exclude.

Pratt waived a jury. At a bench trial, court found Pratt guilty as charged. Over the State’s and the victim’s objections, the court imposed a SSOSA disposition. The State appealed the sentence. Pratt cross-appealed the exclusion of Dr. Johnson’s testimony.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Court of Appeals reasoned that in order to be eligible for a SSOSA sentence, a defendant must have a connection with the victim which is independent of the crime. Here, Pratt was not eligible for a SSOSA sentence because it is clear that Pratt did not have an “established connection” with MB. Other than the sexual molestation, their only connections involved Pratt giving MB a skewer with marshmallows and asking MB her name.

Second, regarding the defense of Sexomnia, the Court of Appeals reasoned that under State v. Utter, Washington courts have recognized a defense of involuntary action due to sleepwalking where, at the time of the crime, the offender was clearly unconscious.

Furthermore, the defense of involuntary action as a result of being asleep, therefore, should not be treated as one of diminished capacity. Instead, involuntariness due to sleep is an affirmative defense that must be proved by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence.

In this case, however, the Court of Appeals reasoned that Dr. Johnson could not testify that Pratt suffered from sexsomnia either on the night of the sexual molestation or ever.

“The fact that this disorder exists is irrelevant without some tendency to make the existence of sexsomnia of consequence to the determination of the action more probable than it would without the evidence. No nexus existed between Pratt, sexsomnia, and his actions on the night of the molestation.”

Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly excluded Johnson’s testimony because it was irrelevant to both the general denial defense and to a defense of lack of volition. With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed Pratt’s conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime and the defense involves being unconscious due to sleepwalking, and/or experiencing a medical condition called “slow wave sleep.” I’ve successfully obtained dismissal of criminal charges for prior clients who were asleep and/or unconscious during the commission of crimes. Expert testimony might be necessary to educate the jury of a possible Diminished Capacity defense.

Inventory Searches, Automatic Standing, & Stolen Vehicles.

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In State v. Peck, the WA Supreme Court found that persons found in possession of a stolen vehicle may challenge the search of that vehicle.  However, closed containers, other than items that “possess the same aura of privacy as a purse, shaving kit, or personal luggage” and locked containers, may be opened  during an inventory search of a stolen vehicle.  The search, of course, must not be used as a pretext for an investigatory search.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Two Kittitas County sheriffs deputies responded to a suspected theft in progress at a home in rural Ellensburg. When the deputies arrived, they discovered two individuals outside the home, along with a pickup truck stuck in the driveway’s unplowed snow. The deputies handcuffed the two men and eventually learned that they were Mr. Peck and Clark Tellvik. Two more deputies then arrived. One of them entered the pickup truck’s license plate into a law-enforcement database and learned that the truck had been reported stolen.

Officers impounded the vehicle. They searched the pickup without obtaining a search warrant because they believed that Peck and Tellvik did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a stolen vehicle. Police discovered methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia inside the vehicle.

Peck and Tellvik were charged with several crimes, including possession of a stolen vehicle and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The defendants moved to suppress the contraband found in the black zippered nylon case. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, finding the inventory search to be proper and finding no evidence of pretext. A jury subsequently convicted each defendant of the charged drug possession and stolen vehicle offenses. Peck and Tellvik were subsequently convicted. Both appealed their controlled substance convictions. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress. The WA Supreme Court granted review.

ISSUES

  1. Whether defendants have standing to challenge the scope of a warrantless inventory search of a vehicle when that vehicle is stolen.
  2. Whether a proper inventory search extends to opening an innocuous, unlocked container of unknown ownership found in a stolen vehicle associated with defendants who were apprehended while burglarizing a home.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

  1. Defendants have standing to challenge the scope of a warrantless inventory search of a vehicle, even when that vehicle is stolen.

First, the WA Supreme Court held the defendants have standing to challenge the search. It reasoned that a defendant has automatic standing to challenge a search if (1) possession is an essential element of the charged offense and (2) the defendant was in possession
of the contraband at the time of the contested search or seizure. And a defendant
has automatic standing to challenge the legality of a seizure even though he or
she could not technically have a privacy interest in such property.

“Peck and Tellvik have automatic standing to challenge the inventory search,” said the Court. It reasoned that the first prong of the test was satisfied because both were charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Furthermore, the second prong is satisfied because Peck and Tellvik were in possession of the truck up until the time of the search. “As such, Peck and Tellvik have automatic standing to
challenge the warrantless inventory search of the black zippered nylon case.”

2. A proper inventory search extends to opening an unlocked container of unknown ownership found in a stolen vehicle.

The WA Supreme Court began by saying that warrantless searches are unreasonable. Despite that rule, a warrantless search is valid if one of the narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. One of those narrow exceptions is a noninvestigatory inventory search. Inventory searches have long been recognized as a practical necessity.

“To be valid, inventory searches must be conducted in good faith and not as a pretext for an investigatory search.”

The court explained that Inventory searches are also limited in both scope and purpose. They are permissible because they (1) protect the vehicle owner’s (or occupants’) property, (2) protect law enforcement agencies/officers and temporary storage bailees from false claims of theft, and (3) protect police officers and the public from potential danger. Unlike a probable cause search and search incident to arrest, officers conducting an inventory search perform an administrative or caretaking function.

The Court reasoned that under these circumstances, it was proper for police to do more than merely inventory the unlocked nylon case as a sealed unit. First, the police knew the vehicle was stolen. Second, Peck and Tellvik were arrested while in the process of burglarizing a home and were observed taking items from the home and its surroundings. Responding officers testified that a purpose in conducting an inventory search of the truck was to determine ownership of both the truck and its various contents. Third, the search was not pretextual. And finally, the innocuous nature of the container at issue is important: a nylon case that looked like it contained CDs does not possess the same aura of privacy as a purse, shaving kit, or personal luggage.

“Here, where the vehicle was stolen, Peck and Tellvik were arrested immediately outside of a home that they were currently  burglarizing, and the trial court explicitly found no evidence of pretext, the search was proper.”

The WA Supreme Court concluded that under the facts of this case, the search was a lawful inventory search. Accordingly, it reversed the Court of Appeals and upheld the denial of the motion to suppress. Justices Gordon McCloud, Madsen, Yu, and Chief Justice Fairhurst dissented.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving vehicle searches. It is imperative to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who will defend your rights.

Violent Crime Decreases – Except Rape

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Excellent article by Jamiles Lartey and Weihua Li of the Marshall Project describes new evidence showing that despite the overall drop in violent crime, rape rises for the sixth straight year.

The 2018 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), released Tuesday, is managed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Justice Department. According to the authors, the data suggests that the violent crime rate in the U.S. remains on a decades-long downward trend, falling by 3.9 percent in 2018. Overall, the violent crime rate has plunged by more than 50 percent since the early 1990s. The drops came across categories of violent offenses, including murder, non-negligent manslaughter and robbery, and property crimes like burglary, larceny and vehicle thefts, while aggravated assault numbers remained about flat.

However, rape and sexual assault crimes are increased slightly for 2018. This follows consistent trends that sexual assault crimes have risen for the last six years.

So why the increase?

Apparently, in 2013, the FBI changed its outdated parameters of rape—then defined as the forcible “carnal knowledge of a female”—to a more modern definition structured around consent, rather than force. Ever since, the rate has been on a steady surge, up more than 18 percent in that period.

“It’s not yet clear why rapes have risen so swiftly. It’s a notoriously underreported crime and many have theorized that the changing social atmosphere, including the #metoo movement and increased awareness around campus rape, may be prompting survivors to report at a higher rate.”

Kristen Houser, a spokesperson for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said another possible outcome of that social and cultural change is assault survivors being better able to simply understand that what they’ve experienced was in fact a crime.

“We may well have more ability to recognize experiences for the crimes that they are and be able to name them, which I don’t think has been true historically. And that’s a result of more people talking about it, reporting on it, reading it, etc.,” Houser said.

Contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a sexual assault. These charges are debilitating. Simply being charged negatively impacts reputations, employment opportunities and freedom. Therefore, it’s imperative to hire an experienced and effective defense attorney who will conduct proactive investigations, argue pretrial motions and defend your rights at trial.

WA Supreme Court Invalidates “Community Caretaking” Search

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In State v. Boissellethe WA Supreme Court held a police officer’s warrantless entry into the defendant’s duplex in this case violated article I, section 7 of the WA Constitution because their emergency aid function search was a unlawful pretext for a criminal investigation as the officers were suspicious, if not convinced, that a crime had taken place before entering the unit.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Law enforcement officers were dispatched to Mr. Boisselle’s home after two anonymous 911 calls reported that a man shot and possibly killed someone at the residence. While responding to the calls, the officers learned that the residence was related to an ongoing missing person/homicide investigation. Unable to determine whether someone was alive inside the home, the officers entered the residence and conducted a warrantless search, discovering evidence of a murder therein. Boisselle  was arrested and jailed.

Boisselle moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the officers’ warrantless search was unlawfully pretextual  under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. The trial court denied Boisselle’s motion, concluding that the officers’ search fell within the emergency aid function of the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement. Following a jury trial, Boisselle was convicted of second degree murder and second degree unlawful possession of a firearm. The Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

I. The Community Caretaking Exception

First, the WA Supreme Court agreed that the application of the community caretaking exception has become muddled, and took this opportunity to clarify the appropriate factors in determining whether an officer has exercised his or her emergency aid community caretaking function.

“The community caretaking exception is one such exception to the warrant requirement,” said the Court. “Under the community caretaking exception, law enforcement officers may make a limited invasion of constitutionally protected privacy rights when it is necessary for officers to perform their community caretaking functions.” The Court explained this exception recognizes that law enforcement officers are “jacks of all trades” and frequently engage in community caretaking functions that are unrelated to the detection and investigation of crime, including delivering emergency messages, giving directions, searching for lost children, assisting stranded motorists, and rendering first aid.

Next, the Court created the following multi-part test for evaluating whether an officer exercised his or her community caretaking function when conducting a warrantless search:

(1) Was the community caretaking exception used as a pretext for criminal investigation? If the court finds pretext, the analysis ends. If the court determines that the exception was not a pretext, the analysis continues is question is answered negatively, the analysis continues.

(2)(a) If the search fell within an officer’s general community caretaking function, such as the performance of a routine check on health or safety, the court must determine whether the search was “reasonable.” “Reasonableness” depends upon a balancing of a citizen’s privacy interest in freedom from police intrusion against the public’s interest in having police perform a community caretaking function.

(2)(b) If the search fell within an officer’s emergency aid function which arises from a police officer’s community caretaking responsibility to come to the aid of persons believed to be in danger of death or physical harm, the court, before determining whether the search is “reasonable,” must first determine whether: “(1) the officer subjectively believed that an emergency existed requiring that he or she provide immediate assistance to protect or preserve life or property, or to prevent serious injury, (2) a reasonable person in the same situation would similarly believe that there was a need for assistance, and (3) there was a reasonable basis to associate the need for assistance with the place searched.”

II. The Warrantless Search of Boisselle’s Home Was Pretextual.

The Court reasoned that an unlawful pretextual search occurs when occurs when officers rely on some legal authorization as a mere pretense to dispense with a warrant when the true reason for the seizure is not exempt from the warrant requirement. When determining whether a given search is pretextual, the court should consider the totality of the circumstances, including both the subjective intent of the officer as well as the objective reasonableness of the officer’s behavior.

“Viewing the totality of the circumstances, we are unconvinced that the officers’ search of Boisselle’s home was not a pretext for a criminal investigation.”

The Court reasoned that here, law enforcement’s involvement began because of two anonymous 911 calls reporting a crime. When the officers arrived at Boisselle’s duplex unit, they noticed a smell that could be attributed to a decomposing body, and they sought to confirm whether a crime had been committed or if a crime victim was inside. The officers were eventually able to see into the unit and saw signs of a struggle and missing carpet, which could be a sign that someone sought to cover up a crime scene.

“Taken together, these facts demonstrate that the officers were suspicious, if not convinced, that a crime had taken place,” said the Court. “Because of the officers significant suspicions, the search of Boisselle’s home was necessarily associated with the detection and investigation of criminal activity.”

Accordingly, the Court held the officers’ warrantless search did not fall under the emergency aid function of the community caretaking exception, and it violated article I, section 7 of the WA Constitution. Thus, the trial court erred in denying Boisselle’s motion to suppress. “We reverse the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court for further proceedings,” said the Court.

My opinion? Grisly as the facts appear to be, the Court reached the right decision. Freedom from government intrusion lies at the very foundation of Western law and culture, and is one of our nation’s most cherished freedoms. That’s why we insist on police obtaining warrants, unless exigent circumstances dictates otherwise.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member were charges with a crime involving an unlawful pretextual search. Hiring competent defense counsel is the first and best step toward achieving justice.