Tag Archives: Mt. Vernon Criminal Defense

Trial Security

Courtroom Security: The Hidden Side of The Criminal Trial - Lee Lofland

In State v. Bejar, the WA Court of Appeals held it was not prejudicial to the defendant’s case for jurors to go through enhanced courtroom security screening on a jury trial involving a gang murder.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Bejar, Jr. was charged with murder in the first degree with a firearm enhancement and unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree. The shooting involved a gang war in South King County that was instigated by gang members disrespecting each other over social media. Mr. Bejar was the alleged shooter, and a member of the South Side Locos gang. The victim was a member of the the United Lokotes gang.

At trial, the judge ordered secondary screening strictly for any courtroom observers.

“There’s been allegations of witnesses being assaulted as a result of this ongoing gang war, and in particular Facebook posts that I read provided here refer to different people as being snitches,” said the trial judge. Consequently, he issued the following secondary screening rules:

  1. Persons entering the courtroom may be subjected to secondary screening, including use of a magnetometer, handheld metal detector, and pat down searches. Persons who fail to comply with screening requirements will not be permitted access to the courtroom.
  2. Except as specifically authorized in this document or by separate order of the Court, no cell phones, cameras, or other electronic devices capable of audio or video recording, or component parts of such devices, will be permitted in the courtroom. Persons entering the courtroom may be required to leave such devices with security personnel . . .

The jury convicted Bejar of all crimes as charged. He appealed on arguments that requiring jurors to go through secondary screening was inherently prejudicial.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by saying that the presumption of innocence is a basic component of a fair trial under our system of justice. In order to preserve a defendant’s presumption of innocence before a jury, the defendant is entitled to the physical indicia. This  includes the right of the defendant to be brought before the court with the appearance, dignity, and self-respect of a free and innocent individual.

“Measures which single out a defendant as a particularly dangerous or guilty person threaten his constitutional right to a fair trial,” said the Court of Appeals. “Such measures threaten a defendant’s right to a fair trial because they erode his presumption of innocence; these types of courtroom practices are inherently prejudicial.”

That said, the Court also reasoned that the average juror takes for granted security screenings in courthouses and other similar government buildings. The court emphasized that jurors are used to passing through security screening, including metal detectors and pat down searches, when entering government buildings or government-controlled spaces within buildings, including airports and other transportation hubs, federal buildings, and courts.

“The fact that there was a secondary screening outside the courtroom in the hallway for cell phones did not suggest particular official concern or alarm; it was not an invasive search or conducted by guards with unusual weaponry or armed presence.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Furthermore, reasoned the Court, the secondary screening allowed for a wide range of inferences, including that such screening was designed to guard against disruptions emanating from outside the courtroom.

“The jurors only had to pass through the secondary screening on the first day of trial,” said the Court.  “On all subsequent days, jurors were allowed to bypass the secondary screening with their juror badges. These factors all served to minimize any potential prejudice to the defendants.”

With that, the Court of Appeals ruled that the secondary screening of the jurors on the first day of trial was not inherently prejudicial.

“These secondary security measures did not single out a defendant as a particularly dangerous or guilty person or threaten his constitutional right to a fair trial. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in adopting such measures.” ~WA Court of Appeals

With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed Bejas’ conviction.

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.

Jury Questions

Should Jurors Be Allowed to Ask Questions During a Criminal Trial? – GRAND  JURY TARGET

In State v. Sutton, the WA Court of Appeals held that, when answering a deliberating jury’s questions, a trial court has a responsibility to ensure that the jury understands the law.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Law enforcement executed a search warrant looking for evidence of drug trafficking at an address on in Newman Lake, Washington. At the property, they found the defendant Ms. Sutton and numerous co-defendants. The ensuing investigation led to Sutton and the co-defendants being arrested for the Kidnapping and Murder.

The State charged Sutton with first degree felony murder predicated on kidnapping, first degree kidnapping, and Leading Organized Crime. With respect to the charge of Leading Organized Crime, the State alleged that Sutton did intentionally organize, manage, and direct three or more persons  with the intent to engage in a pattern of criminal profiteering activity, to-wit: Delivery of a Controlled Substance.

Sutton testified in her defense. She admitted she sold drugs, but denied she sold drugs or directed the co-defendants to commit any crimes.

During deliberations, the jury forwarded a written question to the judge.  “For instruction #25, must the defendant have organized (etc.) all three of the listed persons specifically, or just any 3 or more persons (as instruction #24 states)?”

The judge asked counsel for suggestions on how it should respond to the jury’s question. Both the Prosecutor and Defense Counsel agreed the answer was, “Yes.” Ultimately, the trial judge decided that the best answer was to simply direct the jury to refer back to its instructions. Soon after, the jury returned guilty verdicts.

Sutton appealed her conviction on arguments that the trial court abused its discretion by declining the proposed defense jury instruction that accurately stated the law.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by saying that Defendants are guaranteed a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which requires jury instructions that accurately inform the jury of the relevant law. Furthermore, CrR 6.15(f)(1) permits trial judges to give the jury supplemental written instructions on any point of law after deliberations begin. This is done to ensure a jury is informed of the relevant law.

“A trial court should ensure that the jury understands the law . . . When it is apparent the jury does not understand the law, the trial court may and should issue a supplemental written instruction. A failure to do so is inconsistent with its responsibility to ensure the jury understands the law and risks the jury rendering a verdict contrary to the evidence.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Next, the Court of Appeals addressed whether the trial court should have given a supplemental instruction to clarify the law. It raised and dismissed Mrs. Sutton’s arguments that under State v. Backemeyer, a trial court should ensure that the jury understands the law. “Backemeyer is distinguishable from this case,” said the Court of Appeals. “There, it was clear that the jury misunderstood the law. Here, the to-convict instruction was clear.”

The Court further reasoned that the jury’s question did not create an inference that the entire jury was confused or that any confusion was not clarified.

“At a minimum, the jury’s question showed that some jurors wanted assurance they need not be concerned about the different wording in instruction 24. And because the trial court has a responsibility to ensure that the jury understands the law, it should have answered the jury’s question. It could have answered: ‘To convict Sutton of leading organized crime, the State must prove the elements of that crime as set forth in Instruction 25 beyond a reasonable doubt.’ Nevertheless, the trial court’s decision not to answer the jury’s question was not an abuse of discretion.” ~ WA Court of Appeals.

With that, the Court of Appeals upheld Sutton’s conviction.

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.

Cell Site Location Info

Find Your Nearest Cell Tower in Five Minutes or Less: 2021 Edition
In State v. Denham, the WA Supreme Court held there was a sufficient nexus between the defendant’s seized phone records and the suspected criminal activity to support the issuance of a search warrant.
BACKGROUND FACTS
A valuable diamond was stolen from a jewelry store. Within days, the Defendant Mr.  Denham sold that diamond. Police suspected Denham committed the burglary and got a warrant for his cell phone records. Cell site location information included in those phone records placed Denham’s phone near the jewelry store around the time of the burglary.
Mr. Denham was charged and ultimately convicted with second degree burglary and first degree trafficking in stolen property. At Denham’s bench trial, The trial judge cited the
fact that Denham had made phone calls that were routed through the cell tower in
the parking lot of the jewelry store around the time of the burglary. Ultimately, the trial judge found Denham guilty as charged.
Mr Denham appealed his case to the WA Court of Appeals. He challenged the admissibility of the search warrant and the evidence it produced. His argument was that the warrant based on generalizations and did not establish that evidence of wrongdoing would likely be found in his phone records. The WA Court of Appeals agreed with Mr. Denham. The State, however, filed its own appeal. And Mr. Denham’s was heard in the WA Supreme Court.
COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS
The WA Supreme Court began by discussing the admissibility of cell phone records.
“Our constitutions protect individual privacy against state intrusion,” said Justice Gonzalez, who authored the opinion.  He said that under the U.S. Constitution and WA State Constitution, police must have either the authority of a warrant or a well-established exception to the warrant requirement to lawfully intrude into an individual’s private affairs.
“This constitutional protection extends to cell phone location information held by cell phone companies,” said Justice Gonzalez.  He acknowledged that time-stamped data contained in cell phones provides an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.
Next, Justice Gonzalez described how a search warrant should be issued only if it shows probable cause that the defendant is involved in criminal activity and that evidence of the criminal activity will be found in the place to be searched. “There must be a nexus between criminal activity and the item to be seized and between that item and the place to be searched,” he said. “The warrant must also describe with particularity the place to be searched and the things to be seized.”
With that, Justice Gonzalez reasoned that the search warrant affidavits were proper:
“These affidavits present reasonable grounds to believe that the phones associated with the phone numbers belonged to Denham based on Denham’s own use of the numbers with his probation officers and with various businesses, that Denham had the phones around the time of the burglary because of specific facts suggesting he had the phones days before and after the date in question, that Denham burgled the store, and that Denham trafficked distinctive pieces stolen from the store. They also allege that Denham had both phones at the time of the burglary and used one to arrange the sale of the diamond that was the basis of the trafficking charge.
Taken together, this is sufficient to raise a reasonable inference that evidence of burglary would be found in the cell site location information . . . The fact that there are some generalizations in the inferential chain does not defeat the reasonableness of the inference.” ~Justice Gonzalez, WA Supreme Court
Justice Gonzalez concluded by holding that the search warrant contained sufficient detail to conclude that evidence of a crime would more likely than not be found in the cell site location information in telephone company records of Denham’s cell phones.
Accordingly, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed Denham’s convictions.

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.

Crime Moves Up the Agenda

Political analyst Thom Serafin: 'People don't like the crime issue, bad schools and they want better neighborhoods and good jobs. It's really simple why people leave the state' | WGN Radio 720 -

Interesting article by  Niall Stanage of The Hill says that a recent poll shows the latest proof that crime is becoming a crucial issue for American voters.

According to Stanage, the new survey from The Washington Post and ABC News found more Americans than at any time in the past 20 years believe crime is an “extremely serious” or “very serious” problem in the area where they live. It also found that 59 percent of adults believe crime is extremely or very serious in the United States as a whole — the highest figure in three years.

Crime had been a pivotal topic in American politics a generation ago, especially during the worst days of the crack epidemic. But its relevance fell, along with the murder rates, from the closing years of the last century until very recently.

Murders nationwide rose by about 25 percent last year, and many major cities fared worse still. In New York City, for example, homicides rose about 45 percent in 2020. Other cities including Miami and Atlanta have seen spikes this year.

Also according to Stanage, although crime rates rose sharply last year, the politics of the issue remained mostly on the back burner as the nation dealt with the COVID-19 Pandemic and the question of how to get Americans back on their feet economically.

Stanage challenges Joe Biden to address the issue:

“There are other reasons for President Biden, in particular, to worry about the poll’s findings. It indicated that 48 percent of adults disapprove of the way he is dealing with crime, while only 38 percent approve.” ~Reporter Niall Stanage, The Hill

Biden laid out a strategy to deal with crime in a June 23 speech at the White House. The president focused largely on trying to disrupt the trade in illicit firearms. He also emphasized that local authorities could use COVID-19 relief funds to hire additional law enforcement officers.

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.

Crime Increased in 2020

What Can Be Done About the Increase in Violent Crime in Large Cities? | American Police Officers Alliance

Overall crime in Washington State increased in 2020 according to a report released this week by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC). The annual report tracks crime and arrest data from contributing law enforcement agencies throughout Washington.

The Crime in Washington 2020 report is compiled with data from 233 state, county, municipal, and Tribal agencies and is published in conjunction with the FBI, which will compile and release national data based upon state reports later this year. The report is designed to give residents, elected officials, and law enforcement data-driven information about crime in their communities.

The report shows that in 2020 murders were up almost 47% and have increased overall 67% since 2016. Manslaughter went up 100%, fraud increased by 131%, while drug and narcotic offenses, and reported hate crimes were down slightly. The total number of commissioned officers statewide was down from 1.24 per thousand to 1.19 per thousand people. Washington is ranked 51st out of the 50 states and District of Columbia for the number of officers per thousand people. Reported cases of officers assaulted was up 6% in 2020 and has increased 67% since 2016.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

  • The total population for the State of Washington is 7,656,066.
  • There were 302 murders in 2020; this is an increase of 46.6% compared to 206 murders in 2019. Murders have increased overall 66.9% since 2016.
  • There were 59,134 fraud offenses in 2020; this is an increase of 131.3% compared to 25,562 fraud offenses in 2019. The significant increase in fraud activity in 2020 was due in part to fraudulent unemployment claims related to the pandemic.
  • A total of 468 hate crime incidents were reported, down slightly from 2019 (a decrease of 13.1%).
  • A total of 22,070 persons were arrested for DUI, including 172 juveniles.
  • Drug and narcotic abuse incidents were lower in 2020 (a decrease of 22.7%).
    • There were 8,200 arrests for Drug/Narcotic violations; of that number 4.2%
      were persons under 18 years of age.
    • Possessing/concealing of heroin constituted 23.6% of the total drug abuse incidents; the distributing/selling of heroin accounted for 3.5% of incidents (type of criminal activity can be entered three times in each incident).
  • Full-time commissioned officers totaled 11,231.
  • There was a total of 2,047 assaults on law enforcement officers, this is an increase of 6.2% compared to 1,927 assaults in 2019.
  • Two officers were killed in the line of duty, Washington State Trooper Justin Schaffer and Bothell Officer Jonathan Shoop.
  • There was a total of 59,289 Domestic Violence offenses reported; 13,909 of these offenses were Violations of Protection or No Contact Orders.
  • Domestic Violence offenses made up 49.7% of all Crimes Against Persons and 2.7% of all Crimes Against Property.
  • There were 5,432 Sexual Offenses (forcible and non-forcible) reported in 2020. There was a total of 5,432 victims in these incidents: with a total of 5,026 offenders.

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.

DOJ Settles ADA Lawsuit

Deaf community and Police: Interacting with police - YouTube

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a press release saying it reached agreements with Whatcom County to ensure individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are able to effectively communicate during encounters with the criminal justice system.

Two agreements resolved claims that the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office failed to ensure effective communication with a defendant who is deaf during the investigation, arrest, and advice of counsel phases of his criminal justice experience.

The resolution calls for the aforementioned offices to make a number of changes to the way in which they interact with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. These changes include developing written policies, monitoring and logging interactions, contracting with sign language interpreters and reporting back to DOJ on their compliance with the agreements.

“When a person’s freedom is at stake, protecting rights guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act is paramount . . . I’m pleased the Whatcom County Public Defender’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office are taking these steps to make sure they protect the rights of all area residents who are deaf or hard of hearing.” ~U.S. Assistant Attorney Tessa M. Gorman

According to the settlement agreement with the Whatcom County Sheriff, a Whatcom County resident filed a complaint that his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were violated when he was questioned and arrested by Sheriff’s deputies after a dispute with his tenant.  The investigation found that the deputies knew the complainant was deaf and communicated via American Sign Language (ASL).  Nevertheless, when investigating a complaint from the man’s tenant, they failed to use an interpreter and instead relied on hand-written notes to communicate.  The complainant was arrested and taken to jail without effective communication with law enforcement and without an ability to tell his side of the story.

As part of the settlement the Sheriff’s Office is paying the complainant $60,000.

Under the terms of the settlement with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO), there will be significant improvements in its ADA policies.  The WCSO will hire an ADA coordinator to ensure implementation and monitoring of new policies.  WCSO will train staff on the policies and compile logs on interactions with residents who need auxiliary services such as sign language interpretation.  The WCSO will enter into contracts with ASL service providers so that interpretation services are available at all times.  The WCSO will prominently post information on interpreter services and the contact information for ADA services.  Every six months for a two-year period WCSO will report back to the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the requests for and use of interpreter services.

The agreement also calls for WCSO to modify its handcuffing policy for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Such individuals are to be handcuffed in the front of their body unless there is a reasonable safety risk.  In each instance where a staff member maintains there is such a risk, the interaction must be logged and reported to DOJ in the six-month review.

Under the terms of the resolution with Whatcom County, the Public Defender’s Office will ensure that, among other things, there is a contract in place for interpreter services in person or via video to ensure that defendants who are deaf or hard of hearing are able to effectively communicate with their attorneys.

My opinion? These new policies are a step in the right direction. It violates civil rights for deaf people to be denied interpreter services and/or access to an attorney when confronted by police.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member have a disability and are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Operation Dry Water

B.U.I. - Boating Under The Influence

The Washington State Parks released a News Flash regarding Operation Dry Water — a nationally coordinated effort that focuses on Boating Under the Influence (BUI) awareness and enforcement. In short, boaters will notice an increase in patrols July 2- 4, across Washington state.

The Washington State Parks Boating Program, safety advocates and law enforcement agencies are asking boaters to help keep everyone safe by not consuming alcohol or marijuana while out on the water — especially when operating a boat or paddle craft.

“Operating any vehicle or vessel under the influence is illegal and unsafe,” said Matt Stowers, Marine Law Enforcement coordinator for the Boating Program. “However, it’s arguably more dangerous on the water. Research shows it takes less alcohol to impair you on the water than it does on land — one beer on land equals three beers on the water.”

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, Boating Under the Influence is the leading known contributing factor in fatal recreational boating accidents.

In Washington state, it’s illegal to use any substance that impairs a person’s ability to operate a boat. Similar to DUI, Washington BUI law applies to all boats, including kayaks, canoes, rowboats, stand-up paddleboards, and inflatable fishing rafts. Some key things for boaters to know:

  • State law allows law enforcement officers to require boaters suspected of operating a boat while intoxicated to submit to a breath or blood test.
  • Refusing to submit to a test is a civil infraction with a maximum fine of $2,050.00.
  • The penalty for operating a boat under the influence is a gross misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and 364 days in jail.
  • Additionally, a BUI is considered a prior offense if there are later convictions for driving under the influence (DUI).

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.

Federal Executions Halted

US federal executions halted over 'potentially unlawful' method - BBC News

The Department of Justice reports that Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a temporary stop Thursday to scheduling further federal executions.

In a memo to senior officials, he said serious concerns have arisen about the arbitrariness of capital punishment, its disparate impact on people of color, and “the troubling number of exonerations” in death penalty cases.

“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States but is also treated fairly and humanly.” ~Attorney General Merrick Garland

Court fights over the traditional three-drug memo for carrying out lethal injections, and a shortage of one of those drugs, brought federal executions to a halt for nearly two decades.

But in 2019, under the Trump Administration then-Attorney General William Barr directed federal prison officials to begin carrying lethal injections using a single drug — a powerful sedative. Using that method, 13 people on federal death row were executed between July 2020 and January 2021.

Garland ordered a review of the revised lethal injection protocol and directed the Bureau of Prisons to stop using that method while that is underway. He also said the department would study a Trump administration regulation that allowed federal prisons to carry out executions in any manner authorized by the state where the death sentence was imposed.

Garland’s memo did not address whether the federal government would continue to seek the death penalty in criminal cases. However, no federal executions will be scheduled while the reviews are pending.

The Attorney General’s memorandum can be found here.

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.

Exigent Circumstance DUI

William's Wooden Garage (Essex) | Quick-garden.co.uk

In Lange v. California, the United States Supreme Court held that the pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor DUI suspect does not always qualify as an Exigent Circumstance justifying a warrantless entry into a person’s garage.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

One night, the Defendant Mr.  Lange drove by a California highway patrol officer while playing loud music. The officer followed Lange and soon after turned on his overhead lights to signal that Lange should pull over. Rather than stopping, Lange drove a short distance to his driveway and entered his attached garage.

The officer followed Lange into the garage. He questioned Lange and, after observing signs of intoxication, put him through field sobriety tests. A later blood test showed that Lange’s blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit. The State charged Lange with the misdemeanor of DUI.

Lange moved to suppress the evidence obtained after the officer entered his garage, arguing that the warrantless entry violated the Fourth Amendment. The Superior Court denied Lange’s motion, and its appellate division affirmed. The California Court of Appeal also affirmed. It reasoned that the pursuit of a suspected misdemeanant was always permissible under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. The California Supreme Court denied review. The United States Supreme Court (USSC) granted it.

ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The USSC held that under the Fourth Amendment, pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect does not always—that is, categorically—justify a warrantless entry into a home.

The Court began by saying the Fourth Amendment ordinarily requires that a law enforcement officer obtain a judicial warrant before entering a home without permission. But an officer may make a warrantless entry when the exigencies of the situation, considered in a case-specific way, create a compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant. The Court has found that such exigent circumstances may exist when an officer must act to prevent imminent injury, the destruction of evidence, or a suspect’s escape.

The Court reasoned that misdemeanors run the gamut of seriousness, and they may be minor. States tend to apply the misdemeanor label to less violent and less dangerous crimes. Furthermore, it reasoned that when a minor offense (and no flight) is involved, police officers do not usually face the kind of emergency that can justify a warrantless home entry.

“Add a suspect’s flight and the calculus changes—but not enough to justify a categorical rule,” said the Court. It further reasoned that in many cases, flight creates a need for police to act swiftly. But no evidence suggests that every case of misdemeanor flight creates such a need.

“When the totality of circumstances shows an emergency—a need to act before it is possible to get a warrant—the police may act without waiting. Those circumstances include the flight itself. But pursuit of a misdemeanant does not trigger a categorical rule allowing a warrantless home entry.” ~United States Supreme Court.

The Court followed up by saying In short, the common law did not have — and does not support — a categorical rule allowing warrantless home entry when a suspected misdemeanant flees.  With that, the Court vacated Mr. Lange’s criminal conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a DUI or any other crime involving search and seizure issues. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Tackle or Terry Stop?

Man escapes NYPD car before being tackled Video - ABC News

In State v. Pines, the WA Court of Appeals held that police officers exceeded the scope of a Terry Stop when, with no observations or information from which to believe the suspect was carrying a weapon, they followed the suspect into a restaurant, tackled him to the ground, held him down by the neck and head, and handcuffed him.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On March 23, 2018, Officer Sausman was in his vehicle when he identified the defendant Mr. Pines driving a black BMW. Sausman recognized Pines and was aware that Pines had a warrant for Residential Burglary and Domestic Violence charges. Sausman also knew that Pines was previously convicted of a felony.

Sausman followed Pines to Columbia City, where Pines parked his vehicle and entered a Pagliacci Pizza restaurant. Sausman advised the uniformed arrest team that Pines was in the restaurant.

Detective Miller was one of three uniformed officers that entered the restaurant to contact Pines. As the officers entered, Pines began moving toward the other door. The officers tackled Pines to the ground, holding him down by the neck and head, and handcuffed him. The officers then frisked Pines and found a handgun in his jacket pocket. The State charged Pines with Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the First Degree.

Pines moved to suppress the handgun during a pretrial CrR 3.6 hearing. The trial court denied Pines’s motion to suppress. Later, during a bench trial, the trial court found Pines guilty and imposed a sentence of 24 months in prison.

Pines appealed on arguments that that the trial court erred in finding that the search and discovery of his firearm was a lawful Terry Stop, and thus denying his motion to suppress. Pines contends that his seizure amounted to a custodial arrest and that the police lacked probable cause at the time of his arrest.

COURT’S RATIONALE & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals said that under the Washington Constitution, warrantless searches are per se unreasonable unless one of the narrowly drawn exceptions to the warrant required applies. Furthermore, said the court, if the evidence was seized without authority of law, it is not admissible in court. Finally, it reasoned that a person is seized when an officer, by physical force or show of authority, restrains the person’s freedom of movement. The restraint must be such that a reasonable person would not believe they were free to leave.

“The State argues, and the trial court agreed, that Pines’s seizure and subsequent search was the result of a valid Terry Stop,” said the Court of Appeals. “We disagree.”

The Court of Appeals elaborated that under Terry v. Ohio, a police officer may temporarily detain a person based on a reasonable suspicion that the person is or has been involved in a crime.

“In evaluating the reasonableness of an officer’s suspicion, we look to the totality of the circumstances known to the officer,” said the Court of Appeals. “We determine the reasonableness based on an objective view of the known facts, not the officer’s subjective belief or ability to correctly articulate his suspicion in reference to a particular crime. The detention must not exceed the duration and intensity necessary to dispel the officer’s suspicions.”

The Court relied on State v. Mitchell  – an important Washington case on Terry Stops – to determine whether the officer’s interactions with Mr. Pines was lawful:

“Here, in stark contrast with Mitchell, the arresting officers did not observe Pines carrying a weapon. Indeed, as Detective Miller testified, they had no reason to contact Pines except for their belief that he might have a warrant.

Further, unlike Mitchell, where the officer was alone at night, there were three uniformed police officers along with Detective Sausman at the scene. No officer testified that they feared for their safety prior to Pines’s seizure or that they had seen a weapon prior to their search. And finally, unlike Mitchell where the defendant was told to lie down without contact from the officer, the three uniformed officers forcefully took Pines to the ground and handcuffed him, while Detective Sausman yelled that Pines was under arrest on a felony warrant.” ~WA Court of Appeals

With that, the WA Court of Appeals held that a reasonable person in Pines’s situation would consider themselves under custodial arrest. “Pines’s seizure exceeded the scope of a valid Terry Stop. The trial court erred in concluding the search was valid under Terry.”

The Court of Appeals also reasoned that although the officer’s knowledge of a month-old arrest warrant would support a properly limited Terry detention, it was insufficient to provide probable cause for arrest.  “The month gap between the officer learning of the arrest warrant and the arrest was too long – the suspect could have been arrested and posted bail during the 30-day interval,” said the Court.

The Court dismissed Pines’s conviction with prejudice.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime involving Search and Seizure. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.