Tag Archives: Skagit County Criminal Defense Attorney

Hands Are Not An “Instrument or Thing” Used to Prove Assault Third Degree

Fold Your Hands — Coffee + Crumbs

In State v. Altman, the WA Court of Appeals reversed the Defendant’s conviction for Assault Third Degree because there was no evidence that the defendant used anything other than his hands to assault the victim.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The victim A.W. alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Mr. Altman. The State charged Altman with second degree assault with sexual motivation, alleging he intentionally assaulted A.W. by strangulation or suffocation. Alternatively, the State charged Altman with third degree assault with sexual motivation for causing bodily harm to A.W. by means of a weapon or other instrument or thing likely to produce bodily harm. The State also charged Altman with second degree rape and unlawful imprisonment with sexual motivation

During closing arguments, the State argued that Altman’s hands were a “thing” used to
support a lesser alternative charge of third degree assault:

“I submit to you the State is not saying that there was a weapon used in this case. I submit to you that we’re not saying there was an instrument that was used in this case. However, it also says it can be from a thing likely to produce bodily harm. And I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, a thing can be anything.” State Prosecutor.

The jury found Altman not guilty of second degree rape, second degree assault by
strangulation with sexual motivation, and unlawful imprisonment with sexual motivation.
However, the jury found Altman guilty of a lesser alternative charge of third degree assault. Mr. Altman appealed on arguments that the evidence was insufficient to show that he assaulted A.W. with an “instrument or thing.”

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began with a discussion of the elements required to prove Assault Third Degree. In short, a person is guilty if he “causes bodily harm to another person by means of a weapon or other instrument or thing likely to produce bodily harm.”

“The issue here is whether a hand meets the statutory requirement of “other instrument or thing likely to produce bodily harm,” said the Court. The Court reviewed State v. Marohl, as reliable caselaw precedent. In Marohl, the court suggested that a casino floor could fall within the statute if it was used to smash someone’s head. Also, the Marohl court applied the dictionary definition to “instrument” and “thing,” describing both as:

“Here, in light of Marohl’s definition of “instrument or thing likely to produce bodily harm, hands do not qualify. The State relied solely on Altman’s hands to support the lesser alternative charge of third degree assault. Hands are not a “utensil” or “implement.” Nor are hands “an inanimate object.” Instead, hands are an extension of a person.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

The Court further reasoned that there is no other evidence that Altman used anything other than his hands when grabbing and squeezing A.W.’s neck. Therefore, the State failed to present sufficient evidence to support the essential element of “a weapon or other instrument or thing likely to produce bodily harm” for third degree assault.

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed and vacated Altman’s conviction for third degree assault with prejudice.

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

Locked Out 2022: Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights

The state of ex-felons' voting rights, explained - Vox

An insightful report from The Sentencing Project describes how an estimated 4.6 million Americans are barred from voting due to a felony conviction.

Laws in 48 states ban people with felony convictions from voting. In 2022, an estimated 4.6 million Americans, representing 2 percent of the voting-age population, will be ineligible to vote due to these laws or policies, many of which date back to the post-Reconstruction era. In this election year, as the United States confronts questions about the stability of its democracy and the fairness of its elections, particularly within marginalized communities, the impact of voting bans on people with felony convictions should be front and center in the debate.

This 2022 report updates and expands upon 20 years of work chronicling the scope and distribution of felony disenfranchisement in the United States (see Uggen, Larson, Shannon, and Pulido-Nava 2020; Uggen, Larson, and Shannon 2016; Uggen, Shannon, and Manza 2012; Manza and Uggen 2006; Uggen and Manza 2002). As in 2020, we present national and state estimates of the number and percentage of people disenfranchised due to felony convictions, as well as the number and percentage of the Black and Latinx populations impacted. Although these and other estimates must be interpreted with caution, the numbers presented here represent our best assessment of the state of felony disenfranchisement as of the November 2022 election.

AMONG THE REPORT’S KEY FINDINGS:

  • An estimated 4.6 million people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, a figure that has declined by 24 percent since 2016, as more states enacted policies to curtail this practice and state prison populations declined modestly. Previous research finds there were an estimated 1.2 million people disenfranchised in 1976, 3.3 million in 1996, 4.7 million in 2000, 5.4 million in 2004, 5.9 million in 2010, 6.1 million in 2016, and 5.2 million in 2020.
  • One out of 50 adult citizens – 2 percent of the total U.S. voting eligible population – is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.
  • Three out of four people disenfranchised are living in their communities, having fully completed their sentences or remaining supervised while on probation or parole.
  • In three states – Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee – more than 8 percent of the adult population, one of every 13 adults, is disenfranchised.
  • Florida remains the nation’s disenfranchisement leader in absolute numbers, with over 1.1 million people currently banned from voting, often because they cannot afford to pay court-ordered monetary sanctions. An estimated 934,500 Floridians who have completed their sentences remain disenfranchised, despite a 2018 ballot referendum that promised to restore their voting rights.
  • One in 19 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate 3.5 times that of non-African Americans. Among the adult African American population, 5.3 percent is disenfranchised compared to 1.5 percent of the adult non-African American population.
  • More than one in 10 African American adults is disenfranchised in eight states – Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia.
  • Although data on ethnicity in correctional populations are unevenly reported and undercounted in some states, a conservative estimate is that at least 506,000 Latinx Americans or 1.7 percent of the voting eligible population are disenfranchised.
  • Approximately 1 million women are disenfranchised, comprising over one-fifth of the total disenfranchised population.

My opinion? Many states restore voting rights to individuals automatically after they exit jail or prison. Others continue the bar on voting even while on probation or parole. A few permanently disenfranchise people with a past conviction or require they petition the government to have their voting right restored. Fortunately, In 2021, Governor Inslee signed legislation restoring voting rights to people convicted of felonies automatically after release from prison.

Losing your right to vote is a terrible consequence of a criminal 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.

New Law Allows Police to Use Street Racing Videos to Track Down Violators

Street racers are taking over roads with deadly consequences as laws struggle to keep up | KATU

Florida passed a new law allowing street racing videos to be used as evidence to track down violators. Florida House Bill 399, which Governor Ron DeSantis signed earlier this year, went into effect October 1. It bans everything from street takeovers to drag racing to doing donuts on public roads.

Under this law, police don’t have to physically see the incident take place to go after violators. They can simply track down violators based on the license plates, the cars and the people in the video. Violators can be charged with a  misdemeanor and face a possible fine between $500 and $1,000. If charged, they also risk losing their driver’s license up to one year.

There was essentially no opposition to the bill in Florida’s legislature. It passed unanimously.

For now, there is only a patchwork of laws across the country that criminalize the dangerous activity. Because there’s no federal legislation about the issue, individual municipalities are left to come up with their own solutions.

According to Insurify, just in the 10 states they examined, the penalties for street racing range from just a $20 fine to a year of jail time. Insurify also conducted studies which found the following:

  • National averages. Across the United States, 3.48 per 100,000 drivers have a street racing violation on record. Plain old speeding is much more common, as a whopping 9,175 drivers per 100,000 report a speeding ticket on their record — that’s nearly 1 in 10 drivers. The penalty for street racing differs widely by state, ranging from as little as $20 to as much as $2,500 among states with the most street racers. Jail time and temporary license revocation are also possible punishments.
  • Despite the attention, street racing is still rare. Road racing has been on the rise for the past couple of years in America, and its flashy nature tends to draw headlines. Overall, however, street racing is a rare occurrence. For perspective, police issue more than 2,600 speeding tickets for every 1 street racing citation. Despite racing’s outsized fame, plain and simple speeders are who pervade the roads.
  • Street racing is inversely related to population density. Researchers at Insurify found a significant negative correlation (R = −0.27, p < 0.05) between a state’s street racing rate and its population density. This means that states with fewer residents per square mile are more likely to have high rates of street racing and that states with a high number of residents per square mile are more likely to have low rates of street racing. Coupled with the knowledge that road racing levels increased during early COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, this is further evidence that emptier roads are attractive to drivers with a penchant for racing.

My opinion? Expect similar laws to spread around the country. Street racing is an activity on the rise, from Baltimore and Portland to Seattle and Salt Lake City, and many more communities all across America. Chicago recently formed a task force to try to tackle the problem. Just this past month, Phoenix police said four people were killed as a result of street racing. The issue took root during the Coronavirus Pandemic, when roads normally clogged with commuters suddenly emptied, opening the door to a surge in illegal street racing.

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

“Focused Deterrence” – The New Approach to Reducing Crime

Focused Deterrence

In-depth WSJ news article from journalist Thomas Abt introduces “Focused Deterrence” as an approach to reducing crime.

IN THE EARLY 2000’S, OUR POLITICAL CLIMATE TOWARD REDUCING CRIME WAS BI-PARTISAN AND SUCCESSFUL.

Abt begins by saying that during the 2000’s and 2010’s, many Republicans and Democrats agreed on a range of sensible reforms. The bi-partisan solutions were implemented to fight crime while reducing the impact of mass incarceration. At this time, hundreds of state and local reforms were passed to limit excessive confinement and promote the rehabilitation and re-entry of incarcerated people. At the federal level, the First Step Act of 2018 shortened sentences, gave defendants additional chances to avoid mandatory minimum penalties, and improved prison conditions.

These changes were modest individually, but by 2019 they had helped reduce the U.S. incarceration rate to 810 inmates for every 100,000 adults, the lowest level since 1995. The disparity between Black and white imprisonment rates declined 40% from 1990 to 2020. At the same time, crime rates remained at or near historical lows.

WHAT HAPPENED? 

The consensus behind such pragmatic policies came apart in 2020. When the Coronavirus Pandemic struck, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, and firearm sales increased dramatically. Most important, violent gun crime surged in 2020, with murders rising 29% over the year before. This was the largest single-year percentage increase in decades. In 2021, homicides increased again, albeit by a more modest 4%, setting record highs in Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Portland, Ore., among other cities.

Many progressives, incensed by high-profile incidents of police violence, adopted “Defund the Police” as a rallying cry, even as it was rejected by mainstream Democratic leaders. Progressive prosecutors in some jurisdictions enacted policies that effectively decriminalized certain low-level, nonviolent offenses. Meanwhile, conservatives largely abandoned criminal-justice reform efforts and rallied behind President Trump’s law-and-order politics.

WORKABLE SOLUTIONS STILL EXIST.

Abt posits that in order to achieve genuine solutions to the problem of rising crime, the U.S. needs to return to pragmatism informed by evidence. He also discussed three important lessons learned during his research and studies. The first is that most gun violence takes place in relatively small clusters of tightly networked individuals and groups. Second, gun violence responds to both positive and negative incentives. Finally, Abt argues that police violence has caused homicide rates to surge across the country.

“FOCUSED DETERRENCE” IS THE KEY TO CONTROLLING GUN VIOLENCE.

In this approach, community residents, social workers and law-enforcement officers work together to identify the highest-risk individuals and groups. Next, they communicate the message that the shooting must stop. They follow up by offering life coaching, job training, educational opportunities and other forms of assistance. If these efforts fail, they use narrowly targeted investigations, arrests and prosecutions.

“Focused Deterrence works because it deals with those at the highest risk for violence,. It also offers them a balanced set of carrots and stick and communicates the choices they face in a direct but respectful manner.” ~WSJ Journalist Thomas Abt

For long-term declines in violence, cities need a collaborative effort that leverages several evidence-based strategies at once. In his article, Abt argues that funding alone isn’t enough to solve the problem.

“Reducing crime and violence also requires practical know-how that is hard to come by,” he says. “Local strategies to reduce community gun violence could be the first step toward tackling broader challenges like the ubiquity of guns and the durability of poverty in the U.S.” He says that for that to happen, we need our leaders to resist the usual talking points of our polarized political environment. “If they can embrace evidence over ideology, we have a chance to save many American lives.”

My opinion? Mr. Abt offers an excellent, well-written approach to this important issue. His solutions somewhat reflect the use and growth of Community Courts across the nation. A community court is an alternative problem-solving court. It differs from traditional court in that it seeks to identify and address the underlying challenges of court participants that may contribute to further criminal activity. Its goal is to build stronger and safer neighborhoods and reduce recidivism.

I’m a huge propopnent of Community Courts. And I’ve successfully gained dismissals for Clients who have successfully completed these programs.

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

Conviction Reversed Because Prosecutor Failed to Give Race-Neutral Reasons for Striking Jurors.

The Evolving Debate Over Batson's Procedures for Peremptory Challenges -  National Association of Attorneys General

In State v. Tesfasilasye, the WA Supreme Court reversed a sex offense conviction under GR 37 because the prosecutor failed to give race-neutral reasons for striking two minority jurors.

A brief explanation of GR 37 is necessary. When the WA Supreme Court adopted GR 37 in 2018, it became the first court in the nation to adopt a court rule aimed at eliminating both implicit and intentional racial bias in jury selection. The rule expanded the prohibition against using race based peremptory challenges during jury selection. Not only was intentional race discrimination outlawed, but also challenges based on “implicit, institutional, and unconscious” race and ethnic biases were rejected.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The defendant Mr. Tesfasilasye is a Black Eritrean immigrant whose primary language is Tigrigna. Tesfasilasye worked for Solid Ground as a driver for people with disabilities. C.R.R. used Solid Ground’s services. The alleged victim, C.R.R. is visually impaired. She sometimes uses a wheelchair due to balance issues.

The day after Tesfasilasye drove C.R.R. home, C.R.R. reported that Mr. Tesfasilasye assaulted her the day before. The State charged Tesfasilasye with third degree rape. During voir dire, the State brought peremptory challenges against Juror #25, an Asian woman, and Juror #3, a Latino.

The State sought to use a peremptory strike against Juror #25, an Asian woman. Tesfasilasye raised a GR 37 objection. The State denied it was striking Juror #25 because she was an Asian woman. The State called the court’s attention to the fact it was not seeking to strike the other Asian woman in the panel. Instead, the State contended it wanted to strike Juror# 25. The trial court overruled the GR 37 objection and granted the peremptory challenge.

Next, the State sought a peremptory challenge against Juror #3, the Latino. The court granted the peremptory challenge. However, the trial judge’s oral ruling was not based on
whether a reasonable juror could view race as a factor as required by GR 37.

The jury found Tesfasilasye guilty of third degree rape. Tesfasilasye appealed. He alleged that an objective observer could have viewed race as a factor for striking Juror #25 and Juror #3 as prohibited by GR 37. The Court of Appeals affirmed Tesfasilasye’s conviction. The WA Supreme Court granted review.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

“Our constitutions require a fair and impartial jury,” wrote Justice Gonzalez. “The parties and the jurors themselves have the right to a trial process free from discrimination.” Next, Justice Gonzalez discussed the nefarious use of peremptory challenges to strike qualified jurors without providing a reason. “These challenges however have a history of being used based largely or entirely on racial stereotypes or generalizations,” he said.

Justice Gonzalez explained how GR 37 was an attempt to address the shortcomings of Batson v. Kentucky. Batson was a landmark case prohibiting the use of peremptory challenges to automatically exclude potential members of the jury because of their race. “The protections under Batson were not robust enough to effectively combat racial discrimination during jury selection,” said Justice Gonzalez. In short, Batson failed to require a trial judge to make rulings without considering systemic and unconscious racial bias.

Justice Gonzalez explained that under GR 37, a peremptory challenge shall be denied if an objective observer could view race or ethnicity as a factor in the use of a peremptory challenge. He described at great length why both Juror #25 and Juror #3 were wrongfully struck by the State and concluded as follows:

“We hold that under these facts, an objective observer could view race as a factor for striking both Juror #25 and Juror #3. Tesfasilasye asks this court to reverse his conviction. The State does not dispute that the remedy for a GR 37 violation is reversal. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals and remand for a new trial.” Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez, WA Supreme Court.

My opinion? Good decision. The State has another opportunity for trial. Next time, let’s  hope they avoids striking jurors for race-based reasons.

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.

 

Eliminate Unnecessary Traffic Stops

New Report Details How Routine Traffic Stops Turn Deadly

Excellent article by Finesse Moreno-Rivera gives solutions to eliminating unnecessary traffic stops. Unfortunately, many of these impromptu occurrances become escalated and result in fatalities. To protect motorists and police, we need better protocols.

The Data

According to recent data from Mapping Police Violence, an unfortunate amount of civilian deaths occur during traffic stops.  In many cases, the police department responsible refused to provide details or justification. Purported traffic violations account for about 40% of these killings. And almost half of those involved individuals under the influence of drugs, alcohol or with mental illness.

In nearly 430 of these fatal traffic stops, the victim was suspected of carrying a weapon. But in 20% of the cases – that’s more than 80 deaths – the individual was unarmed. In about 350 deadly incidents, the officer initiated a traffic stop for unspecified circumstances.

To reduce police violence, states need to reform their policies:

Limit stops for minor traffic violations. Clearly, more states need to adopt policies to prevent police from pulling over nonthreatening vehicles. Cities such as Los Angles and Philadelphia have passed legislation to end unnecessary traffic stops. These reforms aim to decrease unnecessary exposures to danger and to mitigate police’s tendency toward racial bias. We must stop pulling vehicles over for minor traffic violations with intent to investigate for larger offenses. Instead, we must incentivize officers to determine whether a vehicle is involved in a serious crime before pulling them over.

Eliminate incentives for ticket revenue. The financial incentive for police to stop drivers has been an issue for a long time. This is because many communities rely heavily on ticket revenue. Many local and state governments are so dependent on officers’ traffic stops for revenue, they often evaluate officers based on ticket quotas. This system attaches monetary gain or promotions to the number of tickets issued. Making matters worse, the federal government awards municipalities money for the number of tickets issued. This negative financial incentive goes all the way to the top, establishing a system conducive to corruption. To date, more than 20 states have prohibited quotas. This is a step in the right direction.

Create national campaign for traffic stop awareness. Police academies train recruits in basic traffic stop fundamentals. However, motorists in driving school do not get the run-down on police procedures. This unpreparedness increases the risk of danger for both motorists and officers. The lack of standardization in traffic stop conduct is a real problem.

Motorists can send mixed signals to officers or be wary of traffic stops, especially if they’re a person of color. Teaching drivers about police protocol and their rights and responsibilities would promote safe and effective roadside communication.

Some organizations already offer this kind of roadside safety education. The National Association of Black Law Enforcement hosts events in Black communities to teach people the risk of traffic stops, how to act when stopped by police given what police are trained to watch for, and what their actions will communicate to their officers.

Police reforms so far aren’t keeping people from dying. The only way to protect motorists and officers is to limit traffic stops and to promote clear communication between officers and citizens after the sirens have sounded.

My opinion? The challenges facing law enforcement are difficult. Perhaps a shift in protocols would ensure that everyone – officers included – are more safe in their day-to-day contacts with citizens. Let’s prevent Reckless Driving or DUI incidents from becoming lethal. And 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.

At Trial, Police Can’t Comment on a Defendant’s Post-Arrest Silence

Van Dyke trial: Breaking down all 44 witnesses – Chicago Tribune

In State v. Palmer, the WA Court of Appeals held that the defendant’s Fifth Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination was violated when the detective commented about the defendant’s post-arrest silence.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Palmer and his girlfriend, DD, moved in together in 2013. They lived together with DD’s two biological children from a prior marriage, her son AD, and her daughter PD. Palmer and DD also had a baby together, LP. Sometime in 2014, the family moved to Washington. Palmer served as caregiver to the children and in that role disciplined both PD and AD.

During a family car trip in 2016, Palmer grabbed AD by the neck, leaving a scratch. At
some point after the car trip incident, Palmer told DD that PD had touched his penis. Thereafter, PD disclosed to DD that Palmer had touched her vagina. Approximately four months after PD’s disclosure, DD contacted law enforcement. Law enforcement authorities interviewed the children on two separate occasions. Detective Ramirez participated in PD’s interview during which he learned of the accusations against Palmer.

Eventually, Detective Ramirez took Palmer into custody, read him Miranda rights, and questioned him. Ramirez ended the questioning after Palmer repeatedly refused to admit to any wrongdoing. Ramirez returned the next morning for additional questioning, but Palmer refused to talk. The State charged Palmer with one count of child molestation in the first degree and two counts of assault of a child in the second degree.

At trial, the Prosecutor questioned DSetective Ramirez and asked if he had spoken to Palmer after his initial interview. In the presence of the jury, Ramirez testified that he “went back the next morning, thinking that, you know, a day sitting in the county jail, you know, there’s some time to think, and maybe Mr. Palmer would want to do the right thing here.” Ramirez further testified that he told Palmer, “You’ve had some time to think. Do you want to talk?” and that Palmer responded that he did not want to talk.

The jury convicted Palmer of all charges.

On appeal, Palmer argued his right against self-incrimination was violated when Detective Ramirez discussed Palmer’s decision to remain silent.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court began with an engaging discussion of the Fifth Amendment. In short, a defendant’s right against self-incrimination prohibits the State from eliciting comments from witnesses about the defendant’s pre- or post-arrest silence. The State may also not suggest the defendant is guilty because they chose to remain silent, because the assurance of Miranda is that remaining silent will not be penalized.

Here, the State unequivocally elicited a comment from Ramirez about Palmer’s decision
to remain silent.

“Ramirez’s testimony was a comment on Palmer’s right to remain silent. More pointedly, contrary to State v. Easter, the State suggested that Palmer was guilty due to his silence. Indeed, Ramirez testified that Palmer remained silent after being given a chance to “do the right thing” by admitting criminal conduct. This statement presupposed Palmer’s guilt and created an impossible choice: Palmer could either do right by confessing to molesting a child or do wrong by remaining silent.”

“Implicit in the ‘silence equals wrongfulness’ notion is that silence withholds the ‘truth’—that ‘truth’ being one’s criminal conduct, even if there was no criminal conduct. In this context, a defendant cannot maintain their presumption of innocence by remaining silent. A detective’s belief on this front may assist with their investigative duty, but established authority prohibits using a defendant’s right to remain silent to suggest guilt to the jury.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals concluded by saying that alone, this violation may warrant reversal and a new trial. “However, because we reverse on other grounds, we remind the State that it is forbidden from eliciting comments about Palmer’s silence during his new trial.” With that, the Court of Appeals reverse the convictions and remanded to the trial court for a new trial.

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.

Trial Strategy: The Lesser-Included Jury Instruction

Some Thoughts About Trial Strategy - California Desert Trial Academy College of Law

At trial, criminal defendants have the right for the jury to be instructed on any applicable lower or lesser-included crimes. The evidence must support an inference that the lesser crime was committed instead of the greater offense.

However, should defendants always seek lesser-included jury instructions if the facts warrant this strategy? Isn’t it true that giving a jury too many alternatives to decide convict ultimately result in a conviction? A recent case captured the trickiness of deploying (or not) the lesser-included jury instruction at trial.

In State v. Conway (10/27/22), the WA Court of Appeals held that Defense Counsel’s “all-or-nothing” trial strategy was effective, even when counsel declined to seek a lesser included jury instruction. The Court found Counsel’s decision was deliberate and strategic, and did not prejudice the defendant at trial.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Conway allegedly attacked three different individuals at the Spokane Amtrak Station in a series of incidents. The State charged Conway with one count of second degree assault, one count of third degree assault, and one count of fourth degree assault. At trial, defense counsel admitted to the fourth degree assault. He also admitted that the other crimes amounted to fourth degree assault. However, counsel did not request an instruction for a lesser-included offense. The jury found Conway guilty of second and fourth degree assault but acquitted him of third degree assault.

On appeal, Conway argues ineffective assistance of counsel for his attorney’s failure to request an instruction for the lesser-included offense of fourth degree assault.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by saying that Criminal defendants have a constitutionally guaranteed right to effective assistance of counsel. A defendant bears the burden of showing (1) that his counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness based on consideration of all the circumstances and, if so, (2) that there is a reasonable probability that but for counsel’s poor performance, the outcome of the proceedings would have been different.

The Court further elaborated that In reviewing the record for deficiencies, there is a strong presumption that counsel’s performance was reasonable. The burden is on a defendant alleging ineffective assistance of counsel to show deficient representation.

“A decision by defense counsel to forgo an instruction on a lesser-included offense may be a legitimate trial tactic . . . Both the defendant and the State have the right to present an instruction for a lesser-included offense if all of the requirements have been met.” ~WA Court of Appeals, Division III.

Here, defense counsel’s decision to forgo an instruction on the lesser-included offense was not deficient. It was clearly strategic.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that there was strong evidence in support of the State’s assault charges. “The State presented the jury with undisputed video evidence of Conway assaulting the victims,” said the Court. “Because the State presented undisputed video evidence of the assaults, it was a legitimate trial tactic for defense counsel to admit that Conway had committed fourth degree assault.”

Moreover, even though an all-or-nothing strategy is legitimate regardless of success, in this case it worked. The jury acquitted Conway of third degree assault even though counsel acknowledged the assault.

With that, the Court of Appeals decided that Conway’s attorney was not constitutionally ineffective. “Defense counsel made a strategic decision to forego a lesser-included instruction on a felony assault charge,” said the Court. “The decision was not deficient and did not prejudice Conway at trial.” The Court upheld Conway’s conviction second and fourth degree assault.

My opinion? The above case captures the trickiness of allowing juries to convict a defendant of a lesser charge. In many cases, lesser included charges are important to defendants because jurors do not always exactly follow the law. For example, in an assault case, the jury might be so outraged at what they consider to be a brazen attack by the defendant that they don’t carefully consider whether the injuries were significant enough to rise to a felony or misdemeanor before returning a guilty verdict.

If the defense requests a lesser included charge of a lesser crime, the jury is more likely to carefully look at the evidence presented. Consequently, they may convict the defendant of the lesser crime if that is the only charge that they feel the evidence supported.

Requesting a lesser included charge is a double-edged sword, however. Some juries might have acquitted the defendant of assault if they didn’t believe that the prosecution proved that the incident was an upper-level felony. Ultimately, the key to deciding whether to request a lesser included charge is weighing the risks against the rewards.

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

Mentally Ill Are Decompensating in Washington Jails

Prisons have become warehouses for the mentally ill.

Great article by journalist Susannah Frame discusses the record number of inmates with mental illnesses suffering in jail.

Decades of research show that people with serious mental illness who are jailed experience steep declines in their mental health, This is especially true for inmates locked in solitary confinement. But in the state of Washington, the time spent behind bars for people who are mentally ill and waiting for court-ordered treatment is at an all-time high.

Washington is experiencing the biggest backlog in state history of mentally ill defendants sitting in jails. Amny of them are waiting for required services to restore their competency. This allows defendants the help they need to understand the charges against them and to participate in their defense.

In October 2021, approximately 350 defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial were waiting for a bed at Western State Hospital or Eastern State Hospital. In October 2022, the number was about 850 people, a 142% increase in one year, state records show. The numbers include people waiting both in and out of county jails.

“Jail is the worst place to be for a person who has a serious mental illness . . . It can really cause irreversible brain damage. And the longer that a person spends in untreated psychosis the harder it is for them to return to the same level of functioning once they’re receiving treatment again.” ~Lisa Dailey, Executive Director of the Washington DC-based Treatment Advocacy Center.

The state agency charged with providing services to mentally ill defendants, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). Unfortunately, DSHS has been in “contempt” of a 2015 federal court order since July 2016. The order stems from a 2014 class action lawsuit, known as Trueblood. In the case, federal Judge Marsha Pechman ruled DSHS is violating the civil rights of defendants waiting in jail for services. She ordered that mentally ill defendants get a bed at a state psychiatric hospital within seven days. Currently some people are waiting seven months.

Massive Increase in Demand for Social Services

DSHS officials said the biggest challenge to moving people into mental health hospitals is the dramatic increase in demand. The number of people in jail ordered to receive in-hospital services jumped from 996 people in 2015 to 2397 people in 2022. That’s an increase of 141%.

“We knew ahead of time that services would be increasing over time. We knew that. But can you predict? Can you look into a crystal ball and know exactly what’s going to happen? No. Ideally, they would be in the community. They would be with their family, their friends, they wouldn’t be involved in the criminal justice system. The ultimate goal is to prevent them from having that interaction, to begin with.” ~DSHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Waiblinger

DSHS has several construction projects underway to create more bed space and resources. Projects include a 58-bed facility on the grounds of Western State Hospital scheduled to open within months. These beds are designated for people charged with a crime who need competency evaluations or restoration services.

“It’s a very difficult time right now,” Waiblinger said. “(But) I am very hopeful that we can turn this around. I think we need to do something about creating more community resources.”

Jail is a terrible place, especially for those suffering from mental illness. Please review my Making Bail Legal Guide and 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.

“Solicitation” Requires Monetary Value

H Law Group: Examples of Criminal Solicitation Under California Penal Code  653f

In State v. Valdiglesias LaValle (10/10/22), the WA Court of Appels overturned a conviction for Solicitation  to commit Murder in the First Degree. Here,  the defendant’s statement to her son that they would be “together forever” after the son poisoned his father to death was not a solicitation based on monetary value.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Ms. Valdiglesias LaValle was born and raised in Peru. She met Mr. Grady, who is 25 years older than her, through an online dating application. Grady brought Valdiglesias LaValle to Skagit County where they got married in 2008. During their marriage, they had two children, S.G. and J.G. By 2014, Grady and Valdiglesias LaValle no longer resided together. Grady filed for dissolution in 2015. Following the dissolution, Valdiglesias LaValle was initially awarded custody, and Grady was required to pay her child support. However, in 2019, the court awarded Grady full custody, and Valdiglesias LaValle was ordered to pay child support to Grady. Valdiglesias LaValle was granted four-hour unsupervised weekly visitation with her children.

On June 2, 2020, Grady drove 10-year-old S.G. and eight-year-old J.G. to Valdiglesias LaValle’s residence for a four-hour visitation. S.G. went into Valdiglesias LaValle’s bedroom because S.G. heard her and J.G. talking about “bad stuff” and “rat poison.” S.G. decided to record the conversation.

In short, Valdiglesias LaValle’s persuaded S.G. to administer rat poison to Mr. Grady’s drink. In exchange, Valdiglesias LaValle promised they would be “together forever” after the son poisoned his father Mr. Grady.

Shortly after, Mr. Grady picked up S.G. and J.G. S.G. shared the recording with Grady. Eventually, Child Protective Services and the police department were informed. The State charged Valdiglesias LaValle with Solicitation to commit Murder in the First Degree and Solicitation to commit Assault in the First Degree.

Valdiglesias LaValle argued a 3.6 Motion to Suppress the audio recording and a Knapstad Motion to Dismiss. The court denied both motions. At trial, a jury convicted her on both counts. Valdiglesias LaValle appealed her conviction on arguments that contends that her statement to S.G., that they will be “together forever,” is not a “thing of value” as
provided in Washington’s criminal solicitation statute.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by describing Washington’s criminal solicitation statute:

“A person is guilty of criminal solicitation when, with intent to promote or facilitate the commission of a crime, he or she offers to give or gives money or other thing of value to another to engage in specific conduct which would constitute such crime or which would establish complicity of such other person in its commission or attempted commission had such crime been attempted or committed.”RCW 9A.28.030(1) (emphasis added).

The Court emphasized that the term “thing of value” is not defined in the statute or anywhere in the statute.

Next, the Court reviewed the plain language of the Solicitation statute. It stated that the relevant language at issue is the requirement that a person ‘offers to give . . . money or other thing of value’ to engage in the conduct. “Here, the phrase ‘thing of value’ is immediately preceded by the term ‘money,'” said the Court. “If the statute was meant to reach anything of value — which would be extremely broad — there would be no need to distinguish “money” separately from “other thing of
value.”

The Court concluded by saying it is not enough to simply command, encourage, or request another person to engage in specific conduct that would constitute a crime. In light of the above, the term “thing of value” under RCW 9A.28.030(1) contemplates things, tangible or intangible, that have monetary value.

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Valdiglesias LaValle’s conviction and dismissed the case.

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.