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Once a Washington divorce decree is issued, a maintenance award can only be modified by the court when the party seeking the modification shows a substantial change in circumstances.  A fact unknown to the trial court or an unanticipated fact that arises after the decree is entered may constitute a substantial change in circumstances.  In a case involving spousal maintenance, commonly referred to as “alimony,” a substantial change may involve a significant increase or decrease in income.  In a recent case, the ex-wife sought to continue maintenance when her ex-husband decided not to retire at the time they had previously expected him to do so.

The divorce decree required the husband to pay spousal maintenance in the amount of $1100 per month for 48 months.  The wife sought to extend the maintenance four years later.  She alleged there was a substantial change in circumstances because the husband had not retired from the military as she had expected.  If he had retired, she would have started receiving part of his retirement benefits when the maintenance payments stopped.  She provided an email from the husband in which he stated he would pay the maintenance “until [he] got out.” The husband told her he was not ready to retire in December 2016, and suggested he would not do so until 2019.  The wife requested the maintenance continue until the husband’s retirement. She also requested attorney fees in her reply declaration.

The commissioner denied the wife’s motion, finding no substantial change in circumstances.  The commissioner also granted the husband’s motion to strike the wife’s request for attorney’s fees and denied the request.

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In any criminal case, the prosecution must prove all elements of the crime, including the mens rea, or intent.  Depending on the facts of the case and the crime charged, the intent element can sometimes be difficult for the prosecution to prove.  This can be especially true in Washington domestic violence cases, where witnesses may be reluctant to testify.

A defendant recently challenged his convictions of assault in the second degree and misdemeanor violation of a no-contact order.  He appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions.  He argued alternatively that there was insufficient evidence he met the “reckless” element of the assault charge.  He further argued the information failed to include an essential element of the misdemeanor violation charge.

In April of 2016, a judge granted a domestic violence no-contact order to the woman the defendant had lived with.

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Generally, in a Washington premises liability case, a landowner may be held liable for injuries on the land if he or she has not given exclusive control of the premises to a lessee.  If, however, the lease requires the landlord to repair the premises, then the landlord may be held liable for his or her own negligence.

The Washington Supreme Court (the “Court”) was recently asked to determine if a landlord was liable for injuries occurring in an area where the tenant had exclusive possession, but where the lease only granted the tenant priority use and the landlord was obligated to maintain and repair the premises.

The plaintiff was severely injured when a passenger ramp at the Port of Bellingham (the “Port”) fell. She worked for the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS). The State of Alaska has leased the Bellingham Cruise Terminal (BCT) from the Port of Bellingham for many years.  Although AMHS has exclusive use of some areas under the lease, the lease gives AMHS only priority use of parking spaces and the marine facilities, including the passenger ramp.  Under the lease, the Port was solely responsible for keeping the premises “in good repair and tenantable condition.”  The lease requires the Port to keep the premises “in good and substantial repair and condition.”   The Port is to “maintain the leased premises free of structural or mechanical hazards.”

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Defendants in Washington criminal cases often challenge the evidence used against them.  One way to challenge evidence is to challenge the validity of the search warrant used to obtain it.  When a court issues a search warrant, it must determine there is probable cause based on the facts presented to it.  This determination is the court’s responsibility and cannot be made by police officers, so there must be more than conclusory statements supporting the warrant.  The court is permitted, however, to draw reasonable inferences from the facts presented.

The defendant in a recent case challenged a search warrant.  According to the appellate court opinion, the defendant was convicted of vehicular assault after losing control of her vehicle and crashing into two other vehicles.  Subsequent blood tests found a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.13 and 4.0 nanograms of THC.  The defendant appealed her conviction, arguing a lack of probable cause to support the warrant authorizing the blood draw.

The firefighter paramedic who responded to the scene saw a female driver who was barely conscious.  He transported her to the hospital.  He identified the defendant as the driver.

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Following a Washington final divorce decree, a maintenance award, also known as spousal support, may only be modified if there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the decree.  The change has to be something that was not within the contemplation of the parties at the time of the divorce.  There may be a change in circumstances if the spouse receiving maintenance was expected to become self-supporting, but is unable to do so through no substantial fault of his or her own.  A trial court may choose a disproportionate property division instead of ordering maintenance.

A former wife recently sought modification of an order of maintenance shortly before the maintenance obligation was to expire.  The couple had been married 30 years before they separated.  The husband was a cardiologist, and the wife had worked as a registered nurse, but stopped working in 1989.  She had been treated for mental health issues since 1996.

The husband was ordered to pay maintenance of $4,600 a month for five years, starting in August 2010, and child support of $1,400 a month until the youngest child graduated high school.   The monthly maintenance payment was to increase to $5,750 per month when the oldest child graduated.

In a series of decisions, the United States Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to impose certain severe sentences on juvenile offenders.  The Court first found the death penalty unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.  Then, it found a sentence of life without parole to be unconstitutional for any juvenile offender who did not commit a homicide.  The Court later held that mandatory life without parole for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional.  Following these decisions, Washington juvenile sentencing laws were revised to eliminate mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders.  A new Washington law also required re-sentencing of juvenile offenders who had been sentenced to life without parole: RCW 10.95.030.  Washington also enacted RCW 9.94A.730, which allows juvenile offenders to petition for early release after serving 20 years.

An eligible offender sought re-sentencing under RCW 10.95.035. He had been convicted of multiple crimes as a juvenile, including aggravated murder and premeditated murder in 1992.  He received a sentence of life without parole for aggravated murder and a consecutive sentence for premeditated murder.

At his re-sentencing hearing, he argued his sentences should run concurrently.  The state argued the statute only gave the court the authority to address the sentence of life without parole and that the consecutive sentence was required pursuant to RCW 9.94A.589 because the crimes involve d multiple violent offenses that arose from separate and distinct criminal conduct.  The judge agreed with the state and sentenced the defendant to 25 years to life for aggravated murder and left the sentence for the premeditated murder at 280 months to be served consecutively.  The defendant appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.  The Washington Supreme Court granted review upon the defendant’s petition.

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Washington personal injury cases generally hinge on proving the defendant’s negligence.  A recent case, however, turned on contract law.  In this unusual case, the court had to determine if a defendant was bound by its agreement to accept responsibility for the condition of a parking lot after learning the accident did not occur on its property.

According to the appeal court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured when he hit a pothole while riding his bicycle in a parking lot.  He notified the realty company that owned the shopping complex property and Wal-Mart, which had a store in the shopping center.

The realty company sent a letter to Wal-Mart stating Wal-Mart was responsible for maintaining the parking lot.  The plaintiff subsequently filed a claim with Wal-Mart.  Wal-Mart denied the claim, stating its investigation found no negligence on Wal-Mart’s part.

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Parents are expected to comply with the parenting plans that set forth custody and visitation arrangements for their children.  If a parent fails, in bad faith, to comply with a court order in a Washington custody case, the court may find that parent in contempt of court.

A mother recently challenged a contempt order against her.  The court found her in contempt after she failed to transfer her daughter to the girl’s father in accordance with the parenting plan.  There were two additional contempt orders, a writ of habeas corpus and a warrant.  The mother appealed.

According to the appeal court’s opinion, the daughter had special needs.  The psychologist found the she was estranged from her father for “completely irrational” reasons that were the result of her anxiety and OCD.

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Evidence collected from an unlawful search is generally not admissible in a Washington criminal case.  If, however, the evidence is ultimately obtained pursuant to lawful means independent of the lawful search, it may be admissible.  When considering this “independent source doctrine,” the court must consider whether the illegally obtained evidence affected the decision to seek or issue the warrant.  The independent source doctrine applies if the illegal search did not contribute to the otherwise lawful warrant being issued.

A defendant recently challenged evidence that was collected from his phone pursuant to a second warrant after the original warrant had been found to be improper.  According to the appeal court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested after a shopper noticed him taking “upskirt” photos of a teenage girl at a grocery store.  The police seized his phone at the time of the arrest and subsequently obtained a warrant to search the phone.  The warrant covered all photos and videos on the phone “related to this investigation of voyeurism.  The officers seized more than 500 files and charged the defendant with voyeurism.

The trial court granted a motion to suppress the phone evidence, finding the warrant lacked sufficient particularity.  That day, the police obtained another warrant that again covered photos or videos related to the voyeurism investigation, but this time added the name of the store, the city, the name and age of the alleged victim, what the alleged victim was wearing, and the date the photos were taken.  Eighteen photos of the girl were found on the phone.  The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence from the second search.

In some instances involving alleged domestic violence, courts may issue permanent protection orders.  Even if there are no intentions to contact the protected party, a respondent may find an ongoing protection order to have other consequences and seek to terminate it.  The court is to consider nine factors to determine if a substantial change in circumstances supports termination of the protection order.  Only factors that address whether the respondent is likely to commit domestic violence acts against the other party in the future are to be considered.  The respondent has the burden of showing the substantial change in circumstances by a preponderance of the evidence.

A man recently sought termination of a permanent protection order.  According to the appeals court opinion, the man’s wife filed for legal separation and a one-year protection order after he assaulted her in 1996.  The divorce decree prohibited each party from going to each other’s homes or workplaces.

In 2002, the ex-wife sought a protection order against her ex-husband on behalf of herself and their children.  She alleged that he had behaved aggressively toward their son, but he denied any abuse.  The court entered an ex parte domestic violence order of protection.