Articles Posted in Appeal, Reconsideration, Revision, Order

Under RCW 46.20.285, a Washington driver license must be revoked upon conviction of certain offenses.  The statute requires the Department of Licensing to revoke the driver license when conviction of one of the listed offenses becomes final.  A defendant recently challenged his judgment and sentence, arguing the court had applied the wrong version of the statute.

The appeals court obtained the details of what occurred from the affidavit of probable cause.  It stated the defendant and another person took fragrances from a beauty store without paying.  The store manager described the individuals and the vehicle they left in to police.  An officer stopped a car matching that description.  He saw several fragrance boxes in the floor and the back seat passenger had store alarm sensors in their lap.  The defendant reached a plea agreement with the state and  entered a guilty plea on one count of possession of stolen property in the second degree.

The only disputed issue at the sentencing hearing was whether the court should find that the vehicle was used in commission of the offense, leading to suspension of the defendant’s driver license for one year, pursuant to RCW 46.20.285(4).

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In a recent opinion, the Court of Appeals of Washington decided the issue of whether a defendant is entitled to a self-defense instruction when only the state produces evidence of self-defense. In State v. Thysell (Wash. Ct. App. June 9, 2016), the defendant was charged with fourth-degree assault, domestic violence, after a physical altercation between the defendant and her daughter. At trial, the defendant requested a jury instruction on self-defense. The prosecution objected, arguing that the defendant presented no evidence of self-defense, and any testimony that could arguably support such an instruction came through the state’s witness, the defendant’s daughter. The trial court ruled in favor of the state and denied any instruction to the jury on self-defense. The jury subsequently found the defendant guilty of fourth-degree assault, domestic violence.

On appeal, the defendant contended that the trial court erred by denying a self-defense instruction on the basis that she failed to produce the evidence on which her instruction was based. She argued that it was irrelevant who produced the evidence, as long as the evidence is sufficient to warrant a jury instruction on self-defense.  The prosecution, in response, argued that a defendant is not entitled to a self-defense instruction unless she produces the evidence based on which the instruction would be warranted.

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Police officers must generally follow statutory and constitutional protections when arresting or interacting with individuals. In a recent case, the Washington Court of Appeals addressed the consequences of failing to provide the required statutory warnings before administering a breath test to a defendant arrested for driving under the influence (DUI).

In State v. Murray, 192 Wash. App. 1040 (2016), a Washington State Patrol Trooper stopped the defendant for a traffic violation. The trooper alleged that she smelled alcohol from inside the defendant’s vehicle and that the defendant’s eyes were bloodshot and watery and her speech slurred. After the defendant performed field sobriety tests, the trooper arrested her. During a standard inventory search, a pipe and a bag of marijuana were found in the defendant’s vehicle. At the police station, the trooper read the defendant the implied consent warnings for the breathalyzer test, but she failed to provide warnings about per se THC concentration in her blood. The defendant agreed to a breath test that indicated a level over the per se limit for alcohol.

Pursuant to RCW 46.20.308, an officer is required to inform a driver of specific warnings regarding the consequences of denying or submitting to a breath test. Before trial, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence of the breath test results, contending that the trooper’s failure to provide all of the warnings required by RCW 46.20.308 was a violation of her rights. The defendant’s motion was denied by the trial court, and the defendant was found guilty as charged. On appeal, the superior court reversed the lower court, holding that officers do not have discretion to decide which of the required warnings are given to subjects suspected to have consumed both alcohol and THC. The state appealed, and the matter was brought before the Washington Court of Appeals.

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In a recent opinion, the Court of Appeals of Washington decided a case in which a defendant appealed his jury trial conviction for fourth-degree assault involving domestic violence. In City of Tacoma v. Driscoll (Wash. Ct. App. Mar. 22, 2016), the defendant argued that the lower court violated his right to present a defense when it excluded his testimony regarding two prior incidents of the victim attacking him. The Court of Appeals agreed with the defendant, reversed the conviction, and remanded for a new trial.

In City of Tacoma, a witness called police officers to a bus shelter after observing the defendant kneeing the victim in the head. The defendant told officers he had acted in self-defense. At the time, the defendant had a no-contact order against the victim. The defendant was subsequently charged with one count of fourth-degree assault involving domestic violence. At trial, the defendant asserted the act was in self-defense, and he offered evidence of three prior incidents in which he alleged the victim had attacked him. One of the attacks resulted in a charge of second-degree assault against the victim, and the other two attacks could not be corroborated by documentation or evidence other than the defendant’s testimony. The trial court allowed the defendant to present evidence of the first attack because it was documented, but not the others. On appeal, the defendant argued that his constitutional right to present a defense was denied when the trial court excluded his testimony regarding the two incidents.

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A Washington Court of Appeals recently reviewed a DUI felony conviction in the case of State v. Diaz, No. 46016-5-II (Wash. Ct. App. Oct. 6, 2015), after a jury found the defendant guilty of felony driving under the influence. The defendant’s primary argument on appeal was that his constitutional right to be free from self-incrimination was violated when a police officer testified at trial regarding his post-arrest right to silence. Ultimately, the court agreed that the comments were a constitutional violation but harmless error.

In Diaz, the defendant’s vehicle was found heavily damaged against a telephone pole with the engine still running, late at night. The defendant was observed crawling out of a ditch nearby, missing a shoe, and bearing marks on his body allegedly consistent with injuries caused by a seatbelt and airbag. The shoe was later found on the driver’s side floorboard. When the defendant refused a breath test, the police transported him to a hospital where, pursuant to a search warrant, a blood sample was taken, indicating that the defendant’s blood alcohol level was over the legal limit. The only element in dispute at the trial was whether the defendant was the driver of the vehicle.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no person shall “be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” This provision is applied to states through the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Washington State Constitution also shares an equivalent right. In Washington, a defendant’s constitutional right to silence applies in both pre- and post-arrest situations. In the post-arrest context, it is a violation of due process for the State to comment upon or otherwise exploit a defendant’s exercise of his right to remain silent. In addition, it is constitutional error for a police witness to testify that a defendant refused to speak to him or her, since the State may not use a defendant’s constitutionally permitted silence as substantive evidence of guilt.

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The Washington Supreme Court recently published an opinion in the case of State v. Fedorov, addressing the issue of whether a police officer’s presence in the room where the defendant was speaking with his attorney violated CrR 3.1, the rule-based right to counsel. The defendant moved to suppress the results of a breath alcohol concentration (BAC) test based on an alleged violation of CrR 3.1. The lower courts denied the defendant’s motion, and the defendant appealed his subsequent conviction.

Under Washington law, when a person is taken into custody, he must be immediately advised of his right to a lawyer and the opportunity to consult with a lawyer without charge if he cannot pay for one. CrR 3.1(c)(1). At the earliest opportunity, a person in custody who desires a lawyer shall be provided access to a telephone, the number of the public defender or official responsible for assigning a lawyer, and any other means necessary to put the person in communication with a lawyer. CrR 3.1(c)(2). The Fedorov court further explained that unlike the Sixth Amendment right to counsel under the United States Constitution, CrR 3.1 is more limited and provides only the opportunity to speak to counsel, rather than requiring actual communication with an attorney.

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In a newly issued opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals discussed the issue of jury awards in personal injury claims and under what circumstances they may be overturned or altered. In Nelson v. Erickson, the plaintiff brought a negligence claim against a driver who rear-ended him. The case was initially transferred to mandatory arbitration pursuant to Chapter 7.06 RCW. The arbitrator awarded the plaintiff medical damages, out-of-pocket expenses, general damages for pain and suffering, and attorney’s fees and costs. The defendant then requested a Mandatory Arbitration Rule trial de novo, and a jury trial was held.

Before the trial, the defendant admitted liability for the car accident, and the parties stipulated that the plaintiff incurred $9,361 in medical expenses. During the three-day trial, the plaintiff put forth evidence of the medical treatments and expenses he had incurred and would continue to require as a result of the chronic pain suffered from the accident. The jury returned a verdict awarding the stipulated medical expenses, past medical expenses, and past non-economic damages, as well as future medical expenses to treat his chronic pain, but it failed to award the plaintiff any future damages for pain and suffering.

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There are people who walk away from a family law trial or hearing feeling like justice was not done. They may feel like the judge was unfairly biased, that the other party was awarded too much money, or that the order makes for an otherwise unworkable result. In these circumstances, people are often wondering what their options are. There are a few ways to appeal a family law decision. One option is to ask the courts to reconsider its decision. Another is to ask for a revision. There are other methods to seek a change to orders that may be used in certain circumstances. Regardless of what type of appeal you are considering, it is usually a good idea to think about the following:

1. Timing. There are limitations on when motions for appeals may be brought. It is important that your appeal is filed prior to the deadline. If you do not appeal in a timely fashion you will lose your opportunity to do so.

2. Cost. There are times that the cost of appealing a court order is not worth the benefit you would receive from successfully doing so. If there would be significant legal costs associated with your appeal, and only a limited gain if you are successful, it might not be worth pursuing.

Many divorcing parents come into our office assuming that they either have an advantage or disadvantage in parenting plan issues because of their sex. Fathers often think that the court is going to award the mother more residential time with the children than they receive merely because they are men. Mothers sometimes assume that they won’t have to do much to show what kind of parent they are because the laws favor them in issues of parenting. In reality there is nothing within the parenting plan laws in Washington that favors one gender or the other. In fact, the laws are intentionally drafted to apply to either spouse regardless of gender.

That said, there is a reason why parents come into our office assuming that Washington laws benefit women in parenting issues. Washington laws favor the historical primary caretaker of the children. Although times are changing and fathers are becoming more involved in the lives of their children, in most families the primary caretaker of the children is still the mother. That means in most circumstances it is the mother that ends up being the primary parent.

Regardless of whether we are representing a mother or a father, we prepare to represent our clients regardless of their gender. Parents should know that it is not their gender that predicts the time they will have with their kids after a parenting plan is entered in court. Instead, it is usually based on the role each parent has played in the child’s life.

When clients come into our office seeking to initiate or respond to a family law action, they are often full of energy (and sometimes anger) and want to get moving on their case. This energy and enthusiasm usually continues for the first few weeks, but often decreases after that. Most family law court processes take time, and many clients feel the growing desire to get things over with.

While we understand (and often share) the feeling of wanting to be done with a legal battle, we encourage clients to stay the course if settlement is not in their best interest. On the other hand, there are cases that we encourage our clients to settle (for example, when more money can be saved by reduced legal fees than could be gained by continuing litigation). When we do believe that staying the course is the right action we encourage our clients to do the following:

  1. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: if you initiated an action to get something, and you don’t have it yet, don’t give up just because you are tired.
  2. Think About How Long You’ll Have to Live With the Results: In many cases, our clients will have to live with the results of a family law action for the rest of their lives. Don’t settle for something that you will regret a year from now so that you don’t have to have a stressful couple weeks (or months). (An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is also an appropriate expression here.)
  3. Do it For the Kids: In some cases our client doesn’t come into our office asking for us to advocate for him or her; instead, some clients are seeking someone that will advocate for what they believe is in the best interest of their children or step-children. If you start a family law action for the sake of someone else, think of them when your resolve wanes. Think if you want them to live with whatever you are considering settling for.
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