Articles Posted in Criminal Law

In some ways, Washington juvenile offenders may be treated differently than they would be if they were adult offenders.  Both the Washington Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have acknowledged that “children are different.”

In a recent case, a juvenile defendant challenged her sentence.  She was a first-time offender.  She did not meet the conditions of her deferred disposition, so it was revoked.  The juvenile court found the standard sentencing range would be insufficient and entered a manifest injustice disposition and imposed 24 to 32 weeks total incarceration.

The defendant appealed and the appeals court granted expedited status.  However, according to the appeals court’s opinion, its review was “compromised by the transgressions of the prosecutor.” The appeals court noted the prosecutor had not timely obtained findings of fact and conclusions of law. When the prosecutor did obtain the findings and conclusions after being ordered to do so by the clerk of court, they did so in an ex parte proceeding without giving notice to the defendant or her attorney.  The defendant raised the issue and included it in her brief.  The prosecutor did not directly address the issue in its brief, but instead referenced a different pleading.

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To convict a defendant of vehicular homicide in a Washington criminal case, the state must prove that the defendant’s conduct was the proximate cause of the victim’s death.  In Washington law, the term “proximate cause” includes both actual cause and legal cause.  In a recent case, a defendant challenged his vehicular homicide conviction, alleging that there was an intervening superseding cause of the victim’s death.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was intoxicated when he rear-ended a vehicle at 85 m.p.h.  The defendant did not stop to assist the other driver, whose vehicle was disabled across the left and middle lanes.

A witness to the collision stopped to help.  The Good Samaritan pulled onto the right shoulder and engaged his flashers.  He crossed the freeway to help the driver and was on the phone with the 911 dispatchers when another vehicle struck the disabled vehicle.  The impact caused the disabled vehicle to strike the Good Samaritan, causing injuries that resulted in his death 12 days later.

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Generally, unless there is an applicable exception, both the Washington and U.S. constitutions require a warrant supported by probable cause before someone acting on behalf of the government can conduct a search.  One exception to the warrant requirement applies to school officials.  Under the school search exception, a school official may conduct a reasonable search of a student.  This does not mean a school can search any student at any time for any reason—the search must be reasonable.  Washington criminal courts use the “McKinnon Factors” to determine if a school search was reasonable.

A defendant challenged her conviction on the grounds the search was unlawful.  According to the appeals court opinion, the school received information about a threat involving the juvenile defendant, who was not a student of that school.  Staff looked her up in the school district’s system so they could identify her.  When the vice principal saw her, he asked her to come into the office.

In the office, the principal asked the defendant why she was there.  After a few minutes, the principal determined she was uncooperative and told her they were calling the police.  The vice principal testified the defendant would have been allowed to leave if she had chosen to do so.  He also testified they did not have the authority to discipline her since she was not a student at their school.

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Challenging irrelevant or prejudicial evidence is often a significant part of defense in a Washington state criminal case.  Evidence of prior bad acts by the defendant is not admissible to show the defendant’s propensity to commit the charged crime, but may be admissible for other purposes, such as showing intent or motive.  Even if there is an allowable reason to admit evidence of a prior bad act, it must be excluded if the risk of unfair prejudice substantially outweighs its probative value.

A defendant successfully challenged his conviction after a trial court allowed evidence of an alleged assault on his girlfriend that occurred prior to the events leading to the charges.  His girlfriend called 911 and reported being assaulted by the defendant.  She said he was intoxicated and had punched her.  There were then sounds of her screaming and repeatedly saying “Stop” on the recording.  There were also what the appeals court referred to as “hitting sounds.” Someone else then told the operator that the girlfriend looked to be “hurt quite badly” and provided a description of the defendant and his vehicle.  The girlfriend provided the defendant’s name and said he had beaten her.

According to the appeals court opinion, the defendant later wrecked his truck.  A woman subsequently found the defendant coming up her basement stairs.  He told her he was hiding from the police because he had been abused and framed by his girlfriend.  The woman ultimately called 911.  Law enforcement found a large knife belonging to the woman in the defendant’s waistband when they arrested him.

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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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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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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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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 a Washington criminal case, the court must generally impose a sentence within the standard sentence range.  RCW 9.94A.505.  In some circumstances, however, the court may deviate from the standard range.  These exceptions include exceptional sentences, first-time offender waivers, and Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA). DOSA allows a reduced sentence, treatment, and increased supervision for certain non-violent drug offenders with a goal to help them recover from addiction.  The DOSA statute sets forth the criteria for qualifying for special sentencing and provides for both prison-based and residential chemical dependency treatment-based alternatives.  RCW 9.94A.660.  Under the statute, the residential chemical dependency treatment-based alternative is only available if the midpoint of the standard range is not greater than 24 months.

In a recent case, the state challenged the imposition of a residential-based DOSA sentence because the defendant’s standard range midpoint was greater than 24 months.  According to the opinion, the defendant twice sold his prescription Suboxone strips to a police informant within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop.  He was charged with two counts of delivering the drug, each with a sentence enhancement for delivering within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop.  The standard sentence range for the defendant, based on his offender score and the seriousness of the crime, was 12 to 20 months, plus a 24-month enhancement for each count.

The state offered a deal that would drop one count and recommend prison-based DOSA for the other.  This would have resulted in 20 months in prison and 20 months in community custody.  The state rejected the defendant’s counter offer to plead guilty if the state removed the school-zone enhancements so he could serve a residential-based DOSA rather than a prison-based DOSA.

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Washington Juvenile Courts are subject to their own rules, which may be different from the rules and procedures that apply to a criminal trial of an adult.  A juvenile being tried in a juvenile court does not have a right to a jury. RCW 13.04.021. The case is instead heard by a judge. The court must find the juvenile guilty or not guilty and state its findings of fact.  The court must include the evidence it relied upon in its findings.  The court must also enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law in a case that is appealed.  The findings must include the ultimate facts that prove each element of the crime.  JuCR 7.11.  Generally, the appropriate remedy on appeal for a juvenile court’s failure to enter sufficient findings is remand to the juvenile court to enter the appropriate findings.

A juvenile recently challenged her conviction based on insufficient findings by the juvenile court.  The juvenile was arrested after a woman reported seeing a girl rummaging around in her car and then riding away on a bicycle.  A sergeant from the sheriff’s department found the juvenile sitting on a bicycle and looking into a truck a couple of blocks from the woman’s home.  According to the appeals court opinion, the girl provided the officer with a name that was not her own. The sergeant arrested the girl.  When the girl was searched, police found two knives, two speakers, and some change when she searched her.

The juvenile was charged with second degree vehicle prowling and providing a false statement to a public servant.  According to the juvenile court’s findings, the woman identified the juvenile as the girl she saw in her car, based on the girl’s clothing, complexion, and build.  The juvenile court found the juvenile guilty of both charges.

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