Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Restitution is a concept in criminal law that requires an offender to compensate crime victims for their losses.  It is designed to both punish the offender and compensate the victim.  In a Washington criminal case, restitution is to be ordered when the defendant is convicted of an offense that results in personal injury or property damage or loss. The injury or loss must be “causally connected” to the offense.  Generally, this means that the loss would not have occurred but for the crime.  The loss does not, however, have to be foreseeable.

In a recent case, a court ordered restitution for the loss of a weapon that was in the possession of the sheriff’s office.  The defendant challenged a court order to pay restitution to the owner of a gun he was convicted of stealing. He argued the court erred in ordering him to pay restitution when the gun could have been returned to the owner instead.

According to the court’s opinion, the man had been served with a no-contact order that arose from an arrest for assaulting his estranged wife.  In the same day, he visited the gun owner and asked to see his guns.  He stole a pistol and left while the gun owner was in the bathroom.  He later used the weapon to threaten his wife.  The gun was recovered by the sheriff’s office and placed into evidence.  The defendant admitted stealing it from the owner.

Sometimes a criminal defendant is not competent to stand trial.  Washington criminal law sets out procedures for competency evaluations and restorative treatment.  Unfortunately, there are not always sufficient resources for these procedures to timely occur.  This lack of resources does not justify holding defendants in jail for excessive amounts of time until resources are available.

A defendant recently challenged his conviction and alleged a violation of substantive due process because he had been detained in jail pending transfer to the hospital for competency restoration treatment.  The trial court found the defendant was not competent to stand trial and ordered him to be committed to Western State Hospital (WSH) for 45 days within 15 days of the order.   76 days passed before the defendant was admitted to WSH. During that period, he twice moved to have the charges against him dismissed based on a substantive due process violation. He also moved in the alternative for the hospital to show cause as to why it should not be held in contempt.  The court ordered a show cause hearing, but denied the motion to dismiss.  Before the hearing occurred, the defendant filed two more motions to dismiss.

A doctor provided a declaration for the show cause hearing stating the hospital had to put the defendant on a waiting list.  The doctor stated the average wait time for a 45-day restoration case was 71 days.

Continue reading

Criminal records, especially felony convictions, can have an ongoing impact on a person’s life.  Convictions can affect a person’s rights, including the right to possess firearms. Washington criminal defense attorneys know that getting a juvenile record sealed can restore certain rights.

In a recent case, a Washington appeals court found that sealed juvenile adjudications do not preclude a person from possessing a firearm.  The petitioner in this case had been found guilty of two class A felonies as a juvenile.  Many years later, the court sealed those records.  The petitioner was subsequently denied a concealed pistol license (CPL) on the basis of those felony adjudications.  He petitioned for a writ of mandamus to compel the sheriff to issue the CPL, but the superior court denied the petition.  He appealed.

The court found that the petitioner met the requirements of RCW 13.50.260 and ordered that the official juvenile court record, social file, and related agency records be sealed.  The court also entered a subsequent order stating that the petitioner qualified for restoration of his firearm rights.

Continue reading