Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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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To succeed in an entrapment defense, a Washington criminal defendant must show that the “criminal design” originated with law enforcement or someone acting under law enforcement’s direction and the defendant was induced to commit a crime he otherwise did not intend to commit. It is not sufficient for the defendant to show that law enforcement provided him an opportunity to commit the crime.  RCW 9A.16.070.  Pursuant to Washington case law, the test focuses on whether the defendant was predisposed to commit the crime.  A defendant recently appealed his conviction, arguing entrapment.

A Sergeant with the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office created a Facebook profile under the name of “Pauline Niner” to meet people online who would be willing to sell drugs.  At trial, the sergeant said he used a female identity because “[i]t attracts more people.” The sergeant had recently attended a training that addressed drug dealers and users communicating through social media and how officers could create a profile and engage in communication over social media.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the defendant contacted “Pauline” and they discussed meeting.  Pauline wanted methamphetamine and the defendant said he could get some.  Various issues prevented him from providing her with the drugs on three occasions, but he stated he had a “little bit” on February 16, 2022.  The sergeant arrested him when he got to the address.

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Young siblings sometimes scuffle, but they usually are not charged with a Washington crime as a result.  A teenager recently challenged a guilty adjudication for fourth degree assault arising from an altercation with his younger sister.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, which relied primarily on the juvenile court’s unchallenged findings, the sixteen-year-old juvenile had recently had surgery and was weak and had lost weight.  His eleven-year-old sister came upstairs to the bedroom where he was resting looking for the dogs to take them out before school. When she tried to get the juvenile’s dog, it nipped her and she struck it on the nose.  The juvenile told her not to hit the dog.

She called the juvenile a name as she tried to get the other dog from under the bed.  She said the juvenile gave her a “quick tap in the face with his foot.” She responded by throwing a bottle of lotion and a bottle of vitamins at him, hitting him with one of them.

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The U.S. Supreme Court held in Caniglia v. Strom that the “community caretaking” exception to the warrant requirement did not extend to a residence.  The Washington Supreme Court has recently considered application of that holding in a Washington criminal case.

According to the opinion, a deputy went to a home after 911 received a call that a caregiver had not come to work that morning. The caller also reported the caregiver had been involved in a domestic incident with her husband the day before.  The deputy knocked and announced himself, but there was no answer.

He called the caregiver’s husband and told him he needed to talk with her. The deputy asked where she was and the husband said she should be at work.  The husband confirmed the minivan in the driveway was hers.  He provided his wife’s phone number.  The deputy did not tell the husband his wife was missing or ask him to come home or for consent to check the residence.

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Evidence obtained through an unlawful search is generally inadmissible in a Washington criminal case.  Both the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Washington Constitution offer protections against unlawful searches.  The Washington Constitution provides that “No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law,” Article I, Section 7.  This section in some circumstances provides greater privacy protections than the Fourth Amendment.

A defendant recently challenged a search of his backpacks that were inside a vehicle.  The appeals court’s opinion states the defendant was a passenger in a vehicle during a traffic stop for suspicion of suspended license.  The officer recognized the defendant as having an outstanding warrant.  The officer ordered him to remain seated, but the defendant got out of the car and subsequently fled. The officer caught him and searched his pockets.  He found a pipe, cash, and a small amount of what he thought was heroin.

The driver told the officer the defendant asked her to stop at a gas station when the patrol car was following them.  She said he moved some bags to the back seat.  She pointed out two backpacks on the rear floorboard and another on the passenger side floorboard.  She gave permission to search the car “without limitation.”

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Generally, hearsay is not admissible in a Washington criminal case, unless it meets an exception.  Hearsay is an out-of-court statement “offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” ER 801(c). Generally, hearsay is not admissible unless it meets a specific exception.  One exception is an “excited utterance.” Statements made while the speaker is still under the stress of the exciting event are considered more likely to be true because they are thought to be spontaneous.  The exception only applies if there has been “a startling event or condition,” the statement was made while the speaker was under the stress of the excitement from that event or condition, and the statement was related to the startling event or condition.  ER 803(2).  In determining if the excited utterance exception applies, the court may consider the speaker’s emotional state, the spontaneity of the statement, how long has passed, and if the speaker has had the opportunity to fabricate a story.  A defendant recently challenged the admission of a 911 call when the alleged victim had not testified at trial.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the defendant and his ex-girlfriend had recently broken up at the time of the incident.  The defendant knocked on his ex-girlfriend’s door at about 10 and started crawling in her bedroom window when she did not answer.  She woke up and told him not to come in.  She then ran a neighbor’s apartment.  The defendant followed and knocked on the neighbor’s door.

The neighbor called 911.  The ex-girlfriend told the 911 operator the defendant jumped in her window while she was sleeping and was currently standing outside the door trying to open it.  She said he wanted to hurt her.

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A Washington criminal defendant can raise a self-defense claim by offering some evidence that their actions occurred in circumstances of self-defense.  Once the defendant meets this low burden, the burden shifts to the state to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the absence of self-defense.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the juvenile’s mother came into the 15-year-old juvenile’s room and saw her hide a cell phone under the covers. The juvenile refused to give it to her mother, and they scuffled over it.  The juvenile ultimately kicked her mother twice.

The state charged the juvenile with fourth degree assault with notice of a domestic violence allegation.  The juvenile testified , saying, “. . . the only reason I kicked her was to . . . get her off of me,” and “. . . I kicked her because she was on my leg, and it hurt.  And—because I knew at that point I knew I wasn’t going to get the phone back . . . .”

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Both the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Washington Constitution make warrantless searches unlawful unless they meet an exception.  Valid consent is an exception to the warrant requirement. When premises are shared, a person who has equal control over has the authority to consent to a search of the premises when the other person is absent.  Law enforcement must, however, also obtain the consent of the other person with equal control if they are present.  State v. Morse.  This rule does not apply to someone who does not have common authority over the premises.  A host’s consent is effective against a guest in common areas of the premises.  A person with authority over the premises does not necessarily have the authority to consent to a search of everything inside the premises.  A Washington criminal defendant recently challenged a search of a bag in a motel room after the room’s occupant gave consent to search.

A confidential informant informed the sheriff’s office the defendant and another man were at a motel for a drug deal.  A detective detained the other man and the room’s occupant when they left the motel.  The defendant was still in the room.  The occupant said there were bags belonging to the defendant and the other man in the room. He gave the police written consent to search the room.

The detectives removed the defendant from the room and brought the occupant back in.  The occupant acknowledged owning a bag on the bed containing drugs and paraphernalia.

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Washington self-defense is an affirmative defense. A person may lawfully use force when they are about to be injured to prevent or try to prevent an offense against their person, when the force used is not more than necessary.  RCW 9A.16.020(3).  Force is necessary when there does not appear to be a reasonably effective alternative and the force used is reasonable to the lawful purpose.  RCW 9A.16.010(1).  A juvenile recently appealed his adjudication of guilt of second degree assault, claiming the state failed to disprove he acted in self-defense.

The appeals court’s unpublished opinion stated the juvenile got into a verbal altercation at school with another juvenile, identified by the appeals court’s opinion, as “J.S.” The juvenile called the other student a homophobic slur.  J.S. filed an incident report at the office.

They had a second altercation in the courtyard later that day.  The juvenile again called the other student a homophobic slur.  The other student advanced toward the juvenile.  The juvenile tried to walk away.  The juvenile started recording on his phone. The juvenile extended his arm as the other student approached, and the other student slapped him.  They both went to the ground. The other student was on top and started hitting the juvenile. The other student did not have or threaten to use a weapon, but the juvenile pulled a knife from his pocket and stabbed the other student six times in eight seconds.  The juvenile had not responded by pushing or hitting back, but just stabbed the other student.  The two did not really know each other and had not spoken before the altercations.

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To convict a defendant in a Washington criminal case, the state must prove every element of the crime, including any knowledge intent element.  In a recent unpublished case, a defendant challenged whether the state had sufficiently proven he had the requisite knowledge to support a first degree possession of stolen property conviction.

The sheriff’s office got a search warrant for the defendant’s vehicle and a deputy later stopped him.  They took the defendant into custody and his car was impounded.  On the lanyard with the vehicle key was a key to a storage unit.  Deputies obtained a warrant for that storage unit to search for stolen property.  They found a John Deere GPS device and antenna with a market value between $11,000 to $11,500.

The defendant was charged with possession of stolen property in the first degree and trafficking in stolen property in the first degree, but the state dropped the trafficking charge before trial.

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