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Court says Due Process Requires Evidentiary Hearings

Posted Wednesday, February 7, 2018 by Andrew Charles Huff

When a person pleads guilty to a crime but allegedly violates the terms of the agreement, is this person then entitled to an evidentiary hearing if they deny the violation?

Mr. Caleb Townsend pled guilty to two felony charges pursuant to a plea agreement. For his part, Mr. Townsend agreed to abide by all release conditions, including a requirement that he “commit no law violations” while awaiting sentencing.
However, prior to sentencing, the trial court found that he violated the terms of the plea agreement but without such a hearing. Although Mr. Townsend did not request an evidentiary hearing, he did protest his innocence.

The Appellate Court found that this evidentiary hearing right is rooted in the constitutional right to due process. As such, it cannot be waived by simply not requesting one. Therefore, the new violations were overturned and an evidentiary hearing was ordered.

WA State Court of Appeals, Division III, No. 34984-5-III State v. Townsend

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Is it a "roadway" or isn't it?

Posted Tuesday, February 6, 2018 by Andrew Charles Huff

So what is considered the actual “roadway” in our state? This was the question recently before our Court of Appeals when a driver was cited for crossing over onto a neutral area separating a highway onramp from an adjacent lane of travel.

The driver was traveling westbound on U.S. 97 from Route 2 in Chelan County when she crossed over a portion of the highway designated as a “neutral area.” A neutral area is a paved triangular space separating an entrance or exit ramp from an adjacent lane of travel. A Washington State Trooper observed her and conducted a traffic stop based on this observation.

The Court reviewed the meaning of the term “roadway” as used in state statute and case law. After much review, the Court ultimately found that this “neutral area” does not meet the definitions of a roadway according to Washington law. Therefore, because the driver drove in this area that was not considered a “roadway,” the stop was proper.

State of Washington v. Jena Brooks, Division III

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No Weight…No Case

Posted Monday, January 22, 2018 by Andrew Charles Huff

Great outcome today on a traffic matter in Snohomish County District Court. A commercial truck driver was cited for failing to obey a sign directing all vehicles over a certain weight to use the right lane at a specific point so vehicle information can be obtained by the state. However, this sign only applies to vehicles over a certain weight and the officer failed to indicate in his report how he determined this trucks weight. Without this evidence of how the vehicle weight was determined, case was dismissed.

Infraction 7Z1183740

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Court: Power Point Went Too Far

Posted Monday, January 15, 2018 by Andrew Charles Huff

Does the use of Power Point in trial have its limits? This issue was before the Washington State Supreme Court where the primary question was whether convictions must be reversed in light of a Power Point presentation the prosecuting attorney used during closing argument.

During closing, the prosecutor’s presentation to the jury repeatedly expressed their personal opinion on guilt-over 100 of its approximately 250 slides were headed with the words “DEFENDANT WALKER GUILTY OF PREMEDITATED MURDER,” and one slide showed Walker’s booking photograph altered with the words “GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT,” which were superimposed over his face in bold red letters. Two slides had the heading “DEFENDANT WALKER GUILTY OF ASSAULT IN THE FIRST DEGREE,” and three have the heading “DEFENDANT WALKER GUILTY OF SOLICITATION TO COMMIT ROBBERY.”

It’s certainly common for attorneys to use multimedia resources in closing arguments to a jury. In fact, such techniques are taught in most trial advocacy classes and I always try to use some visual aids when I’m in trial. Closing arguments are the attorney’s opportunity to argue reasonable inferences from the evidence.

However, the Court in this case found that such advocacy has its limits and a prosecutor has the duty to “subdue courtroom zeal,” not to add to it, in order to ensure the defendant receives a fair trial. Ultimately, the Court ruled that the prosecutor’s conduct in this case was improper. The Court explained that closing argument does not give a prosecutor the right to present altered versions of admitted evidence to support the State’s theory of the case, to present derogatory depictions of the defendant, or to express personal opinions on the defendant’s guilt. Therefore, the convictions were overturned.

State v. Walker, No. 89830-8

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Prosecutor Can Dismiss a Case, Says Court of Appeals

Posted Thursday, January 4, 2018 by Andrew Charles Huff

Can a judge order a criminal case to proceed forward even when the prosecutor wants to dismiss it for insufficient evidence?

That was the situation in Adams County Juvenile Court when the prosecutor decided there was a lack of evidence available to proceed with prosecuting a juvenile for possession of alcohol and marijuana. After a hearing, the prosecutor moved to dismiss the case, citing insufficient evidence. However, the judge overruled the prosecutor and ordered the case forward.

The Division III Court of Appeals found the Court’s discretion to deny a prosecutor’s dismissal motion exists as a check on abuse of prosecutorial discretion, not to usurp or interfere with the good faith exercise of prosecutorial discretion. And in this case, the prosecutor decision was a good faith exercise of their charging authority. The trial judge’s decision was overruled and the case was dismissed.

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