Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Washington State Law

Washington State Supreme Court:

In Re Discipline of Ferguson: The Court upheld a 90 suspension of Sandra Ferguson’s law license, finding that the disciplinary board’s imposition of that suspension in lieu of the 30 days recommended by the hearing officer was reasonable in light of the hearing officer’s findings that Ms. Ferguson appeared ex parte before a superior court judge in a contested matter without notice to opposing counsel, failed to disclose all relevant facts at an ex parte hearing, and obtained relief through misrepresentation and deceit in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Court reasoned that the enhanced suspension time was warranted in light of aggravating factors in this case.

In his concurrence/dissent, Justice Alexander agreed with the suspension, but dissented with regard to the length, arguing that there was no justification for the Court’s downward departure from the ABA recommended suspension of 180 days.

Division One Court of Appeals:

State v. Mohamoud: The Court held that the deferred disposition statute, RCW 13.40.127, does not authorize the juvenile court to order a post-conviction deferred disposition on its own initiative. The Court concluded that the legislature did not intend to grant a juvenile court this type of authority, and the court in this case therefore lacked authority to order the deferred disposition in this case. In any case, the Court found that the deferred disposition would have been void because the trial court failed to follow all statutory requirements. The Court reversed and remanded for resentencing.

Division Two Court of Appeals:

State v. Johnson: The Court found that a locomotive meets the definition of a “railway car” for the purposes of the burglary statute, and meets the statutory definition of a “building” for purposes of second degree burglary. Specifically, the Court found that the statutory definition of “building” includes “any…railway car,” a locomotive is therefore a railway car and a building. The Court also found that the trial court did not err in admitting a sales receipt found on Mr. Johnson at the time of his arrest showing that the prior day he had sold 105 pounds of copper wire to Valley Recycling. The court presumed that the trial court admitted the receipt as circumstantial evidence of Mr. Johnson’s motive or intent and instructed the jury on the limits of its use. As such, the Court concluded, the evidence was both relevant and admissible.

In her dissent, Judge Van Deren argued that the definition of “railway car” was ambiguous, as dicta in prior cases suggest that a locomotive is a “railway car,” however the ordinary dictionary definition of “railway car” does not encompass locomotive. Accordingly, the dissent would hold that whether a locomotive falls under the phrase “railway car” is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation and the rule of lenity should apply, with a holding that a locomotive is not a railway car under the burglary statute. Given this definition, there was insufficient evidence to find Mr. Johnson guilty of second degree burglary, and the case should have been dismissed.

Division Three Court of Appeals:

State v. Weber: The Court agreed with the superior court’s determination that the stop for speeding in this case did not support the district court’s legal conclusion that the stop was pretextual. The Court affirmed the superior court’s action in remanding the case for trial. The Court concluded that under Ladson, both a subjective intent of the officer and the reasonableness of the stop must be considered before finding a pretext and, in this case there was a reasonable stop with no improper motive, and therefore no basis for finding that the traffic stop was pretextual.

In his dissent, Judge Sweeney argued that the superior court applied the wrong standard of review in this case, and improperly weighed the evidence, substituting its own judgment for that of the district court. The dissent argued that the test is not whether the appellate or superior courts would have found a different motive for the stop, but whether there is sufficient evidence, which if believed, would support the district court’s finding on the factual question of motive. The dissent posited that the standard was met in this case and the superior court’s decision should be reversed and the district court’s suppression order affirmed.

Federal Law

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals:

Stanley v. Cullen: Mr. Stanley filed an amended habeas petition in federal court asserting claims arising out of both the guilty and penalty phases of his arson and murder trial, including competency claims. The district court held that a biased juror rendered invalid the verdict of the competency jury and remanded to the state court to allow that court to determine whether it was feasible to conduct a retrial to decide whether Mr. Stanley was competent during his penalty phase trial. The district court denied all of Mr. Stanley’s guilt phase claims and held the remaining penalty phase claims in abeyance. Mr. Stanley appealed, contending that the state trial court’s failure to institute competency proceedings sua sponte during the guilt phase violated his right to procedural due process. Second, he contended that his trial counsel were ineffective for failing to investigate or raise the issue of his competency to stand trial during the guilt phase. Third, he contended that the district court improperly denied an evidentiary hearing on a claim that counsel were ineffective in failing to raise a diminished capacity defense during the guilt phase. Fourth, he contends that the district court acted improperly in remanding to the state court for a determination whether a retrial to decide Stanley’s competency during the penalty phase is feasible. Fifth, he contends that the district court acted improperly in holding in abeyance his remaining penalty phase claims pending the state court’s decision concerning the feasibility of a retrial, and possibly pending the retrial itself, on remand. Finally, he asks us to consider an uncertified claim that he was denied a full and fair hearing by the state courts on his motions to suppress evidence. The Court found that the district court’s decisions were reasonable, and declined to certify Mr. Stanley’s uncertified claim that he was denied a “full and fair” opportunity to litigate his Fourth Amendment search and seizure claims during the pretrial phase of his trial.

United States v. Morris: The Court found that the government’s single plea offer in this case, in which it agreed not to file an amended information with an enhancement that would increase Mr. Morris’ sentence by ten years in exchange for a guilty plea and cooperation in an upcoming murder and drug dealing trial of a gang leader with whom Mr. Morris was associated, did not offend due process. The Court reversed the district court’s finding to the contrary, in which that court reasoned that the government’s tactics “short-circuited the truth-finding process” by requiring Mr. Morris to forfeit most of his rights from the start of the proceedings. The Court recognized that a give and take is required in the plea bargaining process, but found that this does not mean that the government “must engage in an extensive series of back-and-forth negotiations
for a plea offer to be valid.” The court concluded that “[t]here is nothing fundamentally wrong with the prosecution’s decision to present its best offer up front,” and that the government did not offend due process by extending a take it or leave it plea offer to Mr. Morris.

United States v. Smith: The Court upheld Mr. Smith’s conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, upholding the district court’s decision to deny Mr. Smith’s motion to suppress the gun found on his person by a police officer. The Court found that Mr. Smith was not seized by the arresting officer after he crossed the street in front of the officer’s patrol car and the officer activated his siren, pulled to the curb, and ordered Mr. Smith to stand in front of the patrol car. Instead, Mr. Smith turned and ran, and was tackled and handcuffed by the officer. This is the point at which the Court found the seizure occurred, and the Court held that there was probable cause for the seizure at this juncture.