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Seattle Criminal Defense Law Blog

When is it legal to record police officers doing their duties?

It's perfectly legal to record police -- openly or covertly -- whenever they are on duty in public, as long as you don't interfere. Recording police going about their business is a protected First Amendment activity.

It's also a crucial one. Recording the police provides information to the public about how officers handle events ranging from everyday interactions to crisis situations. By providing that information, recording the police actually protects and promotes democracy and the free discussion of governmental actions. It may also reveal -- or even deter -- police misconduct.

SCOTUS: Definition of burglary includes non-traditional homes

Burglary is most often charged as a state crime, but it can have federal implications. Burglary is generally defined as unlawful entry into a dwelling with the intent to commit a felony. It is considered a violent felony and counts as a "strike" for the purposes of the federal Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) and for state-level "three strikes" laws like the one in Washington.

The ACCA mandates a 15-year sentence for people convicted of firearms offenses after three previous convictions involving specified felonies, including residential burglary. The potential federal effect of a burglary conviction was why the U.S. Supreme Court recently took up a pair of cases involving the definition of burglary.

When is it legal to strip search a criminal suspect?

When is it legal to strip search a criminal suspect?

Being subjected to a strip search can be embarrassing and extremely unpleasant, but strip searches are one way that law enforcement ensures they have discovered all hidden evidence and to prevent the passage of contraband in jails and prisons. While most of us don't like to think about it, there is a possibility we could be searched invasively, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the right of law enforcement to perform jail strip searches, even in the case of minor offenses.

The case was 2012's Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington, and it involved Albert Florence, who was arrested on a warrant for unpaid citations. In 1998, seven years before the incidents at issue, petitioner Albert Florence plead guilty to two offenses and was sentenced to pay a fine in monthly installments. In 2003, after he fell behind on his payments and failed to appear at an enforcement hearing, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. He paid the outstanding balance less than a week later; but, for some unexplained reason, the warrant remained in a statewide computer database. Two years later, in Burlington County, New Jersey, petitioner and his wife were stopped in their automobile by a state trooper. Based on the outstanding warrant in the computer system, the officer arrested petitioner and took him to the Burlington County Detention Center. He was held there for six days and then was transferred to the Essex County Correctional Facility. It is not the arrest or confinement but the search process at each jail that gives rise to the claims before the Court.

Facing unjust fourth-degree assault charges in Seattle?

Facing unjust fourth-degree assault charges in Seattle?

In Washington state, simple assault, or assault in the fourth degree, includes intentionally touching or hitting another person in what a reasonable person would consider harmful or offensive. It also includes attempting to inflict injury on another and intentionally putting another in apprehension of harm.

You can be charged with fourth-degree assault, for example, if you touch another person against their will, as long as a reasonable person would regard the touch as offensive or harmful. You could also be charged for attempting to hit someone, or for lunging at them in a threatening way. In other words, it takes only a little more than a threat to get charged with fourth-degree assault. It is one of the most common assault charges in Washington.

Examples of criminal traffic offenses in Washington State

When you get a traffic ticket in Washington, you expect a fine and some points on your driving record. You may not realize that some traffic offenses are considered criminal offenses.

If you're charged with a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or felony traffic offense, there is a lot more at stake. A conviction could mean a significant fine, loss of your driving privileges and even jail time. There are also collateral consequences that continue to affect you even after you've resolved your charges.

The 'trial penalty' and unexpected consequences of guilty pleas

The 'trial penalty' and unexpected consequences of guilty pleas

The criminal trial is virtually a thing of the past. Today, more than 97 percent of criminal cases are resolved via plea bargain. That isn't because 97 percent of criminal defendants are guilty. Instead, the phenomenon is the result of shortcomings across the criminal justice system, including specific prosecution policies.

According to an influential two-year research study by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the disappearance of the jury trial -- once thought central to the protection of liberty -- is largely the result of "the trial penalty." This refers to the fact that criminal defendants face exponentially higher penalties if they insist upon a trial than they do if they plead guilty. Faced with the choices, the vast majority of defendants surrender their right to trial.

Can you be charged with DUI in Washington if you're below 0.08?

Yes, you can. It's one of the more common misconceptions people have about our drunk driving law, and it comes up a lot -- especially now that portable breath testing devices are widely available to the public. A lot of people try to avoid a DUI by using handheld breath testers at bars. This seems like a responsible way to ensure your blood alcohol level remains below 0.08, but it's no guarantee you won't be charged.

If the arresting officer believes you are affected by alcohol to an appreciable degree while driving, you can be arrested and charged even if you are under the legal limit. Instead, law enforcement relies on observations such as driving, coordination, speech, behavior, and other witness testimony.

5 ways to protect your rights when the police pull you over

You have rights whenever you are stopped by the police. If there is any question that you could be charged with a crime, you should exercise your constitutional rights, remain silent and contact an attorney. Here's what you need to know.

Be polite and courteous to the officer. Although the law does not technically require it, courtesy can save you a lot of trouble. Have your license and registration ready, roll down your window, remain in the car and put your hands on the steering wheel. Communicate with the officer before making any sudden movements. Comply with the officer's reasonable commands and clearly and calmly communicate any barriers to your compliance.

What if your partner declines to press domestic violence charges?

Unfortunately, it's a common story. A couple gets into an argument and things get out of hand. Someone calls 911 and the police show up, making everything that much more stressful. Worse, police in Washington state are required to arrest they person they suspect was the primary aggressor if they find probable cause to believe a domestic violence offense has taken place.

Once everyone calms down, it's entirely possible that your partner will change his or her mind about pressing charges. Unfortunately, that decision belongs to the prosecutor, not your partner. An alleged victim in a domestic violence case is considered a witness for the state, and the prosecutor may choose to press charges even if he or she refuses to testify. Once domestic violence charges are filed, a judge must approve the prosecutor's move to drop them.

Criminal defense lawyers help get treatment for mentally ill

In Washington State as well as throughout the country, there has always been a fine line between criminal behavior and actions that result from mental illness that the accused is unable to control. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is working to get authorities to recognize the right of individuals to get mental health treatment instead of being sent to a state prison where incarceration can be tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.  A criminal defense attorney can be a valuable resource in controlling the system from abuses in this subject area.

The usual rule is that the individual must pose an imminent threat to her or himself, or to others, in order to be involuntarily hospitalized and receive quality care instead of being incarcerated and lost in the state penal system. About 80 persons recently attended the meeting of the National Alliance in the local office of the national group. They challenged the current criminal justice and mental health systems that essentially require violent acts to intercede with assistance. Numerous examples of situations where such strict standards provided no help for mentally ill persons were shared at the meeting.

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