How to bench the judge-the affidavit of prejudice court rule

A good attorney will know all the judges in a particular jurisdiction and what judges are good for each particular kind of case and issue. But how can an attorney get a particular case set in front of the ideal judge? In Washington State, we have an affidavit of prejudice statute, RCW 4.12.050, Superior Court Criminal Rule 8.9, and CrRLJ 8.9 (for District Court). If a criminal case was a game of cards, the affidavit of prejudice rule is a playing card that says if an attorney or defendant thinks that a particular judge cannot be fair and impartial, they can play a card against that judge and a replacement judge must be brought in. But you can only play this card once. Also, there are limits as to  when you can play this card. So while you cannot pick the best judge for your particular case, you can get rid of the worst judge.

Who qualifies for a public defender?

Under the Constitution and the landmark Supreme Court case, Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), anyone charged with a criminal offense has a right to an attorney, and if they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to them by the court (at taxpayers expense). This is true regardless of whether the person is accused of stealing $18 million or accused of stealing a candy bar from 7 eleven.

Qualifying for a public defender. Under Washington law, to receive a public defender, you must qualify as indigent under RCW 10.101.010, which defines “indigent” as:

  • Receiving one of the following types of public assistance: Temporary assistance for needy families, aged, blind, or disabled assistance benefits, medical care services under RCW 74.09.035, pregnant women assistance benefits, poverty-related veterans’ benefits, food stamps or food stamp benefits transferred electronically, refugee resettlement benefits, medicaid, or supplemental security income; or
  • Involuntarily committed to a public mental health facility; or
  • Receiving an annual income, after taxes, of one hundred twenty-five percent or less of the current federally established poverty level; or
  • Unable to pay the anticipated cost of counsel for the matter before the court because his or her available funds are insufficient to pay any amount for the retention of counsel.

The federally established poverty level depends on the size of the household. But in 2015, for a one person household, if the person is making less than $11,770 a year it means the person is living in poverty. So in Washington State,  if a person lives by themselves and make less  than $14,713 a year, the person will get a free public defender.

However, even if the person makes more than $14,713, they may still qualify for a public defender if the person is “[u]nable to pay the anticipated cost of counsel for the matter before the court because his or her available funds are insufficient to pay any amount for the retention of counsel.” In other words, it is up to the public defense agency to decide how much an attorney would cost for that person’s particular case and whether the person can afford an attorney. If the public defense agency finds that the person is not indigent, but that the person does not make enough to afford an attorney, then the person will still qualify for the public defender. The public defender in this case is not completely free. Instead, the public defense agency will make the person sign a promissory note agreeing to make payments towards the cost of their public defender. The total fee imposed is a sliding scale based on the person’s income and the person normally has at least 12 months to pay back the costs.

What documents are reviewed to determine if the person qualifies for a public defender? In King County, the public defense agency requires the person attend a financial interview, where the screener will ask the person questions about their financial situation. The person is asked to submit pay stubs from the last three months, the most recent bank statement, a copy of last year’s income tax return, and any items that shows the person is receiving public assistance or unemployment compensation. RCW 10.101.020 also requires the person to sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury that the answers and documents provided are accurate. RCW 10.101.020 also states the appointment of counsel shall not be denied “because the person’s friends or relatives, other than a spouse who was not the victim of any offense or offenses allegedly committed by the person, have resources adequate to retain counsel, or because the person has posted or is capable of posting bond.” So even if the person has rich parents, they may still qualify for the public defender.

A public defender is only available to those facing criminal charges, involuntary commitment to a mental health facility, contempt of court for failure to pay child support, or if the State is trying to take the person’s child away from them. A public defender is not available for infractions (like speeding tickets) or the DOL Administrative Hearing on a DUI case.

Why jail booking photos in Washington State cannot be found on the internet

There are some entertaining celebrity booking photos available on the internet. These celebrity booking photos are posted on the internet because in some States, booking photos are considered a public record. There are several unsavory internet businesses that capitalize on this law threatening to publish a person’s booking photo online unless the person pays them a fee. If the person gives in to the extortion demands, there will inevitably be another web site that threatens to do the same thing. In other words, once posted, it is essentially impossible to remove the person’s booking photo from the internet.

Fortunately, Washington State does not consider booking photos to be public records. Specifically, RCW 70.48.100 states that “the records of a person confined in jail shall be held in confidence.” The statute lays out several exceptions, such as a court order directing the release of the record. Since the booking photo is taken within the jail and is used for correctional purposes, it is considered confidential under this law. So unlike citizens in other states, those arrested for a crime in Washington state do not have to worry about their booking photo appearing on the internet. Keep in mind that while a booking photo is not available to the public, the record of arrest, conviction, and the police reports are available to the public and can be posted on the internet.

If you do find a Washington State booking photo on the internet, please contact me. I am not convinced that every jail in Washington honors RCW 70.48.100 and some may be unlawfully releasing booking photos to the public.

Want a bench trial instead of a jury trial? Think again

Everyone knows that if a person is charged with a criminal offense, he or she has a right to a jury trial. But what if the person does not want a jury trial and instead wants the judge to decide if he or she is innocent or guilty? A judge trial is referred to as a bench trial, so a single person (the judge) decides the defendant’s fate rather than the jury (six or twelve random people depending on whether the offense is a misdemeanor or felony). Most people would rather have a jury trial, than bench, because the jury must be unanimous in order to convict. So all the jurors must agree that the defendant is guilty rather than just one (the judge). Jurors might feel more sympathy for a defendant than some cranky, jaded, judge. But depending on the circumstances, there are some situations where a bench trial might be advantageous. This could be true if there is a particularly complicated legal defense, and the defendant believes the judge is more likely to understand the defense. Also, a bench trial is much shorter than a jury trial because picking a jury takes time (multiple days for complex cases), and the trial itself goes much faster if a jury is not involved. If the defendant is paying a private attorney for trial, it could be cheaper for the defendant do a bench trial rather than a jury trial. Moreover, if the defendant wants to appeal the trial court’s legal decision to the next level, a bench trial can give the defendant the record needed to appeal, without the cost and time of a jury trial.

So a person has decided that for whatever reason, a bench trial makes more sense. Does the person have a right to a bench trial? If the charge is DUI, the answer is most likely no! The reason is that for misdemeanor offenses filed in District Court, there is a court rule that allows a prosecutor to demand a jury trial. That rule is CrRLJ 6.1.1(b). For whatever reasons, prosecutors in King County and other jurisdictions routinely demand a jury trial on a DUI charge, and sometimes, on all charges. I have never quite understood why the prosecutors demand a jury trial on DUI charges, or any charge for that matter. A bench trial is shorter and therefore costs the taxpayers less money. I would think the government would be excited that a defendant wants a less costly trial? It is possible that prosecutors believe defense attorneys will get the trial set with a particularly sympathetic judge. Ironically, on more serious felony charges, the prosecutor does not have the ability to demand a jury trial on the case. CrR 6.1, the Superior Court equivalent of CrRLJ 6.1.1, requires the defendant to file a written waiver of the right to a jury trial, and leaves it up to the trial court whether to allow a bench trial on a particular case.

What do you mean I can’t have a copy of my own police report?

You’ve been charged with a crime, hire an attorney, and make an appointment to go over the police reports with that attorney. At the conclusion of the meeting, you ask the attorney if you can have a copy of the police report to share with your friends, family, employer, or whoever else you think should have an opportunity to read the police reports. The answer your attorney is ethically required to give to you is, “due to court rule CrRLJ 4.7(g)(3), I am prohibited from giving you a copy of the discovery, i.e. the police report in this case.” Huh? Yes, there is a court rule that says your attorney cannot give you a copy of the police reports, assuming they received the police reports from the prosecutor as discovery in the case. The rule makes sense for serious felony cases like murder and sex offenses. In a murder case, the discovery may contain the address and phone numbers for the witnesses and the court doesn’t want the defendant to go whack all the witnesses. In a sex offense, the discovery may contain something illegal (like child porn) and the court doesn’t want the defendant to have a further opportunity to exploit the victim. But in more simple criminal cases, like a DUI, this rule makes no sense. The good news is there are some easy ways to get around this rule. First off, the rule itself says your attorney can give you a copy of the discovery if the prosecutor and court agree to it. So you can always make the request to the judge. Also, the defendant (or any person for that matter) can make a public records request to the law enforcement agency requesting the police report. If your attorney obtained the report via a public records request or a DOL hearing on a DUI case, your attorney can provide the report to you without violating the court rule, since the court rule only applies to “discovery” provided by the prosecutor. And finally, while the rule says the attorney must maintain “exclusive custody” of the material, you can always read the police report in your attorney’s office, and take very detailed notes about the police report.

Where does the fine amount on an infraction come from?

When a person receives an infraction, such as a speeding ticket, there is a fine amount listed on the face of this infraction. This fine is the maximum fine that can be assessed against the person for that particular infraction. Infractions can only be punished with a fine, not jail (like a criminal offense). So the maximum fine amount is the worst case scenario for an infraction.

For some infractions, the maximum fine amount is listed in the statute. For instance, RCW 46.61.525 outlines the elements of the infraction of Negligent Driving in the Second Degree, and it also states that a violation “is subject to a penalty of two hundred fifty dollars.” However, anyone who has ever received an infraction for Negligent Driving Second Degree knows that the maximum fine amount on the infraction was not listed as $250 but instead, $550. So why does the fine of $250 mandated by the statute increase up to $550?

RCW 3.62.090(1) and (2) both require additional fines on top of the base fine. Specifically, RCW 3.62.090(1), requires a public safety and education assessment of 70% of the fine amount. RCW 3.62.090(2) requires an additional public safety and education assessment, this one is 50% of whatever the public safety and education assessment is in subsection (1). And finally, RCW 46.63.110(7) and (8) add an additional $37. These extra fees do not apply to parking infractions and some only apply to vehicle related infractions.

So for Negligent Driving in the Second Degree, you take the $250 base fine, add 175 (.70 x 250), add 87.5 (.5 x 175), and add 37 = 549.50. The government apparently rounds this figure up to $550.

Again, keep in mind the $550 fine is the worst possible thing that could happen. If you hire a competent infraction attorney, the fine will likely be dramatically reduced (or dismissed entirely) and the infraction could be amended to one that does not affect your insurance rates.

If you’re curios, IRLJ 6.2 lists all in the infraction base fine amounts. If an infraction does not have a specific amount listed, IRLJ 6.2 says the default base fine is $42.

Ignition Interlock Devices and work vehicles

There are multiple laws that require a person convicted of DUI to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) on their personal vehicle. There are also situations where a person who has been arrested for DUI, but not yet convicted of DUI, is required to install an IID on their personal vehicle. But what if the person has to drive a vehicle as part of their employment? What if the person drives a taxi for a living or a delivery vehicle? Does the person have to install an IID on their work vehicle or just quit their job?

The short answer to this question is if the person has a prior DUI conviction for DUI, they likely will have to quit their job (or convince their boss to allow them to install an IID on their work vehicle). This is true even if the prior DUI arrest was reduced to a lesser charge (such as Negligent Driving in the First Degree or Reckless Driving).

RCW 10.21.055, which is a relatively new law, requires a judge to order an IID in the situation above at the first court hearing, before the person has even been convicted of DUI. The law does not make any exception for a person’s work vehicle.

Ironically, there is a work vehicle exemption found in the law. RCW 46.20.720 states that once the person is convicted of DUI, and ordered to have an IID, they may be eligible for a work vehicle exemption to the IID requirement. Keep in mind, even if the person is eligible for the work vehicle exemption, they still must have an IID on their personal vehicle. There is also a 30 day (or 365 day) wait period before the person can take advantage of the work vehicle exemption.

Let me demonstrate how nonsensical these statutes are in a real word hypothetical. Lets say DUI Donny gets charged with a DUI as a teenager in the 1970s. In the case, DUI Donny has a BAC under the legal limit of .08 so he ends up having his DUI reduced to Negligent Driving in the First Degree (which is a prior DUI under RCW 10.21.055). Fast forward to 2015, DUI Donny gets stopped again for DUI, and again has a BAC under .08 (lets say .07, and yes people routinely do get charged with DUI even if their BAC is under .08). DUI Donny is employed as a delivery truck driver and is the sole income earner in his family. At DUI Donny’s first court appearance, RCW 10.21.055 requires the court to order DUI Donny to have an IID on all vehicles he drives. It will take DUI Donny several months before his case is resolved (most likely with a reduced charge, based on the below .08 BAC). However, DUI Donny will likely have to quit his job because the law does not allow any exception to the IID requirement for DUI Donny’s delivery truck he drives at work. This means that unless DUI Donny’s employer allows him to install an IID on his work vehicle, he is out of a job.

Good time in jail? A 33% reduction

Most have heard of “good time” off for keeping out of trouble in jail, but do you know how much off people normally get? For the majority of jail sentences, the inmate will get one-third off in good time. That means that when you read in the paper that a person received a sentence of 20 months, in reality, that person may only be doing about 14 months or so. This is true on essentially all misdemeanor offenses and on a good portion of felony offenses. Some felonies, like murder, get less than a third off for good time (10-15% depending on what charge the person was convicted of). And then there are felony enhancements, like the firearm enhancement, where a person does straight time (no good time) on the enhancement portion of the sentence (which can be 5 years). Pretty much all misdemeanor sentences are eligible for work release in King County. And even on felonies, the Department of Corrections (DOC) often kicks the prisoner out for the last six months of the sentence to serve that portion of his or her sentence as work release. So, a felon looking at 20 months on a felony DUI will actually only serve 8 months in jail, then serve 6 months on work release (for a total sentence of 14 months, with the good time off). And a portion of that 8 months of jail may include electronic home detention that the person served pre-trial, prior to sentencing. This is not nearly as bad as the 20 month sentence that you may see quoted in the paper.

RCW 9.94A.729, the good time statute, leaves it up to the county jail to determine the good time amount. Jails are constantly looking for creative ways to get people out of jail in order to save money, so most jails set the good time amount as high as possible. Another quirk in the system is the good time off only kicks in after a specific minimum number of days (set by each individual jail). This number can vary from jail to jail but 5 is a typical number. So, for instance, on a sentence of 4 days, a person actually serves 4 days. But for a sentence of 6 days, the person actually serves 4 days (because of the one third off for good time). Figuring out how much good time a person is likely to receive is easy enough for misdemeanor sentences, and for felonies that do not involve prison time. But for a person heading to the DOC, the calculation can become much more complicated. So contact an attorney to find out how much good time should be given on a particular sentence.

Background Check Mess

Prior to the invention of computers, or the internet, a person could be convicted of a crime without the world knowing about it. George W. Bush did his best to sweep his 1976 DUI under the rug. But today, in Washington State, every police record is available to the public under the Public Records Act. The same is true for court and arrest records. It is getting increasingly difficult to keep an arrest hidden, regardless of the final outcome of the case. So what can a person do to pull a George W. Bush and try to hide a DUI arrest? To answer this question, we must first look at where background check companies, and the public in general, get their information from.

In Washington State, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) maintains the official publicly available database of arrest and conviction records, the Washington Access to Criminal History (WATCH). For $10, anyone can run anyone else’s name in the database. Generally, if a person is arrested, booked in jail, and finger printed, there is going to be an entry for the arrest in the WATCH database. So even if it takes the prosecutor several months to file charges against the person, the record of arrest will still be available to the public shortly after the arrest. This is true even if the prosecutor decides to never file charges (for at least the first 12 months after the arrest). Once you are convicted (or acquitted) of the offense, the WATCH database will be updated with that information.

In some situations, the law allows you to vacate an arrest and conviction records from the WATCH database. And some folks who are arrested get lucky, and never have their arrest and conviction entered into WATCH (possibly because they never spent any time in jail on the offense). However, employers will probably utilize a private background check
company rather than just run a WATCH report. Typically, these companies not only pull data from WATCH, but also the court’s own Judicial Information System (JIS). So even if you are lucky enough to avoid a record in WATCH, chances are the case information will be available on JIS, and therefore, appear on a background check. The JIS record will show what charge was originally filed, and what the final outcome of the case was. So if the prosecutor completely overcharges a criminal case, and it ends up being resolved with an infraction (like a speeding ticket), all of that information will be available on JIS and therefore, on a background check. Even if a person’s charge is dismissed, it will not be too difficult for the world to find out what the person was originally charged with.

Washington’s current laws are not set up to address this predicament. Under Washington law, in certain situations, one can vacate an offense, which legally dismisses the offense. The court then orders the WSP to delete the record of the offense from WATCH. But, if the
background check company is relying on both JIS and WATCH for their information, that only solves half the problem. So even after the record is deleted from WATCH, it may still appear on background checks. Information cannot be deleted from JIS, so the only way to “hide” the information on JIS is to seal the court file, which is only allowed in very specific situations. In reality, once information makes it into these databases, it is very difficult to ever get the information out of the database.

If a person thinks there is incorrect information on a background check that has prevented them from receiving employment, there may be potential recourse under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). While the FCRA does not apply to all background checks, if the FCRA does apply, that person is granted certain rights under the FCRA. Consult an attorney to determine if the FCRA applies to a particular case.

Court rules a riding lawnmower is not a vehicle for purposes of theft

In the recent decision of State v. Barnes, the defendant attempted to steal a riding lawnmower. The defendant drove his truck onto the victim’s property, and started to load the lawnmower into his truck when he was caught in the act. Rather than charge the defendant with Theft in the First or Second Degree, the prosecutor chose to charge the defendant with Theft of Motor Vehicle, presumably because it would carry a longer sentence than regular theft, which all depends on the value of the lawnmower. The trial court dismissed the charge ruling that a lawnmower was not “motor vehicle” under the Theft of Motor Vehicle statute. Undeterred, the prosecutor appealed the dismissal. On appeal, the Washington Supreme Court stated:

“RCW 9A.56.065 prohibits theft of a motor vehicle. However, neither the statute nor the criminal code explicitly defines the term ‘motor vehicle.’ Though a plain reading of the term could conceivably include a riding lawn mower, the legislature intended otherwise. Because the act itself denotes a restrained definition, we find that as a matter of law, a riding lawn mower is not a ‘motor vehicle’ for purposes of the theft of a motor vehicle statute.”