Legal news and analysis from the largest criminal defense firm in Southwest Washington, Jeffrey D. Barrar, P.S.

Haggerty, Saraceno win District Court trial

Attorneys Eliza Haggerty and Nick Saraceno won a trial Oct. 13 in Clark County District Court for a client accused of denting a car door.

The client was charged with malicious mischief in the third degree, a gross misdemeanor.

He was cited in 2021 after the alleged victim called 911 and reported that she saw him intentionally ram the door of his van into the door of her Ford Escape and then drive away. The client and alleged victim lived in the same apartment complex, where the client was employed as a maintenance worker.

A Vancouver police officer photographed two indents on the front passenger side door of the alleged victim’s vehicle and questioned the client, who said he may have accidentally made contact with the Ford Escape because there wasn’t much space between the vehicles. He said he did not cause any damage and refused to exchange his insurance information with the alleged victim.

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Quick acquittal in domestic violence trial

A jury needed only 20 minutes to reach a “not guilty” verdict in a recent domestic violence case in Clark County District Court.

Attorneys Devin Higgins and Amber Cognata won the Oct. 5 trial for a client accused of assaulting her ex-boyfriend. She was charged with fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

A video of the July 17 incident, filmed by the alleged victim’s adult daughter, showed our client and her ex arguing about infidelity. The alleged victim got splashed with water off-camera, and then our client appeared to make a slapping motion toward her ex’s face.

The alleged victim’s daughter called 911. When Clark County Sheriff’s deputies arrived he told them he did not want to be a victim and he did not want his ex-girlfriend to get into trouble. A deputy who viewed the video explained that under the state’s mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence he had no choice but to arrest our client.

At trial, the alleged victim said he was hit in the back of the head. Before he was hit, he said he had been calling his ex a whore, a cheating slut and a bitch. He said he hadn’t wanted law enforcement involved and didn’t tell his daughter to call 911. He also said that before our client showed up at his house he told her he was going to “destroy” her.

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Pitts wins DV trial in District Court

Attorney Taylor Pitts won an acquittal Aug. 24 in Clark County District Court for a client charged with domestic violence assault.

The alleged victim -- the client’s girlfriend and the mother of his two children -- did not show up for the trial. Since she did not show up to testify, the statement she wrote for police officers detailing the assault was not admissible.

The client was arrested April 23 after his 8-year-old stepson called 911 and said his dad had punched his mother. The client got on the phone with the dispatcher and said he’d been trying to leave the residence and his girlfriend wouldn’t let him leave.

Officers from the Vancouver Police Department responded and determined the client was the aggressor in the fight. They photographed the alleged victim’s injuries but did not photograph the client’s injuries. The client was charged with fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

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Location, location, location

Neil Anderson and Marina Spencer won a trial in Clark County Superior Court for a client charged with one count of rape of a child in the first degree and two counts of child molestation in the first degree.

The jury returned the unanimous “not guilty” verdict on Aug. 18 after 5 ½ hours of deliberation.

Afterward, jurors said they didn’t even get around to discussing the details of the allegations. They didn’t make it that far because they couldn’t even agree the state had proved what is typically a very easy hurdle for the state to clear: jurisdiction.

The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office can only prosecute crimes committed in Clark County. During the four-day trial, none of the state’s witnesses identified a location in Clark County where the alleged abuse occurred.

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Mellen, Cognata win assault trial

Attorney Daniel Mellen won a trial Aug. 10 for a client accused of tasing his roommate with a stun gun.

Attorney Amber Cognata assisted Mellen during the one-day trial in Clark County District Court, and her help went beyond jury selection and questioning witnesses. In an effective move, Mellen had Cognata help demonstrate for the jury why the alleged victim’s claims didn’t make any sense.

The alleged victim said Mellen’s client jumped on his back and then tased him while hanging onto him.

That would suggest the injuries should have been higher on his body, Mellen said. And since his client is right-handed, he would have likely tased his roommate around his right shoulder.

But the alleged victim’s wounds were on the lower left part of his torso.

During closing argument, Mellen stood behind Cognata and showed the jury where he would strike her from that position.

His client’s story was that the roommate, who was taller and heavier, tackled him, pinned him to the floor and was punching him when he deployed his stun gun.

Mellen and Cognata got on the ground in the courtroom, facing each other, and Mellen acted out jabbing her with his right hand and the area most accessible, which was her left hip and the left side of her stomach.

The injuries, he told the jury, fit his client’s story better than the alleged victim’s story.

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Anderson, Spencer win rape case

Attorneys Neil Anderson and Marina Spencer scored a huge victory in Clark County Superior Court this month, winning not-guilty verdicts for a client accused of raping his stepdaughter.

If convicted the client, 57, would have likely spent the rest of his life in prison.

During closing argument of the three-day trial, Spencer emphasized that no one could corroborate the alleged victim’s account, not even the state’s witnesses.

Spencer also highlighted a quote from a state's witness, who testified the alleged victim "seemed so much more put together and not the mess you would think.”

Spencer argued to the jury this was a telling observation given the alleged victim had claimed she had been raped and molested every day for six years starting at the age of 11, yet never exhibited any signs of distress. 

Spencer also implored the jury to think logically about the alleged victim’s testimony when she said her stepfather wanted it to be known that they were together in a relationship.

“Take a second and actually think about that logically,” Spencer said. “She testified that her 40, 50-year-old stepfather wanted it to be known that he was the boyfriend of a 13, 14-year-old? He wanted everyone in their community to know he was actively raping and molesting his 13-year-old stepdaughter? And yet, not a single state’s witness can testify to this? Not a single person that was around can say “Oh yeah, (the stepfather) and (the stepdaughter) were an item back when she was 13 or 14. I knew that was highly illegal, so I called the police and CPS.”

If you take that at face value, Spencer said, and assume the alleged victim is telling the truth, then there would have been an army of witnesses testifying the stepfather introduced himself as his stepdaughter’s boyfriend.

The client was charged with four counts of rape of a child and two counts of child molestation.

The jury acquitted him on the rape charges on July 13. Jurors were unable to reach an unanimous verdict on the child molestation charges, even after deliberating for eight hours.

Rather than go to trial again on the child molestation charges, a deputy prosecutor dismissed them July 27 after the client agreed to a no-contact order with his stepdaughter.

The case had been hanging over the client’s head for more than five years.

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Cognata, Coffin win DV trial

Attorneys Amber Cognata and Lee Coffin won a domestic violence trial on July 6 in Clark County District Court, the second such victory for Vancouver Defenders in a week.

Their client was charged with assault in the fourth degree domestic violence, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

The client was arrested by Vancouver police officers on Jan. 21 after he called 911 to report that he’d been assaulted by his girlfriend. The girlfriend told officers she’d been assaulted, and had a gash on her head.

The client did not have any visible injuries, so he was the one officers chose to arrest.

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Assault with a garden hose? Jury says no

Attorneys Marjia Boise and Nicholas Saraceno recently won a not-guilty verdict for a client accused of domestic violence assault for pushing his girlfriend away and spraying her with a garden hose.

The client was charged with fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor, following a May 3 argument that started after his girlfriend returned home with their two young children from Frenchman’s Bar. Our client saw an empty White Claw can in her car and knew she’d been drinking and driving. Upset, he told her to leave their home and let the children stay with him.

They argued inside the home, where she tried to take the children. Our client pushed her away while he was holding their 4-year-old daughter. She left the house with their son, 2.

When they were outside, he told her to leave by herself and sprayed her with a garden hose.

The alleged victim filmed our client with her phone, both when they were fighting over the children and when he sprayed her, from a distance, with the hose.

The videos were played during trial, which was June 30 in Clark County District Court.

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Swisher wins DUI trial by suppressing evidence

Attorney Matthew Swisher won a DUI trial on April 14 after gutting the prosecution’s case with a pretrial motion to exclude evidence because the arresting officer did not offer his client a Spanish interpreter.

The jury in Clark County District Court deliberated approximately 40 minutes before returning a verdict. Left to wonder why they didn’t hear about any field sobriety tests, a breath test or a blood draw, the six-member jury unanimously voted “not guilty.”

What jurors didn’t know was Swisher successfully argued in a pretrial motion that any post-arrest statements and the defendant’s refusal of a breath test should be excluded because a language barrier that prevented the defendant from waiving his rights knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. The defendant spoke only Spanish, while the officer spoke only English.

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Anderson, Kauffman win legal awards

Attorneys Neil Anderson and Katie Kauffman were each honored March 11 for their excellence in the courtroom.
Anderson was awarded Trial Attorney of the Year by the Clark County Bar Association at its annual Barrister’s Ball at the AC Marriott Vancouver Waterfront.
Kauffman was given the Rising Star award at Lewis & Clark Law School’s Distinguished Honors Dinner at the Waverley Country Club in Portland.
Both Kauffman and Anderson have felony caseloads of court-appointed cases at Vancouver Defenders and represent retained clients as well.
Anderson, a 1996 graduate of Seattle University School of Law, has been practicing in Clark County since 1999. He was hired by Jeff Barrar, founder of Vancouver Defenders, in 2006.
“Last year, he had six felony jury trials,” said Christie Emrich, owner of Vancouver Defenders, who introduced Anderson at the Barrister’s Ball. “For those who don’t practice in criminal law, that’s a lot. Neil is a criminal defense attorney. We’re not supposed to win. He’s a public defender. We’re really not supposed to win. Neil had those six trials and he had five wins, essentially.” At three trials, juries found Anderson’s clients not guilty. One trial ended in a hung jury, and in another his client was acquitted of a high-level felony but found guilty of a misdemeanor. Only once was his client found guilty as charged.

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Jeffrey D. Barrar, P.S.: Vancouver Defenders Jeffrey D. Barrar, P.S.
Vancouver Defenders