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

Jury doesn't hold son responsible for mother's actions

Attorney Allison Widney’s 17-year-old client was facing about three years in prison.

He’d been accused of helping his mother rob, assault and threaten to kill his grandmother, and was charged with robbery in the first degree domestic violence, assault in the second degree DV and felony harassment DV.

On the day of the incident, his mother had taken him to his grandmother’s residence to presumably just move out their belongings.

Since he was younger than 18 he could have been tried as a juvenile, but since he didn’t want to plead guilty to crimes he said he didn't commit, the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office tried him as an adult so the consequences of a conviction would be much more severe. (Keep this tactic in mind whenever you hear that 90-plus percent of cases resolve without going to trial.) Not only would he have been sent to prison for years instead of a few months in a juvenile facility, a conviction would have been counted as two strikes under the state's three-strikes-and-you're-out law that mandates life sentences for a third serious offense. 

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Alleged victim not credible, jury says

Attorney Allison Widney recently won a not-guilty verdict for a client accused of harassing and assaulting the mother of his child, whose answer to “What happened?” changed every time she was asked and evolved into a story that the jury didn’t believe.

Jurors deliberated a little longer than an hour before returning the verdict on June 23 in Clark County District Court. 

It was the second time an assistant Vancouver city prosecutor had tried the case.

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Jury finds words were protected speech, not a criminal act

Attorney Bill Whitehall recently won a case for a client who was charged with provoking assault, a misdemeanor defined in state law as using any “word, sign or gesture” to “willfully provoke or attempt to provoke another person to commit an assault.” Ultimately, for the speech to be criminal, it would have to be speech that would likely provoke an immediate, violent reaction.

Jurors didn’t stay after the not-guilty verdict was read June 10 in Clark County District Court to speak to attorneys, so we can’t know for certain why they voted unanimously to acquit. They did deliberate for 3 1/2 hours, which was understandable given that the interaction between Whitehall’s client and the alleged victim was prompted by one of the most controversial topics of our time: abortion.

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Winning a loser of case

All clients have a constitutional right to go to trial. Some clients elect to go to trial on cases that appear, at least to the attorneys, to be unwinnable.

But when the prosecution has to prove its case, sometimes it can fall short for unexpected reasons.

On June 8, defense attorney Whitney Hawke took what seemed to be a loser of a case to trial in Clark County District Court, but ended up with a win. Jurors unanimously agreed with a point Hawke emphasized during her closing argument, which was that an assistant city attorney failed to prove a basic element of the crime.

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No visible injuries + no victim = no conviction

Despite knowing that the victim in a domestic violence assault case was not planning to attend trial May 18 in Clark County District Court, an assistant city attorney went forward with the case because he had an eyewitness to the alleged incident.

The eyewitness testimony wasn't convincing enough for the jury, which voted unanimously to acquit attorney Katie Kauffman's client of fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. 

Kauffman's client was arrested Feb. 19 after the eyewitness, who was working at a gas station, reported seeing the defendant and her boyfriend in a fight. The victim told a responding police officer that he had not been assaulted or placed in fear of being assaulted. 

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Young mother found not guilty of assaulting ex boyfriend

On April 20, a Clark County District Court jury needed only 18 minutes to decide our client was not guilty of fourth-degree assault domestic violence.

Our client, a 19-year-old mother, admitted during her trial that she became hysterical last fall when the father of her seven-month-old baby was preparing to leave with the baby in his mother’s vehicle that was equipped only with a front-facing car seat built for toddlers and not the rear-facing type of car seat recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But she did not, she said, hit her ex-boyfriend in the face, as he and his mother had claimed to Clark County sheriff’s deputies who responded to the 911 call.  

During jury selection, defense attorney Katie Kauffman asked potential jurors about how far they would go to protect a child from a potentially dangerous situation.

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Pared-down defense enough for an acquittal

I recently received a not-guilty verdict on a fourth-degree assault case in Clark County District Court. My client was accused of punching his neighbor and throwing bricks at his neighbor’s property. My client maintained his innocence throughout the process, from his initial conversations with police officers all the way through to the day of trial, which was March 11. 

His case was challenging because, despite scarce physical evidence that any crime had been committed, a jury may find it difficult to believe that someone would simply call 911 and make up the allegations. We did, however, have ample evidence to show that this was not the first time that the alleged victim had manipulated the court system to try and get my client in trouble. Unfortunately, a judge ruled against us in a pre-trial motion and so we were unable to show jurors evidence of the alleged victim’s biases and motive.

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Helping jurors stay focused key to not-guilty verdict

Attorney Hannah McCausland won a not-guilty verdict for a client accused of assault, and after her Feb. 26 win in Clark County District Court she said a key to winning the case was asking the judge to read what’s called a Petrich instruction to the jury.

The Petrich instruction was named for a defendant who was charged with committing the same crime on several distinct occasions. Petrich’s conviction was overturned on appeal because the jury did not unanimously agree on which of the alleged acts had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

That violated the defendant’s right to a unanimous jury verdict, appellate judges ruled.

In McCausland’s case, her client was charged with fourth-degree assault domestic violence, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. He had also been charged with attempted unlawful imprisonment, a gross misdemeanor, but a Vancouver assistant city attorney dismissed that charge on the morning of trial.

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A successful self-defense case

A Clark County District Court jury deliberated only 30 minutes last week before returning a verdict of not guilty in a misdemeanor assault case.

My client, who was charged with assaulting his brother, had admitted to police that he hit his brother in anger because his brother had wrecked his vehicle.  A witness indicated she did not see the assault, but did see my client raise his fist toward the alleged victim.  When I first met with my client, he told me that his brother had advanced on him and he only struck him in self-defense. So that was going to be our defense at trial.

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Clark County to pay $60,000 for violating state public records law

As reported by The Columbian last month, one of our criminal defense attorneys had success as a civil litigant: A Clark County Superior Court judge ordered the county to pay attorney Neil Anderson $35,000 after finding the Clark County Sheriff's Office violated the state's public records law.

Anderson, who received his money this week, was represented by Vancouver attorney Greg Ferguson. After being ordered by Judge Robert Lewis to pay Ferguson's legal fees, the county agreed to pay him $25,000.

So in total, that's $60,000 the county has to pay for what Lewis described as "gross negligence" on the part of the sheriff's office. 

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