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

Hiring expert pays off for client

In some cases, it may benefit clients to hire an outside expert to conduct an in-depth analysis of the facts of the case. Often, an expert can confirm or strengthen a defense while weakening the prosecution's case.

This strategy recently worked for attorney Nate Pliska. He had a client who was charged in Clark County District Court with hit and run, a gross misdemeanor, after the rear end of his 20-foot U-Haul van reportedly made contact with another vehicle and the client didn't stop and exchange information with the other driver as required by law. 

The outcome of the case would prove critical to the client, as he drove for work and a conviction would have resulted in a mandatory yearlong suspension of his driver's license.

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Not-guilty verdict delivered faster than a pizza

Katie Kauffman recently won a trial for a client who’d gotten upset with his girlfriend because she was trying to feed their six-month-old son pizza.  The girlfriend left the residence, then later called 911 and claimed he’d kicked her in the leg and punched her in the face.

Despite the fact that Clark County Sheriff’s deputies noted no visible injuries and there were no witnesses to the argument (except a baby who can’t eat pizza, let alone talk) the client was arrested for fourth-degree assault domestic violence and booked into the Clark County Jail.

How weak was the prosecution’s case? The jury deliberated only eight minutes before returning a verdict of not guilty.

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Brother acquitted of assaulting sister

Attorney Tim Murphy won an acquittal Sept. 14 in Clark County District Court for a client charged with fourth-degree assault and third-degree malicious mischief. The crimes, both gross misdemeanors, carried a maximum sentence of one year in the Clark County Jail.

The alleged victim was the client’s younger sister, who testified at trial that her brother punched her in the face, dragged her out of bed and broke her phone during an argument that started when he accused her of taking his bath towel and she told him to “get the f--- out” of her bedroom.

Vancouver police officers who responded to the April 15 incident noted that the 17-year-old sister had injuries to her face and they arrested her brother, 22, for assault.

The Vancouver City Attorney’s office added a charge of malicious mischief after the case was set for trial, a common tactic used to encourage defendants to plead guilty so prosecutors don’t have to prove the case at a trial.

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Client acquitted of assault after inconsistent testimony from alleged victims

Attorney Neil Anderson won an acquittal Aug. 4 in Clark County District Court for a client charged with one count of fourth-degree assault domestic violence and one count of fourth-degree assault. The client allegedly assaulted his ex-girlfriend and one of her friends, but at trial the women gave different accounts of what supposedly happened on February 6.

A conviction would have carried a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

The night of the incident, the client had gone to his ex-girlfriend's residence to visit his infant daughter. He agreed to stay with his daughter so his ex-girlfriend and her friend could go out for cigarettes. The cigarette run turned into a drinking session, and they were both drunk when they returned hours later. The ex-girlfriend called 911 to say she'd been assaulted. She told a police officer that she and her ex-boyfriend had got into an argument because she was looking through his phone and found flirty text messages he'd exchanged with another ex-girlfriend. She claimed that her ex had grabbed her by the face, tackled her and the wind was knocked out of her when she hit the ground. Her friend claimed that she had been dragged down the hallway and bitten by the defendant.

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