Blog

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

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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Quick not-guilty verdict highlights importance of voir dire

An important aspect of trials not often depicted in legal dramas is voir dire, when attorneys question prospective jurors. The questions are designed to weed out people with biases, highlight people capable of ensuring the defendant's right to a fair and impartial jury and to help prepare the jurors for the issues they will hear during the trial. 

The French phrase "voir dire" means "to speak the truth," and that's all attorneys want from prospective jurors. 

On Dec. 3, attorney Hannah McCausland won a trial in Clark County District Court after the six-member jury deliberated fewer than 10 minutes. During voir dire, she questioned prospective jurors on their thoughts regarding central issues in the case, namely arguments among family members and the stress and panic a parent experiences when a child -- no matter how old -- is missing. 

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Weak case, quick acquittal

Washington is among more than 20 states with a mandatory domestic violence arrest law, which takes the discretion away from police officers who respond to calls involving romantic partners, family members or roommates. If somebody claims to be a victim of an assault -- even a minor assault that left no scratches, red marks or bruising -- an arrest must be made. 

One consequence of mandatory arrest laws, though, are cases with little to no physical evidence. Sometimes these cases get dismissed before trial, but other times prosecutors want to let a jury decide whether a crime was committed.

And that's what happened on Dec. 18, when attorney Zeed Meyer won a trial in Clark County District Court. How weak was the prosecutor's case? The six-member jury deliberated only 10 minutes before announcing it had reached a verdict: not guilty.

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A "reckless" win

A young man was charged with reckless driving in a recent case, but I successfully defended him in Clark County District Court last month by arguing to the jury that the crime of reckless driving has specific elements the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

A Clark County sheriff's deputy pulled my client over after witnessing him driving in the center turn lane on State Route 503 and passing some vehicles travelling in the same direction before merging over. The deputy sheriff was correct in that center turn lanes are not to be used as passing lanes. My client indicated that he was not trying to pass any cars, he was trying to speed up to the general pace of the traffic prior to merging. What the officer did not witness was how my client came to be in the center turn lane.

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Jury ices prosecutor, delivers not-guilty verdict on cold case

One day in January, my client was very surprised to learn he was being charged with the crime of Theft in the 3rd degree.

This was a "cold charge," and he was unaware he was being investigated by the Clark County Sheriff's Office for an incident that had occurred three months earlier. This blindsided him, to say the least. What was the most upsetting for him was that the charge was based solely upon supposedly being "identified" by a deputy sheriff from a photo taken from store security video.

This deputy notified the deputy assigned to the case that he thought the guy in the photo was my client. The assigned deputy obtained a photo of my client and photographs of five other randomly selected guys, and created a montage to present to the store clerk for possible identification. Upon being shown the montage, the store clerk picked my client from the lineup with "80% certainty."

Now, remember prosecutors have to prove guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." And the store clerk was only 80 percent certain. 

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Coming soon: The Kraken

Earlier this year, our office moved from downtown to Uptown. Typically when giving directions to our office we use local landmark businesses such as Vancouver Pizza Company or Main Street Marijuana. But since the sidewalk in front of our office, at 23rd and Main streets, will soon be home to the city's newest public art installation, we can just tell people to look for 'The Kraken.'" 

Today, we got a sneak peek at the piece that was selected through a joint effort by the Clark County Arts Commission and the Uptown Village Association. It's a tentacle that will appear to snake up out of the sewer, as a manhole cover will be affixed to the top. We were also given a image of what it will look like when it's installed.  

kraken

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A defense win by default

Clients often ask, “What happens if the victim doesn’t show up for trial?”

Typically, a prosecutor would ask a judge, before jury selection, to set a new trial date. If a client’s constitutional right to a speedy trial was about to be violated, the prosecutor could ask for the case to be dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning the charges could be re-filed and everything would start over.

But those scenarios assume the prosecutor understands the rules.

On July 15th, attorney Katie Kauffman had a domestic violence assault case dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning prosecutors can’t refile charges. Kauffman went to Clark County District Court that day prepared to argue a very strong case.  Her client has no criminal history and was charged with assaulting her husband upon learning that he had been unfaithful. Her client said her husband pinned her down and she only struck him in self-defense. Kauffman was confident a jury would find that there was reasonable doubt that her client was the primary aggressor, and that her client had every right to defend herself and should be found not guilty.

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