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

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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Anderson, Kauffman win felony assault trial

Attorneys Neil Anderson and Katie Kauffman won a trial Nov. 28 for a client accused of first-degree assault in the February 2021 shooting of a Vancouver man in the parking lot of an apartment complex.

The client, who has been in custody since the incident on $300,000 bail, was acquitted on all charges and released from the Clark County Jail after Anderson and Kauffman successfully argued that the shooting was in self-defense.

A jury returned the verdicts after deliberating approximately three hours.

Jurors heard testimony last week before the Thanksgiving holiday, and then returned to court Nov. 28 for closing arguments and deliberations.

The client was initially charged with attempted murder. Prosecutors amended the charge down to first-degree assault, a class A felony, with a firearm enhancement less than a month before trial. He was also charged with drive-by shooting, a class B felony. If convicted he faced between 14 and 17 years in prison.

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Swisher wins District Court bench trial

Attorney Matthew Swisher won a bench trial Oct. 27 for a client charged with physical control of a vehicle while under the influence, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

Clark County District Court Judge Chad Sleight acquitted Swisher’s client of the charge, ruling that Swisher had proven his client had been safely off the roadway at the time of his arrest.

Swisher’s client was arrested in 2021 after a Cowlitz Tribal Police officer noticed a car in the parking lot of the Cowlitz Crossing convenience store that was not in a parking space. It was 4 a.m. and the officer saw a male asleep in the driver’s seat. The officer could also see empty bottles of alcohol in the front passenger seat. The officer knocked on the driver’s window and asked the client to step out of the vehicle. He said when the man got out of the vehicle and spoke to him he could smell the odor of intoxicants and observed the man’s bloodshot, watery eyes, flushed face and slurred speech.

The client admitted he had been drinking. He refused to perform field sobriety tests.

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Back-to-back wins for Askanas

Isabelle Askanas got a back-to-back wins in Clark County District Court last week. On Sept. 8 she got a client acquitted of assault and malicious mischief and on Sept. 9 she won a quick not-guilty verdict for a client charged with racing.

Askanas and Eliza Haggerty represented a client who was cited last year by a Clark County sheriff’s deputy who had been parked near Northeast 55th Avenue and Northeast Padden Parkway. About 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 30, 2021, the deputy wrote that two vehicles passed him traveling east on Padden Parkway “at a high rate of speed.” Both vehicles stopped at a red light, with the deputy now behind them. The deputy wrote that when the light turned green, “both vehicles’ wheels squeeled and the vehicles accelerated in a speed contest.”

The deputy pulled over both drivers and cited each for racing, a type of reckless driving, which is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

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Askanas, Swisher win District Court trial

Isabelle Askanas and Matthew Swisher won a trial Sept. 8 for a client charged with misdemeanor assault and malicious mischief.

A Clark County District Court jury deliberated about 40 minutes before returning not-guilty verdicts on charges of fourth-degree assault and third-degree malicious mischief, both gross misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail.

At the time of his arrest, the client was living in the alleged victim’s house. She was upset that he had a friend over and went to his bedroom to ask him when he was going to move out. She said the client got upset and shoved her so hard she fell down and got hurt. She also said he broke off a door knob, which was why he was charged with malicious mischief.

At the time of the client’s arrest, the homeowner told police officers that she had wanted the client to move out of her house and she even hesitated acknowledging that he had been living there because she knew that if he had established residency it would be more difficult to get him to move out. One officer even noted that both the client and alleged victim appeared to be giving “self-serving” statements about what happened.

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