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

Client acquitted of assaulting father

Attorney Gregger Highberg won an acquittal in Clark County District Court last week for a client who was accused of assaulting her father.

Had it been up to the client’s father, the case would have been dismissed. But, as an assistant Vancouver city attorney repeatedly told jurors, this was a case the state was pursuing over the objections of the alleged victim.

The father testified during the Sept. 21 trial that any contact his daughter made with him was accidental.

The assistant city attorney may not have believed him, but jurors did. The jury deliberated approximately 30 minutes before returning the “not guilty” verdict.

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Meyer wins quick verdict in DUI trial

Attorney Zeed Meyer won a quick decision in a DUI trial earlier this month. Jurors deliberated only 20 minutes before returning a “not guilty” verdict.

Meyer’s client was stopped for speeding on state Highway 14. A Washington State trooper clocked him driving 73 mph, 13 miles over the limit. It was about 10 p.m. The trooper said he detected the odor of alcohol on the driver’s breath, and said the driver acknowledged having a few glasses of wine earlier in the day.

The driver couldn’t keep his balance during field sobriety tests and his pupils were pinpricks, both signs of intoxication, the trooper noted in his report. The driver agreed to a breath test, the results of which showed he had alcohol in his system but the amount was below the legal limit.

The trooper decided the driver was under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The driver, a cancer survivor, told the trooper he takes multiple prescription medications.

The trooper conducted drug recognition tests and concluded the driver was under the influence of a drug that acts as a depressant on the central nervous system.

The driver agreed to a blood test, which came back negative for drugs.

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Highberg wins trial in malicious mischief case

Attorney Gregger Highberg won a trial last week in Clark County District Court for a client accused of malicious mischief in the third degree, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

Highberg’s client was accused of damaging his ex-girlfriend’s, ex-husband’s car by throwing a can at the driver’s side door panel. The alleged victim estimated repairs would cost $500 to $1000.

During the July 13 trial, Highberg argued the alleged victim was biased and there were no independent witnesses.

A jury deliberated 15 minutes in Clark County District Court before returning the not-guilty verdict.

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Cole wins acquittal in domestic violence case

Attorney Grant Cole won an acquittal this week for a client charged with criminal trespass in the first degree and malicious mischief in the third degree.

A six-member jury deliberated 30 minutes before unanimously voting “not guilty” on both charges. The daylong trial on June 28 in Clark County District Court came three months after a judge ruled the lead police officer would not be allowed to testify due to prosecutorial misconduct by an assistant Vancouver city attorney.

The trial had previously been scheduled for March 2. Two nights before trial, the police officer, under the direction of the prosecutor, called Cole’s client and questioned her without Cole’s knowledge.

In a subsequent hearing Cole argued the case should be dismissed. While Judge Chad Sleight agreed with Cole that questioning the defendant without her attorney present was a clear violation of her right to counsel and he was “outraged” by the misconduct, he decided the remedy would be to keep the police officer off the witness stand.

Even without his lead officer, the assistant city attorney went ahead and took the case to trial.

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Kauffman keeps client out of prison

Attorney Katie Kauffman came up with a huge win for her client this week, as she successfully argued he should be spared from going to prison.

Under the terms of what a state Department of Corrections officer described as a “rather unorthodox idea” for punishment that she supported, Kauffman’s client will keep his job.

At the hearing on May 24, a Clark County senior deputy prosecutor asked Superior Court Judge Derek Vanderwood to sentence Kauffman’s client to 30 months in prison.

In Washington state, crimes carry a standard range of confinement. Sentences that go higher or lower than those standard ranges are called “exceptional sentences” and judges need to articulate a reason for going outside the standard range.

Kauffman’s client had pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct in the first degree. The charges originated from a Dropbox tip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which sent it to local law enforcement.

While Washington state’s SSOSA (Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative) allows for treatment instead of prison, a key requirement excluded Kauffman’s client from consideration. To receive SSOSA, an offender must have an established relationship with the victim. Since Kauffman’s client looked at photographs of children he doesn’t know, he wasn’t eligible.  

Kauffman gave Judge Vanderwood several facts that supported an exceptional sentence below the standard range.

Her client had no prior criminal history and no known contact with law enforcement. He has a full-time job and support from his employer. He supports and cares for his two children including providing their healthcare benefits. The mother of his oldest child and his current girlfriend both support him. He passed a polygraph that indicated he was being truthful when he said he has not had any sexual contact with minors and has no interest. He cooperated with law enforcement and admitted to looking at the photographs.

Kauffman had her client do psychosexual evaluations with two doctors, both of whom said her client was a low risk to reoffend.

Those opinions were shared with the Department of Corrections, which also supported the downward departure from the sentencing range. In a pre-sentence investigation report, a corrections officer noted the defendant was a “young man and father, with a stable career, a supportive family and no criminal record or drug problem.” Kauffman’s proposal of work release “may be a rather unorthodox idea to which Department of Corrections might ordinarily take exception,” but in this case her client “has a history of good follow through, including with his employment, parental responsibilities, and even such simple things as keeping legal-related appointments and court dates. He came clean with investigating officers on these charges, (and) agreed to a polygraph and sexual deviancy assessment.”

Kauffman’s client, the corrections officer wrote, said he accepted the files from another individual to his Dropbox account not knowing what exactly were in the files. “He did eventually look at the files, and realized there were sexually-explicit child images in the material,” the corrections officer wrote. “He described his curiosity being ‘piqued’ and not immediately deleting the files.” He denied independently searching for sexually-explicit child images or having any actual sexual interest in children, she wrote.

One doctor noted that Kauffman’s client, who was 24 when he looked at the photographs, was medicated for ADHD from sixth grade through high school and that may have affected his neurodevelopment.

Vanderwood sentenced Kauffman’s client to one year of work release, which means he’ll be at the Clark County Work Center when he’s not at his job. He was also ordered to receive treatment and register as a sex offender. 

Cole wins split verdict in domestic violence case

Attorney Grant Cole won a split verdict this week in Clark County District Court. His client was acquitted on May 24 of fourth-degree assault domestic violence but convicted of resisting arrest.

Cole’s client was arrested at his home March 14, after his wife called 911 to report that he’d thrown a water bottle at her head. His wife went outside to meet responding Clark County Sheriff’s deputies, and Cole’s client locked the door and the garage door. Deputies found an open window and entered the home with the wife’s permission. Cole’s client had locked himself in a bedroom with his daughter, so a deputy had to break the door down. When a deputy tried to take Cole’s client into custody he fought back.

The justification for the charge of resisting arrest, a gross misdemeanor, was clear and Cole didn’t have a defense. With the charge of assault, however, Cole took a risk. While the client’s wife was on the witness stand, Cole asked her if it was true that two days prior to calling 911 she’d gone to court and asked for a restraining order and her request had been denied. She said that was true. An assistant city attorney objected to the question, and the objection was sustained, but Cole at least was able to let jurors know there may have been other factors that contributed to the wife’s decision to call 911.

On March 12, she had filed for divorce and asked for a restraining order. A judge denied her request because there wasn’t any evidence that she was in danger of being hurt by her husband. She’d wanted her husband to leave the family home, but he had no job and nowhere to go.

Two days later, she called 911 and he was arrested and booked into the Clark County Jail. 

The client’s wife testified she was in bed and had asked her daughter to bring her a glass of water. She said her husband instead came upstairs with two plastic bottles of water and yelled at her for asking their daughter to bring her water. She said he threw one bottle at a wall and the other at her head. She said she turned away and the bottle hit her in the back of the head, leaving a small bump.

Cole's client denied to deputies that he threw the bottle at her head. 

During closing argument, Cole told the six jurors (three men and three women) that there was a serious lack of evidence supporting the assault, with serious concerns about the credibility of the person making the accusation. The prosecution simply couldn't prove the assault charge beyond a reasonable doubt, he said, and told the jury it was their job to hold the prosecution to that burden of proof. 

The jury deliberated approximately 45 minutes before returning the verdict. 

At sentencing, Judge Chad Sleight went far beyond the assistant city attorney’s recommendation of 18 days in jail and ordered 60 days of confinement. 

Kauffman saves client from felony sex conviction

Katie Kauffman didn’t try and excuse her client’s behavior, which she acknowledged to a Clark County Superior Court jury was incredibly gross.

But his actions – masturbating and getting ejaculate on a woman who was next to him – constituted a misdemeanor, she argued, not a felony.

The 12-member jury unanimously agreed. After deliberating about two hours on April 24, the jury returned a verdict of not-guilty of attempted indecent liberties and guilty of fourth-degree assault.

Her client was also convicted of felony bail jump, which wasn’t a surprise because he missed a mandatory pre-trial court appearance and didn't have a reason for why he missed it. 

The fact the jury was even allowed to consider a lesser charge was a win for Kauffman. When she and a deputy prosecuting attorney were arguing about which instructions would be read to the jury before deliberations, she asked Judge Derek Vanderwood to include the lesser offense. The deputy prosecutor objected, but Kauffman convinced Vanderwood the elements of the crime met legal and factual requirements to be considered misdemeanor assault.

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Judge dismisses case for client found mentally incompetent

Attorney Neil Anderson successfully argued this week that his client’s constitutional right to due process had been violated by an unacceptably long wait time to be transported from the Clark County Jail to Western State Hospital.

At the end of the March 21 hearing, District Court Judge Chad Sleight granted Anderson's motion to dismiss the charge of fourth-degree assault domestic violence, a gross misdemeanor, over the objection of a Vancouver assistant city attorney. 

Long waiting lists for beds at Western State Hospital, an inpatient psychiatric hospital near Tacoma, has been a problem for years. The state has paid millions in fines for being unable to admit patients in accordance with court orders.

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Sloppy work by police, prosecutors makes for quick acquittal

Attorney Tim Murphy won a trial this week for a client charged with criminal trespass in the first degree, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

After the jury was sent to deliberate, a Clark County deputy prosecutor was filling out post-conviction paperwork that wouldn’t be necessary. The jury was out fewer than 20 minutes before returning with a “not guilty” verdict.

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Crime or kink? Jury acquits man who tied up girlfriend

Attorney Zeed Meyer won a Clark County District Court trial March 9 for a client charged with assaulting his girlfriend.

Based on police reports, this did not appear to be a strong case for the defense: a woman called 911 to report that she woke up to her boyfriend pulling down her pants; her wrists had been in restraints. A responding officer photographed her bloody lip, which she said was caused by her boyfriend stuffing a pair of underwear in her mouth. She also said her boyfriend headbutted her, and, after the restraints were removed, pushed her to the ground during an argument.

So how did Meyer get a “not guilty” verdict, which was reached by the Clark County District Court jury after 20 minutes of deliberations?

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