Criminal defense attorney with client

What are the Penalties for Embezzlement in Washington?

Embezzlement is a type of theft in Washington state. Although embezzlement is not like a simple purse snatching, they both fall under the same category, so they can have similar penalties, depending on the degree of the offense. Taking someone else’s property, whether by the use of physical force or exerting unauthorized means to appropriate the item or use it for yourself, is theft.

Under our state’s criminal code, theft can be a gross misdemeanor, a class B felony, or a class C felony, depending on the dollar value of the theft. A Washington criminal defense attorney can advocate for you and work hard to get you the best possible outcome in your situation. Let’s answer the question of what are the penalties for embezzlement in Washington. 

An Overview of Embezzlement

Taking someone else’s money at a bank could be embezzlement or some other type of theft. Let’s say that a bank clerk slips a few dollars from each cash deposit into the drawer and takes it home at the end of his shift. That situation would be embezzlement. On the other hand, if someone lifts someone else’s wallet while in line at the bank, that would be a different kind of theft.

Penalties for a Conviction of Theft

RCW 9A.56.30, RCW 9A.56.40, and RCW 9A.56.50 of the Washington state laws contain the penalties for the three different degrees of theft in our state.

  1. First-degree theft. A conviction of first-degree theft under RCW 9A.56.030 is a class B felony. This category is for theft of property with a value of more than $5,000. The penalties include imprisonment in a state facility for no more than 10 years. A person could receive a fine of as much as $20,000, or both imprisonment and a fine. 
  2. Second-degree theft. RCW 9A.56.040 says that a person convicted of second-degree theft has committed a class C felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state facility for no more than five years and a fine of up to $10,000. It is possible to get sentenced to only imprisonment or only a fine, or both. Second-degree theft is for property between the value of $750 and $5,000. 
  3. Third-degree theft. This conviction is a gross misdemeanor under RCW 9A.56.050. A person convicted of stealing property worth less than $750 can get punished by up to one year of confinement in county jail. This offense can come with a fine of no more than $5,000. A person could get a sentence of both confinement and a fine.

Sometimes, people fall into the trap of embezzlement due to unfortunate or even tragic circumstances, like medical bills or falling behind on rent or mortgage payments. In these situations, people do not intend to keep the money indefinitely, but rather, fully intend to pay back the money when they can.

Unfortunately, a criminal record does not include explanations of what led up to committing the offense. Having a criminal record can destroy your career and your reputation. It could be nearly impossible ever to work in your current field again. The best way to avoid these unpleasant consequences is to avoid getting the conviction in the first place. The first step in trying to avoid a criminal record is to talk to a Washington criminal defense attorney as soon as possible if you are being investigated, arrested for, or have been charged with embezzlement. For legal help get in touch with our office today.

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.

Doctor shaking hands with attorney

What to Do if Your Patient Accuses You of Sexual Assault

It is every doctor’s nightmare to get falsely accused by a patient of something shocking that destroys your reputation. No matter how innocent you are, there will always be some people who will assume that “where there is smoke, there is fire.”

The worst thing to do is to assume that everything will work out fine on its own. Your first phone call should be to a Seattle criminal defense lawyer who will protect your legal rights and explain what to do if your patient accuses you of sexual assault.

Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent

Too often, innocent people think that it is safe for them to speak to law enforcement when under investigation or getting arrested because they know they have done nothing wrong. In reality, saying anything under these circumstances could get you convicted of a crime you did not commit. Your words could get twisted or taken out of context and used against you. Do not participate in questioning until your lawyer arrives, and then, follow their guidance. 

Stay Off of Social Media

The prosecution will be able to access your social media accounts, regardless of the privacy settings. You might feel the need to vent or defend yourself, but social media is not the place to do so. Every photo or comment that you post can get submitted as evidence in court.

Do Not Interact with or Confront Your Accuser

If someone goes to the extent of accusing you of sexual assault, you will not be able to convince that person that they are wrong. If anything, reaching out to your accuser will look like you are trying to intimidate the person into withdrawing the accusation. 

You might justifiably feel the person owes you an explanation for the false accusation, but confronting the individual is not the answer. It can only hurt you and your case if you do so. Instead, you might need to prepare yourself for the fact that the accuser might never explain why they took the action they did.

Do Not Give Interviews or Public Statements

Let your lawyer speak for you. Building and protecting your case is your lawyer’s job, not yours. You would not want your lawyer to come into the operating room and do your job.

Gather the Evidence of Your Innocence

Your defense lawyer will need to have hard evidence to present in court to refute the allegations of the accuser. If you rely entirely on the judge or jury believing your word instead of the testimony of your accuser, you are rolling the dice in a dangerous game.

Instead, you might go through the files at your practice and compile things your defense lawyer can use on your behalf, for example:

  • Evidence that your office policy is for you never to be alone with the door closed in your office or an examining room with a patient without having a member of your medical staff present.
  • Testimony from members of your office staff confirming that you do not deviate from this protocol.
  • If this patient has behaved oddly in the past, you might have notes in the medical file or witnesses to that behavior. 
  • Sometimes false allegations of a sexual nature are the result of a spurned romantic advance from the patient or delusional conduct resulting from a mental health disorder. Reviewing the office files might lead to the discovery of information along these lines.

A Washington criminal defense lawyer can help to preserve the good name and reputation that you have worked hard for many years to build. Contact our office today for help with your case, we offer a free consultation.

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.

Attorney sitting with client

What are the Red Flags for PPP Loan Fraud?

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is going after people who committed loan fraud when applying for or using Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds that were intended to keep our economy from collapsing during the dark, early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Law enforcement estimates that hundreds of millions of dollars of PPP funds were obtained through fraud.

Hundreds of individuals now face criminal charges for PPP fraud, with many more expected. As with any massive criminal investigation, some innocent people might get caught in the law enforcement net because of honest mistakes. A Washington criminal defense attorney can protect your legal rights and answer questions, like what are the red flags for PPP loan fraud?

An Overview of the PPP Loan Fraud Situation

In fairness, 2020 and 2021 were chaotic times and the PPP loan rules were confusing. Some businesses were desperate enough to bend a few rules because they were afraid the pandemic would destroy their companies. Also, there were opportunists, like the SBA employee accused of accepting bribes for processing Economic Injury Disaster loan applications that contained fraudulent information.

PPP Red Flags

As the investigations progress, some common situations have emerged in fraudulent PPP loan applications and other paperwork. Here are some of the more frequent red flags that can alert lenders to the possibility of PPP loan fraud:

  • Using the loan funds for improper purposes. A business was not allowed to use the PPP proceeds for whatever purpose it wanted. The PPP money was intended for only eligible expenses, like payroll, business utility bills, business rent or lease payments, and the payment of mortgage interest. Some recipients of PPP loans improperly used them for personal expenses or business expenses not authorized under the terms of the PPP loan program.
  • Borrowers who did not meet the qualifications of the PPP loan program. Several large public corporations received millions of dollars in PPP loan proceeds, even though they were not in the economic dire straits required to qualify for the program. If a company had access to equity in the market, they were not supposed to apply for a PPP loan.
  • Making false statements about their expenses and other data. Many companies claimed much higher payroll expenses than they actually incurred in an effort to secure more funding than they would otherwise get. Some businesses said they had more employees than they actually did or made false statements about the nature of their business in an attempt to qualify under the loan program guidelines.
  • Some fraudsters committed individual or corporate identity theft; in other words, they applied for PPP loans in someone else’s name and kept the money for themselves. Another common tactic was creating fake identities and shell corporations to apply for multiple PPP loans.
  • The PPP program had two phases: application and forgiveness. Both parts required supporting documentation to show eligibility for the funds and how the proceeds got used. Some individuals and companies did not submit adequate paperwork to support their application or use of the funds, while some other entities fabricated their documents.

These are just a few of the many indications of PPP fraud. If you made mistakes in any of these or other red flag areas, you might become the subject of a fraud investigation. You will want to talk to a Washington criminal defense attorney to prepare a defense strategy as soon as possible. Contact Jennifer today for a free consultation.

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.

Attorney with client

What is a “Target Letter” and What Should You Do if You Get One?

People often panic when they receive a “target letter” from the Department of Justice, and rightly so. If you get one, you will need to know the legal implications of a target letter and what to do after receiving one. 

A Washington criminal defense attorney can protect your legal rights and aggressively defend you. Let’s explore what is a “target letter” and what should you do if you get one?

What is a Target Letter?

The Department of Justice (DOJ) or a U.S. Attorney’s Office sends out target letters as formal notice that you are somehow involved in a federal criminal investigation of a white-collar crime. The investigation might have been in progress for several months or even years before you receive a target letter, or they might have just started the investigation recently.

The target letter means that the DOJ intends to call you to testify in front of a federal grand jury in the near future. Sometimes, the individual does not receive the target letter until after they get subpoenaed to testify before the federal grand jury.

Who Gets Target Letters?

You can receive a target letter if the DOJ thinks that you are either the target or the subject of a grand jury investigation. A target of a grand jury investigation is someone the DOJ believes committed a crime. The prosecutor is supposed to have substantial evidence that links the target to the crime. The odds are that the DOJ will indict you for the alleged crime.

If you are the subject of a grand jury investigation, as opposed to the target of one, that means the DOJ does not yet think you committed the crime, but you have information they think will be useful to their investigation of the criminal activity. They consider you merely a witness at this time, but you could become a target and face a possible indictment as evidence surfaces during the investigation.

What Should You Do as Soon as You Receive a Target Letter?

It might be tempting to pick up the telephone and call the contact person in the target letter, but that is one of the worst things you can do. Everything you say to the federal agents or investigators can and will be used against you. You do not have to be in a courtroom for your words to become evidence.

Your first call should be to a defense lawyer who handles federal financial crimes. By contacting a criminal defense attorney immediately, it is possible sometimes to negotiate terms that avoid having criminal charges filed against you. Other options could include limiting the scope of the grand jury investigation, having you considered as a witness and not a target, or persuading the prosecutor to close the investigation. 

You will want the delicate navigation of the grand jury investigation process to be in the hands of a skilled defense attorney rather than trying to handle it yourself as a DIY project. Think of these cases as sophisticated medical procedures. You do not want to perform surgery on yourself.

A Washington criminal defense attorney can talk to you and provide defense and guidance. Contact our office today for a free consultation.

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.

Statue of Justia

Protection Order Cases – Civil or Criminal?

Protection order cases arise out of a civil case and there is a Petitioner and a Respondent. When a protection order is granted, it is simply an order, not a criminal conviction.  However, if the order is then violated, that violation of the order is a crime that can be prosecuted.

When a criminal case is initiated against someone and there is an alleged victim to the crime, the Court will almost always issue a No Contact Order (NCO) keeping the accused away from the victim. An NCO accomplishes the same function as a protection order but is attached to a criminal case.  If the criminal case is dismissed for some reason, the NCO is also terminated. NCO’s usually remain in place while a criminal case is pending and can also remain in place after sentencing, as part of the sentence imposed on the case.

Types of Protection Orders

There are several types of protection orders and it is important to think about which one is appropriate for your case.  Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPO’s) are appropriate in cases where there is a family, dating,  marriage, or cohabitation relationship and there has been violence or threats of violence in the relationship.  Anti-Harassment Orders (AHO) are appropriate where someone has engaged in repeated harassing behavior and the person has been told to stop contact and has not complied with that request, Anti-Stalking Orders are appropriate where someone is conducting real or online surveillance that can be proven, and Sexual Assault Protection Orders (SAPO’s) are appropriate when there is an allegation of sexual assault that has been made.

Initiating a Protection Order

Protection orders should be initiated either in a District Court or Superior Court near where you live.  If there is an active divorce or child custody case and the request for a protection order is connected to that case, it will be consolidated with that family law case and will likely end up in Superior Court.  Once you select which court you would like to file your case in, you can go to the Court website and find the forms you need to fill out to initiate the case.  You will need to fill out a Petition in which you will provide information about why you feel you need an order and other forms related to initiating the protection order case.  Once the petition is filed a Judge will review it and decide whether a Temporary Protection Order should be issued to keep the Respondent away from you until the full hearing.  Most of the time a Temporary Order is issued.  Once the petition is filed, a court date will be set for a full hearing on whether a longer-term order should be issued.  Your materials must be served on the Respondent.  Law enforcement can serve the materials or you can hire a legal messenger to serve the petition and hearing date on the Respondent.

Supplementing the Initial Petition

The initial Petition can be supplemented before the hearing with additional materials as long as they are filed in court and served on the Respondent before the hearing.  If there is not sufficient time for the Respondent to respond to the additional materials, that person might request and be granted a continuance on the hearing date so that they can respond.  

Supplemental materials can include:  a declaration from you or other witnesses setting out what has happened in an organized way, pictures, diagrams, voicemails, text messages or other information that corroborates your account of what has occurred.

Hearing on Protection Order Cases

Because seeking a protection order is a civil matter, the Petitioner must only prove that the events justifying the Order occurred by a preponderance of the evidence (or, that it is more likely than not that they occurred).  This is a much lower burden than in a criminal case where allegations must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

During the hearing, the Judge will put the parties under oath and have them describe what has occurred and/or answer questions from the Court.  The Judge will make a ruling at the end of the hearing and either grant the request for a longer order or deny the request.  

Orders are typically issued for 1-year if they are issued.  The Petitioner should prepare a draft order with the exact terms the Petitioner is requesting.  The Petitioner may want to specify no online contact, no contact through social media platforms, or that Respondent not only stay away from home and work but also other places that are regular spaces the Petitioner goes to, such as a gym, school or place of worship.  The Petitioner can also argue for an order that is longer than one-year, but there should be a reason offered that a year-long order will not offer sufficient protection.

Should the Parties Have Representation on Protection Order Cases?

The parties can represent themselves and are not required to have a lawyer represent them in these cases.  However, an attorney who is experienced in handling cases of this kind can make a much more effective presentation than a person representing themselves.  Also, Respondents need to be aware if there are allegations that are criminal in nature or are connected to a criminal investigation or case, that they might incriminate themselves if they respond to a petition without the assistance of an experienced attorney.

Contact Jennifer Horwitz Law for a Paid One-Hour Consult or Representation 

Jennifer Horwitz is experienced representing both Petitioners and Respondents in protection order cases, including LGBTQ domestic violence cases. She can either represent a party from start to finish on the case or can consult with a party representing themselves. Parties on these cases who have consulted with Jennifer Horwitz have said that even a one-hour consult put them in a much better position to represent themselves than they were in before the consult.

During a consult, Jennifer will listen to the facts that the client feels are relevant to the Petition or their response, counsel them on how to develop and present corroborating information, provide a declaration template and the applicable statute(s) to the client. Jennifer can help focus and organize your argument in a consult and is also available for a subsequent consult once materials are prepared to review materials and give feedback. Jennifer Horwitz does NOT handle protection order cases connected to family law cases. Those cases should be handled by a family law attorney.

Contact the Law Office of Jennifer Horwitz today to discuss retaining Jennifer on your protection order case or retaining her for a paid one-hour phone consultation about your case.

Attorney and man discussing legal documents

Understanding the Three Levels of Police Encounters: Arrests, Investigative Stops, and Consensual Encounters

The label applied to the three levels of police encounters with individuals will determine the constitutional rights of the persons being stopped or detained. The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches of their persons, houses, papers, and belongings by the government. A search warrant must be supported by sworn allegations of probable cause and describe in detail the place to be searched and the people or things the officer is to seize. 

The rules will vary depending on the nature of the encounter. A Washington criminal defense attorney can help you in understanding the three levels of police encounters: arrests, investigative stops, and consensual encounters.

Arrests

The most serious type of encounter between law enforcement and private individuals is the arrest. In our state, the government cannot legally arrest someone without probable cause. The person getting arrested has the full protection of the law on searches and seizures. Sometimes, the law requires the officer to have a valid arrest warrant.

Investigative Stops

An investigative detention, often called a “terry stop,” falls somewhere between the intensity level of an arrest and a consensual encounter. The individual is not yet under arrest, but the officer has restrained the person’s freedom of movement. In other words, the individual is not free to go.

The officer must be able to articulate a reasonable suspicion that this particular individual has committed, is in the process of committing, or is about to commit a specific crime. Hunches and “mere suspicions” do not satisfy this requirement. The reasonable suspicion must have factual grounds and observations based on the officer’s training and experience.

Although the individual is not free to leave from the scene of an investigative stop, the detention can become a de facto arrest if the stop lasts beyond a reasonable time. Also, a show of force, use of restraint, or other factors could change the situation from an investigative detention to a de facto arrest.

Consensual Encounters

A consensual encounter is a much more casual interaction between law enforcement and individuals than an arrest or an investigative stop. If you walk into the police station and ask for directions to the restroom or you chat with an officer at the grocery store, these are consensual encounters.

Paramount to a consensual encounter is the fact that you are free to walk away at any time without any adverse consequences. You do not have to answer the officer’s questions or identify yourself. If you happen to be on your property at the time of a consensual encounter, you have the right to ask the officer to leave your property. 

Often, a consensual encounter does not involve the appearance or suspicion of criminal activity. The officer may, however, ask you any questions they want to. Also, the police could ask for your consent to search yourself or your property. In a consensual encounter, the officer must accept your refusal to consent to a search.

Morphing from One Type of Encounter to Another

Sometimes, an encounter between a police officer and an individual escalates from one type of encounter to another. For example, if the officer restrains the person’s movement by telling them to go to a different location or turns on the police cruiser’s emergency lights, the encounter has likely morphed beyond a consensual encounter. Intimidation through a show of force like additional officers can make the situation no longer a consensual encounter.

If you feel that a law enforcement officer violated your constitutional rights, you will want to talk with a Washington criminal defense attorney immediately. Contact Jennifer today to learn more.

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.

Drug deal between two people

Can I Get My Drug Charges Reduced?

Drug crimes can result in severe penalties in Washington State. Before pleading guilty to a drug offense, consult a Washington criminal defense attorney. There could be one or more defenses to the drug crimes you are facing. In some cases, you may be able to get the drug charges reduced to a lesser charge. 

Drug Offenses in Washington State

Drug crimes may be charged as felonies or misdemeanors under the Washington Controlled Substances Act. There are several drug crimes that you could be charged with, including:

  • Possession of a controlled substance
  • Possession with intent to distribute
  • Delivery of a controlled substance
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Drug manufacturing 
  • Drug sales 

The penalty for a drug conviction depends on several factors. The type of drug involved and the amount of drug the person has in their possession are significant factors in the charge. In addition, the person’s criminal record, whether they had a weapon, and the location of the crime can also influence the type of drug charge. 

Felony drug charges carry the most severe penalties. Even though adults 21 and older can possess up to an ounce of marijuana under Initiative 502, possession of anything over an ounce of marijuana is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. However, misdemeanor drug charges in Washington can also result in jail time and significant fines. 

State vs. Blake – Impact of Washington Supreme Court Case Ruling Simple Possession Statute Unconstitutional 

On February 25, 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that RCW §69.50.4013(1) was unconstitutional in the case of State vs. Blake. Under the statute, simple possession of a controlled substance was illegal. However, the statute did not require the person to “knowingly” possess the drugs to be convicted of the crime. 

In Blake, the court concluded that the statute criminalized someone who could have innocently or unknowingly been in possession of a controlled substance. Therefore, because the statute did not require the State to prove knowledge, it was unconstitutional. 

The Washington legislature has since passed a revised statute that includes language to correct the issue and recriminalize drug possession. However, a person must be diverted to services at least twice before being charged with a crime. The changes are only effective until July 1, 2023, unless the legislature or voters change the law again.

What impact does the decision in State vs. Blake have on individuals charged or convicted for possession of a controlled substance? 

First, it is essential to note that the decision applies only to cases involving simple possession of a controlled substance. Therefore, your charges should be dismissed if you were charged with simple possession of any controlled substance. 

If you were ever convicted of simple possession under this statute for simple possession, you are entitled to have your drug conviction vacated. You would not have to comply with any conditions of your sentence. In addition, you could be entitled to reimbursement of fines you paid and, if you were convicted of felony simple possession of a controlled substance, you are entitled to have your legal rights restored. 

Even though the court ruled that the simple possession portion of the statute was unconstitutional, it does not mean that your drug charges are automatically dismissed or a conviction is vacated. Instead, you must file the appropriate paperwork to have the charges vacated or dismissed. 

Defending Drug Charges in Washington 

The best possible outcome of a drug case is the dismissal of the drug charges. Several defenses could result in a dismissal, including:

  • Your rights were violated by an illegal search and seizure, resulting in the evidence being inadmissible
  • The police officers did not have probable cause to stop you or search your vehicle or person
  • You were part of an illegal sting operation by law enforcement officers 
  • The drugs are not yours, and you had no knowledge of the drugs or knew you had the drugs
  • The prosecution does not have sufficient evidence to prove the legal elements of the crime

If you cannot have the drug charges dropped, there could be a chance to have them reduced to a lesser charge. However, that depends on the facts and circumstances of your case. In the alternative, your attorney may be able to work out a plea agreement that would avoid jail time. 

For example, the diversion program may result in the drug charges being dropped if you complete your supervision while in the community. Alternatively, you may be able to enter the First Time Offender Waiver Program. Under this program, you can attend drug treatment therapy and complete community service instead of serving time in jail.

The judge may order probation instead of sentencing you to jail in some cases. The Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative is another program that can reduce jail time for a drug offense.

The best way to fight drug charges in Washington is to contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest. Your lawyer determines the best strategy based on the facts of your case to get your drug charges reduced or dismissed. If not, your attorney works to get the least severe sentence possible for a drug conviction. 

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Washington Criminal Defense Attorney 

A drug charge can result in long-term consequences for your career, finances, and personal life. Contact Jennifer today to discuss your case and learn how she can help you fight drug charges. 

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.

Forensic scientist at work.

Is DNA Testing Reliable in Criminal Cases?

DNA testing is a double-edged sword. Law enforcement has solved countless cold cases as well as current cases based on DNA evidence. The problem arises from the fact that, like almost everything, DNA testing is not 100% reliable. A miscarriage of justice can result when someone gets wrongfully convicted based on incorrect DNA results or interpretations.

Fighting a wrongful conviction based on inaccurate DNA evidence involves sophisticated litigation. A Washington criminal defense attorney could help you if you got caught in the web of unreliable forensic evidence. Let’s explore the issue of, Is DNA testing reliable in criminal cases?

Does DNA Evidence Point a Guilty Finger at One Individual?

Not really. Contrary to what you see on television shows, DNA testing almost never definitively says that the suspect or defendant committed the crime. DNA evidence is far more reliable to eliminate a suspect rather than to pin the blame on that person. In other words, DNA evidence could reveal that suspect A might have committed the crime, but that suspect B could not have committed the crime. 

Can DNA Testing Get Used to Confuse a Jury?

Yes. For example, DNA testing might establish that the defendant falls within a group of only 3% of the population who have certain genetic markers. With the US population exceeding 330 million people, that seemingly small group contains 9.9 million individuals. Eliminating 97% of the population is not enough to support a conviction. 

Does DNA Testing Pinpoint One Person Out of a Family?

DNA results might find a match, but the match would also be to any number of close relatives of that individual. It could be easy to convict one person for a crime committed by that individual’s brother, father, cousin, or son. That detail does not always get pointed out to the jury. 

Does Law Enforcement Use Damaged DNA Samples or Partial DNA Profiles?

Yes, and when they do, miscarriages of justice can happen. Moisture or extreme heat or cold can damage a DNA sample. Also, the passage of time can corrupt a DNA sample.

A damaged DNA sample will not provide all of the essential markers needed for a reliable DNA profile. In a perfect world, scientists can examine a complete DNA sample and find at least 16 different aspects of the individual’s DNA. Incomplete samples might only describe one trait of a person, like the color of their hair.

Can a Full DNA Sample Identify the Wrong Person?

Yes. There might be DNA material from more than one person in the sample. If the evidence team at the scene or the lab accidentally combines the material from multiple people, it is possible to generate one DNA profile. That profile could be highly inaccurate.

How the “CSI Effect” Can Contribute to Wrongful Convictions

People have a great deal of respect for forensic evidence. It appears to be scientific and a little magical at the same time. Thanks to television shows, we are used to forensic evidence being the unquestionable proof that convicts guilty people. 

There are two problems with this situation. One, juries can be hesitant to convict a person if there is no available DNA evidence. Two, juries give forensic evidence more weight than it deserves. At best, DNA evidence might show a likelihood that a certain individual committed a crime more than some random person off the street. DNA results should not be the only evidence to support a conviction.

If you are facing criminal charges that might involve the use of forensic evidence, you will want to talk to a Washington criminal defense attorney right away to protect your legal rights. If you are in need of legal assistance contact Jennifer today.

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.

Person posting unknown suspicious online

Anti-harassment Orders for Posts on Social Media

You might have thought that you were merely expressing yourself and your opinions online, and then someone accused you of harassment and took you to court, seeking an anti-harassment order. What happened to the 1st Amendment freedom of speech? The 1st Amendment does protect a lot of speech. One’s speech has to cross the line into targeted harassment or stalking of someone after they have requested to be left alone to lose the protection of freedom of speech for social media postings.

A Seattle criminal defense attorney can protect your legal rights and fight against anti-harassment orders for posts on social media.

What is an Anti-Harassment Order in Washington State? 

A court can issue a protection order telling you not to bother someone who claims you harassed them. This is a special kind of restraining order that can only be used in harassment cases, not other types of cases. Although this is a civil order, violation of an anti-harassment order can result in criminal penalties, and the judge can find the defendant in contempt of court.

How Long Does an Anti-Harassment Order Last?

Most anti-harassment orders last for one year from the hearing. Sometimes, the judge will make a finding that a longer term is necessary.

Can Someone Get an Anti-Harassment Order Against Me Without a Chance for Me to Testify?

Yes, a court can issue a temporary anti-harassment order against you if the person claiming that you harassed them convinces the judge that they are in immediate danger. They must show reasonable proof that you unlawfully harassed them and that, without the temporary anti-harassment order, they will suffer great or irreparable harm.

Before the person seeking the order can get a one-year order, you must get served with the temporary order and notice of a full hearing, which should take place in two weeks. You will get to tell your side of the story at this hearing. 

If you do not attend or participate in the hearing, the judge can enter a one-year anti-harassment order. You will want to have an attorney present at the hearing representing you to protect your legal rights.

What Kind of Conduct Can Result in an Anti-Harassment Order?

The court will evaluate whether the situation involves a series of acts over a period of time, even if brief, that shows an ongoing purpose. The acts must not serve any legitimate or lawful purpose. The conduct must cause the alleged victim substantial emotional distress, including harassment, annoyance, and alarm, and be such that a reasonable person would suffer substantial emotional distress.

The judge will explore these factors:

  • Whether the alleged victim clearly told you not to make further contact with them;
  • Whether the actions interfere with the person’s privacy or create an offensive, hostile, or intimidating living environment;
  • Whether a court has previously limited the contact between you and the alleged victim

These elements will be part of the determination about the lawful or legitimate purpose of the contacts.

What Restraints Can an Anti-Harassment Order Contain?

The details of the order will be up to the judge after hearing the evidence. The anti-harassment order could say that, for the next year, you:

  • Cannot contact the person who claims you harassed them;
  • Cannot keep the person under surveillance;
  • Must keep away from the person’s home or workplace for a specific distance as stated in the order, like one mile or some other distance

The court will notify the police about the order. Law enforcement through the state of Washington can enforce the anti-harassment order.

You will want to talk to a Seattle criminal defense attorney if you get served with a temporary anti-harassment order for social media postings. Contact Jennifer Horwitz Law today.


DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.

commutation application - approved

What is Commutation?

The Governor of Washington State has the power, under our state constitution and some state statutes, to change the fate of people sentenced to death. One of the options the Governor has is to commute, which means to lessen a death sentence. If you are following the case of someone with a death sentence, you might wonder about the possible outcomes and want to know, what is commutation?

A Washington criminal defense attorney can seek a commutation of a death sentence or pursue other potential remedies, like a pardon or a reprieve. Since these remedies vary from state to state, we will discuss the options available in Washington State.

How Can a Person Get a Death Sentence Commuted?

In Washington, the Governor has the authority to commute a death sentence. The only option available is for the death sentence to get lessened to life imprisonment at hard labor, according to RCW 10.01.120. The offender has to file a petition requesting that the sentence get commuted. 

If granted, the Governor will issue a warrant that the proper officers must obey instead of the death sentence. The warrant must contain all the terms, restrictions, and limitations of the commutation.

If the Governor does not grant a request for commutation, the offender has one more option. Our state has a Clemency and Pardons Board. The Board accepts petitions from individuals, organizations, and even the Department of Corrections, asking for the commutation of sentences and pardoning of offenders. The Board reviews these petitions and makes recommendations to the Governor.

Does a Commutation Eliminate a Conviction?

No, a commutation does not change or overturn the conviction. The offender will still have the underlying conviction. The commutation only affects the imposition of the sentence. For example, if someone gets convicted of murder and sentenced to death, the Governor might commute the death sentence to life imprisonment instead of an execution. 

The person would still be a convicted murderer, but not get put to death. A commutation does not carry an implication that the person is innocent of the crime. Also, a commutation does not restore rights lost when convicted, like the ability to hold office or the right to vote in elections.

How is a Commutation Different from a Pardon?

While a commutation of a sentence can relieve the offender of having to serve the sentence, a pardon typically only gets granted after the offender serves the sentence. The Governor of Washington State cannot grant a pardon for a conviction of a federal crime or of the laws of any state other than Washington. A pardon is an acknowledgment that the offender accepted responsibility for the wrongdoing and paid his debt to society.

What Factors Does the Board Evaluate When Reviewing Clemency Petitions?

Each case is different, but here are some of the factors the Board has explored when considering petitions for clemency, which can include a request for commutation or pardon:

  • How serious and objectionable the offense was
  • The impact of the offense on any victims
  • The criminal record and other relevant background information about the offender
  • Whether the offender accepts responsibility, shows remorse, and wants to make atonement
  • If the offender has met all the financial obligations of the sentencing court, like payment of fines
  • How much time has passed since the offense
  • Whether the offender has “turned his life around” since the conviction

These are but a few of the many factors the Board can review with a clemency petition. 

If you would like to schedule a one-hour paid consultation with an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney, contact Jennifer today. She can review your case, answer specific questions that you may have, and provide an assessment on whether your case may qualify for clemency.


DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.