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The Seattle Criminal Lawyer Blog Posts

Washington Criminal Defense Attorneys focus on Police Brutality in Seattle

Seattle Police BrutalityMembers of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (WACDL) are all buzzing over an article in the Seattle Times today that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Seattle Police Department regarding their “use of force” policies and treatment of minorities. “About time!” is the comment that pretty much sums up the opinion of most experienced Seattle criminal defense attorneys.

I could not agree more.

Not long ago I was in Island County Superior supervising the felony caseload when an African American defendant had the audacity to appear in court. He and his family were the only people of color in the room. His public defender was making a brilliant argument for his client’s release from jail pending his jury trial.

Never mind that this particular defendant had a ton of prior felony convictions and was looking at serious prison time if convicted. That is not the point. The point is that his lawyer was doing an exemplary job advocating and protecting his client’s constitutional rights, including, above all, the right to be presumed innocent. (After all, it is far more likely that an African American citizen in Island County with a criminal record will be falsely arrested and prosecuted than a white guy like me with no criminal record… it is the other side of the coin when it comes to who is likely to become a suspect.)

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Seattle Expert Criminal Defense Lawyer Specialists don’t say they are Seattle Expert Criminal Defense Lawyer Specialists

“Expert Criminal Lawyer, Specializing in DUI’s”, “Our Attorneys are Experts in Criminal Law”, “We Specialize in Criminal Law”, “Hire an Expert Criminal Law Specialist”………You see these phrases all over the internet on web sites for Seattle and Washington State criminal lawyers. One problem. Actual expert lawyers or specialists in criminal law, by definition, know the law. Knowing the law entails knowing more than one thing, despite the way these ads emphasize expert specialization. For example, expert lawyers know enough about the law to know that it is unethical and improper to advertise that you are an expert in criminal law or specialize in criminal law in Washington State (unless you follow extremely strict guidelines).

Why? Because under the rules regarding advertising created by the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) it is improper to call yourself an expert unless you meet some very specific requirements. Attorney conduct in Washington State is governed by the WSBA Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC’s). The analysis of this issue begins with RPC 7.1: A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.”

What is misleading? Well, traditionally, only a few areas were specifically recognized as specialties in Washington: Patents, Admiralty, and Tax. The rule governing specialization requires that, before an attorney can claim to be a specialist in any other area, that lawyer must have received formal receipt of a certificate, award or formal recognition by an appropriate organization: “A lawyer shall not state or imply that a lawyer is a specialist in a particular field of law, except upon issuance of an identifying certificate, award, or recognition by a group, organization, or association…” (RPC 7.4).

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High Powered Seattle Criminal Lawyer Pleads Guilty to DUI

Good grief. How I hope that headline is never about me.

Instead, it was referring to my old friend and colleague, Anne Bremner. She and I go waaaay back. When I was still a law student at Stanford, she worked in the campus coffee house, where I would go to study my contracts, torts, and other assorted boring non criminal law topics. Anne was an undergrad at Stanford. I vaguely remembered her when she approached me years later in the King County Courthouse in Seattle, me a young criminal defense attorney working for the public defenders office, Anne a hard charging prosecutor. The Stanford connection can be strong, but with one of us righteously defending the innocent, falsely accused of crimes which they did not commit, and the other locking up all the bad guys and throwing away the key, there was a tad bit of tension in the air when we first reconnected…

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Roger Clemens and Perjury

Andy Petitte avoids PerjuryIn a piece in the New York Times, Michael S. Schmidt, explains how a baseball icon has been reduced to the status of a suspected felon. Once again, the culprit is Clemens’ failure to simply remain silent in the face of governmental intrusion into his life.

Whether he took steroids or not, he now faces a conviction for talking. No talking, no conviction.

Simple as that.

This is why criminal defense lawyers tell their clients that the best way to avoid prosecution for a crime is to never give up your right to remain silent. The minute you start answering questions put to you by police, prosecutors or government officials like members of Congress, especially while testifying under oath, you expose yourself to criminal liability.

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Blagojevich and Remaining Silent in a Jury Trial

Blagojevich - Going to Jail

It is easy for criminal defense attorneys to tell clients that it is better not to testify during a jury trial. Convincing them to take your advice is another story. Just look at Blagojevich.

It is human nature to want to explain your way out of trouble. As described before, talking your way out of one crime can result in prosecution and conviction for another crime. Misdemeanors can turn into felonies. I’ve seen people charged with perjury, a serious felony, for trying to lie their way out of traffic tickets while under oath.

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Constitutional Rights are for Everyone, Including the Right to Shut Up

don't forget your right to Shut UpSo, we finally get to the juicy bit. This shows the other side of the bad penny you toss every time you waive the Fifth Amendment and talk to the government, and forget your right to Shut Up.

When you try to talk your way out of things, sometimes you make mistakes in the way you tell your story. Sometimes you lie. But, frankly, to be convicted of obstructing or perjury or various other ‘crimes and misdemeanors’ you only have to look guilty to a jury of your peers – after they have reviewed all of the evidence and decided your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (of course that is all that matters to any experienced criminal defense attorney in any case, but that is a discussion for another day…

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The Fifth Amendment: The Ultimate Protection from Government

1156821_handcuffs.jpgLast time we talked about the fundamental importance of the right to remain silent. Experienced criminal defense attorneys will all tell you that half of their clients wouldn’t be clients if they had only invoked their right to remain silent. When the police question you about a burglary and you say, “I was only looking around,” or something equally ill advised, you have just proven an essential element of a felony….i.e. that YOU (not someone else) are the person who was there. Now, instead of forcing the prosecutor to prove you were there by convincing a jury of your peers beyond a reasonable doubt that you were in fact the person who was seen at the crime scene, so to speak, they simply repeat what you said in court to the jury. Just as Miranda warns us: Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. And, it will.

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The Right to Remain Silent: Use It or Lose It

Remain Silent or Go To PrisonWhat do public figures from Richard Nixon to Martha Stewart all have in common?

They lied.

But, they didn’t lie to just anybody. (I mean that wouldn’t really distinguish them from most other public figures now, would it?). No, they lied to government officials during formal questioning. Thus, they exposed themselves to allegations of perjury, obstructing a government agent, fraud and perhaps much more.

In some jurisdictions, lying about crimes committed by others can make you an accessory after the fact. Conspiracy charges might follow. Even RICO cases can stem from organized collaboration to defraud governmental officials resulting in the obstruction of justice (18 U.S.C. ยง 1961-1968).

And, for the most part, all these famous folks had to do was listen to their lawyers. Under the Fifth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, and comparable state constitutional provisions such as Article 1 Section 9 in Washington, we all have a right to remain silent when being questioned by government agents. This is a fundamental right under the Bill of Rights. Right up there with the First Amendment, which lets us say things, the Fifth Amendment lets us not say things.

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