Pullman WA Criminal Defense Attorney

Defending charges of DUI, MIP, drug possession, assaults, felonies, etc.

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11 Tips to Help You Graduate College Without a Criminal Record

You have spent a lot of money to put yourself through college, all with the hopes that a college degree will help you find a good job. But all that can be jeopardized if you have a criminal conviction on your record. Here are a few points to remember about our criminal justice system to help you avoid trouble . . . before it starts.

image of WSU girls

Everyone makes mistakes, but it is best to avoid legal problems before they occur.  Next week we will talk about the job hunting process if you have had an issue on your record.

Minor in Possession of Alcohol ( MIP ): It seems like everyone drinks a little in college. Nevertheless, it is a crime in Washington to drink unless you are 21 years old. When an officer writes a ticket for MIP to a college student, usually there is some sort of aggravating circumstances. For example the student is rowdy or causing a disturbance, the student is walking down the street with an open container, or the student is trespassing on the property of neighbors. To avoid the MIP ticket it is best to be quiet and low key.

Marijuana Charges: As with MIP charges, the police don’t seem to be looking for people to cite for marijuana possession. The cases that criminal defense lawyers see are instances where the defendant is smoking in public, or in a dorm room, or growing the plant near an open window. Remember that most police officers were against I-502 from the start, and they will be quick to cite a college student (under age 21) that they see flouting the law.

Domestic Violence:  To most college students the phrase “domestic violence” evokes images of middle-aged man in an A-line tee. However, domestic violence includes any harmful or offensive touching between intimate partners, family members, or even roommates. Domestic violence even includes threats of violence or damage to property. Washington state law encourages law enforcement to make arrests.  Even if no charges are filed, a domestic violence arrest record can limit a person’s career opportunities in certain fields.  It is important to remember that what you view as a “private matter” can quickly turn into a night in jail. Washington domestic violence laws often come as a surprise to international students that are unfamiliar with U.S. laws.

Sexual Assault:  Getting arrested for rape is a pretty obvious career killer, and avoiding the charge seems to be pretty much a “no brainer.” However, it is surprising how many college students think it is o.k. to take advantage of a student who has had too much to drink. The standard that WSU seems to use is that if the person is not o.k. to drive, then they do not have the capacity to consent to sexual relations. While this is not the precise legal standard, it is probably a good rule of thumb for avoiding trouble.

Shoplifting:  Shoplifting is something we associate more commonly with juveniles or perhaps the down and out. However, there is more to it. Shoplifters are often people from middle class backgrounds (of all ages) who are suffering from depression. When a person is away from home for the first time, and away from their support system and routine, they often struggle with their sense of identity, and can end up indulging in irrational acts like shoplifting. Unlike an MIP charge, theft can often look really bad on a person’s record. It is best for a college student to seek help from a counselor when they first find themselves struggling. Most universities have good services for people who need the help of a counselor or psychologist.

Reckless Driving:  There must be something about that 5 hour drive from Seattle that makes a college student want to drive 105 mph. However, there is an unwritten rule that if you are going over 100 mph that you will face a charge of reckless driving and not just a speeding ticket.  It might seem like the highways of Grant County and Adams County are totally empty. However, the Washington State Patrol is just waiting to catch you. You will need to control your speed if you don’t want to spend all your money on lawyers and high-risk insurance.

Assault:  In high school, school administrators handle fist fights in-house. Rather than call the police, the principal will just suspend you or maybe just give you a detention. It is different in college – an assault will usually lead to criminal charges. Keep your cool. Think of it as good practice. When you find a job, your employer won’t put up with schoolyard fist-to-cuffs either.

Malicious Mischief (Vandalism):  When a college student is charged with malicious mischief, it usually starts off as a “prank.” Under Washington law, malicious mischief is defined as “knowingly and maliciously causing damage to the property of another.” It is not a defense that the damage was intended as a “good natured” prank or you thought that it would be taken as a joke.

Trespass:  Although it is not real common, college students sometime find themselves charged with trespass.  Criminal defense lawyers often see college students sneaking on to the college football field at night, or sneaking into the pool when it is closed.  Such antics are common place in teen movies, and such an adventure seems pretty harmless.  In real life, you may be charged with trespass first degree or second degree.

Driving Under The Influence:  The legal limit is .o8, right?  Well it is not so simple. If you are under 21, your can be charged with Minor Operating a Motor Vehicle over .02. Also, marijuana DUI charges are more and more common, and if you are under 21 it is illegal to have any THC in your system.

Driving While Suspended:  A driving while suspended charge happens like so: You drive too fast, you get a big ticket, your insurance rates go up, and you can’t afford insurance, then you get a huge ticket for driving without insurance, then you owe the court massive fines that you don’t pay, and so DOL suspends your license. However, DOL sends the suspension notice to your parents on the westside, and so you never know your suspended. Until you are out with some friends, and you get pulled over for broken taillight, and the officer runs a license check on you, and then you are in handcuffs.

In conclusion, it is best to avoid problems before they happen by understanding how these criminal charges occur, and what sort of behaviors will draw the attention of the police. Next week we will talk about what happens if you do have a record and you are applying for a job.

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Assault Charges in Whitman County and the WSU Student Disciplinary Process

Allegations of fighting or assaults in a college environment are taken very seriously. Students alleged to have been involved in such fights often find themselves defending themselves on two fronts: 1) in the criminal justice system, and 2) in the WSU student disciplinary process. The processes are totally separate, and so let’s talk a little bit about each process in turn. WSU Assault Charges Lawyer

1.   Assault Charges in Court in Pullman / Colfax

In a court of law the participants of the case are the police, the prosecuting attorney, the victim, and the defendant. The school is not a participant. If you are charged with a crime, you are ultimately judged by a jury of the citizens of Whitman County.  Most of the jurors are not from Pullman and are not affiliated with the school. The jurors come from all over the county and are from such towns as Colfax, St. John, Rosalia, Albion, etc. The burden of proof in such cases is beyond a reasonable doubt. You will be judged as to whether you have violated the Washington State criminal code on assault, e.g. RCW 9A.36.021 and 9A.36.041. The jurors typically hold the prosecuting attorney to his high burden of proof, and jurors are receptive to claims of self defense or even provocation.

2. The WSU Student Disciplinary Process on Assault Allegations

Irrespective of what the judge or jury decides in your criminal case, the WSU Office of Student Standards and Accountability will make their own decision as to whether you violated student policy.  If an assault occurs, a student usually is cited with a violation of  WAC 504-26-204 (Abuse of self or others).  In this student disciplinary context, WSU need not prove that you violated the policy beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather the school’s burden is just to prove the offense by a “preponderance of the evidence.”  Many students hire lawyers to defend themselves in the student disciplinary process. While the lawyer is usually not allowed to speak, he or she is allowed to give guidance to his client along the way and may propose that certain questions be asked of the witnesses. Compared to the rural jurors of Whitman County, the school officials take a more narrow view of self-defense. The more serious the altercation the more likely it will be that the student will be expelled. Even if a student is found to be “not guilty” in the court of law, he or she can still be expelled from the university. It is important to find a defense lawyer who has a lot of skill and experience in defending students against disciplinary charges.

As a defense lawyer who defends criminal charges and also defends student disciplinary charges, I know that it is important to try to get a lawyer to assist as soon as possible.  This is true because the student disciplinary process can often move quite quickly.  If a student provides a statement to the school officials, that statement could be used against the student in the criminal court.   Additionally there are also a lot of important deadlines that must be met or a student can forever lose his right to appeal his or her expulsion.

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WSU, Dorm Searches, and the Right to Privacy in Washington State

College students are never exactly sure where they stand with privacy rights in a dormitory. They are told they are adults and that they are independent, but if they live in university dormitories, there are still certain rules that they have to live by. While I-502 decriminalized marijuana in Washington State, colleges and universities in Washington still have strict rules against marijuana possession. Nowhere is this more true than at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. While alcohol and underage drinking seems to be the biggest threat to the safety of campus safety, the school has still taken a tough line on cannabis in recent weeks.dorm room mip

Despite court decisions supporting the privacy rights of students in dormitories, it is still common for police to roam the halls of college dormitories sniffing for the odor of marijuana. Sometimes this occurs by the police on hands and knees sniffing at the base of the dorm room doors. It seemed that this should have come to an end in 2008 when the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled that it was inappropriate for police to be in the dormitory halls of Washington State University without just cause. However, WSU quickly amended their policy allowing local police in Pullman to enter the dorms for the purposes of such “safety checks.” The current regulation allows police in the common areas of dormitories along with residence hall staff, RAs, RDs, etc. The constitutionality of this has not been ruled on by the appellate courts.

It is common for lawyers to receive phone calls from students who have university staff searching through their desk drawers and personal belongings. While it is important to be polite to the police and college employees, it is also important to know not to consent to any search or to make any statements incriminating yourself. An example of an incriminating statement would be admitting that you knew that the marijuana or alcohol was in your room, or admitting that the marijuana or alcohol was yours. If you have beer in your dorm room refrigerator, it may seem pretty obvious that it is “yours.” However, for a prosecuting attorney to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the beer is yours is another matter. Most dorm rooms have more than one student living there.

It is important for students to avoid having MIP or marijuana possession charges on their record when they graduate.

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College Students & Initiative 502 Marijuana (WSU, Gonzaga, EWU, CWU)

Colleges across Washington are using the “Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act” to try to intimidate students from exercising their rights under Initiative 502. In reality that federal law is pretty meaningless when it comes to the actions of individual students. Here is a list of each school, and the exaggerations that the schools came up with last week:

Washington State University: “What will change on campus? Essentially nothing. WSU’s policies and regulations prohibiting the use and possession of marijuana on campus and in the workplace remain in effect. These policies must remain in place in order for us to continue to receive federal grants, contracts and funding for financial aid, which are essential for any public university.”

Gonzaga University: “As a condition for receiving federal financial assistance, an institution of higher education must certify that it has adopted and implemented a program to prevent the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by its students and employees on school premises or as part of any of its activities.”

Central Washington University: “Under the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, as a condition of receiving federal funds, universities must certify the adoption and implementation of programs to prevent the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees. CWU would place at risk more than $93 million in federal funding if the university disregarded federal law and allowed the use of marijuana in university facilities, according to Dr. Sarah Swager, Dean of Student Success.”

Eastern Washington University: “We are subject to the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which says as a condition of receiving those federal funds, we have to certify that we have adopted and implemented a program to prevent the unlawful possession, use or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees—and that includes marijuana.”

The problem with all this bureaucratic legal mumbo jumbo is that it has no basis in reality! If the above statements were really true, then why is it that the University of Colorado doesn’t get in trouble for having enormous, campus-wide, 420 celebrations?

The Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act is found in 20 U.S.C. 7111, and it requires schools to come up with a policy prohibiting drugs on campus and the workplace. But as we can see from Colorado, there is no law in the country that can require school officials to see something if they choose to turn a blind eye. And despite the above video, University of Colorado Boulder’s school policy provides: “Possessing, using, providing, manufacturing, distributing, or selling drugs or drug paraphernalia in violation of law or university policies are prohibited by the Student Code of Conduct.”   The inference that we can draw is that as long as they have some policy on the books, it really makes no difference if they enforce it.

I have seen some newspapers unquestioningly accept the statements made by WSU, Gonzaga, EWU, and CWU.  In fact, many publications have made it sound like the universities still have the power to keep marijuana possession illegal.  For example, in a UW student newspaper article entitled “I-502 Legalizes Marijuana For State, Not UW Campus“, the writer explains: “The current UW policy states that any use or possession of illicit drugs on the university campus will result in strict penalties including prison time and the loss of federal benefits such as student loans.” However, a university cannot make its own criminal code. If a student were to smoke marijuana in his dorm room, or in the school library, or for that matter right in class, the most the school can do is kick the student out.

Meanwhile, at Eastern Washington University, a campus police detective is still threatening to arrest people for possession of marijuana. A EWU campus news article explained:

According to Detective E. Quincy Burns, anyone caught in possession of marijuana on campus can be arrested and cited.
“We can arrest them for being in possession of a controlled substance,” he said. “If it’s under 40 grams, it’s a gross misdemeanor. If it’s over 40 grams, it’s a felony because then you’re talking most likely the possession with the intent to sell or distribute.”
Burns said there are a lot of details that state and law enforcement officials still need to work out, but the bottom line is that marijuana is not allowed on campus.  “[Marijuana] will not be allowed on the university. That policy has not changed and will not change as far as my understanding goes,” he said. If caught in possession of any amount of marijuana, an offender can be arrested and receive a criminal citation. The offenders could also just receive a citation and not be physically booked into jail but have to appear in court at a later date. According to Commander Rick Campbell, “There is no legal place where marijuana can be purchased until late 2013, so any possession is a violation.” This does not include medical marijuana that already has regulations in place.

There are a lot of factual inaccuracies with what the detective says.  The possession of marijuana under 40 grams was never a “gross misdemeanor.”  Rather it was a simple misdemeanor.  Additionally, he takes the position that only marijuana purchased in a licensed marijuana store is legal. This is incorrect, and is directly contrary to section 20 of the new law.

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Whitman County Considering MIP Pre-Charging Diversion Program

Hundreds of young people in Pullman are caught with alcohol each year in Whitman County. The legal consequences may be changing for these M.I.P. charges. Whitman County may be adopting a pre-charging diversion program similar to the program in Kittitas County. The new program may go into effect in January, 2013.Image of WSU MIP Lawyer

Here is how things may change:

Old System:

Students are cited for Minor in Possession of Alcohol, or Publicly Exhibiting the Effects of Alcohol. They have to appear in court, and usually have to hire a lawyer or apply for a public defender. If they are a first time offender, they may try to get a plea offer where the case is continued for 12 months on the condition that the individual stays out of trouble and the charge is dismissed at the end.  Alcohol Drug Information School may be ordered.

Potential New System:

Students caught with alcohol are not formally charged in court. Rather, they receive a notice in the mail inviting them to participate in the pre-charging diversion program. The student pays a fee of $500.00 and agrees to stay out of trouble, to perform community service hours, and obtain an alcohol / drug evaluation to make sure they are not “chemically dependent.”  If the participant stays out of trouble and does what is expected, then they are never charged. The advantages of the new program are: 1) not having to go to court, 2) decreasing the legal fees, and 3) avoiding having a criminal charge on a person’s record.

The word is that the system will be a lot like the system that Kittitas County uses for MIP charges there, including a lot of case with students from Central Washington University. Here is how it works there. This letter will arrive in the mail.

Pullman MIP Lawyer
Then, you are asked to fill out a couple of forms to apply for the MIP program.
Pullman Criminal Attorney 3
In Kittitas County a person has to provide a statement as to how they obtained the alcohol. This can be kind of awkward if you have to name names. Whitman County may not be using this form.
Pullman Criminal Attorney 2
It is best to consult with a criminal defense lawyer even when going through a pretrial diversion program.