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Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

Exonerated Auburn Pot Defendant: Don’t Drive Buzzed

by March 21st, 2011

Last week I reported on a Washington State appeals court ruling affirming a King County Superior Court decision to reverse Auburn Municipal Court convictions of Dustin B. Gauntt for possession of less than 40 grams of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Gauntt admitted to the basic facts of the case which led to his arrest after being spotted by Auburn Police while driving and holding a pipe to his mouth. But Auburn had not expressly adopted the state statutes in question into the city’s municipal code, ultimately prompting the dismissal of the charges first in county court and then again last week by a state judicial panel after the city appealed. Auburn has until early April to decide whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court the second strike against their prosecution of Gauntt.

When I was writing up my original report for our Public Data Ferret news and knowledge base site last week, it was clear that beyond the plain facts of the case there was a person about whom the legal documents said nothing and about whom I knew nothing. I left a message for Gauntt through his attorney, and I spoke to Gauntt this weekend in a phone interview.

Gauntt graduated from high school in Port Angeles, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. He’s 26 years of age, and has lived in the South King County city of Auburn for about five years, working in a warehouse. While still employed there, he’s been attending Green River Community College to complete a two-year degree in design and drafting. Gauntt says he’s aiming to land a job with a company such as Boeing upon graduation.

Asked about the incident which led to his arrest and subsequent conviction in Auburn Municipal Court prior to the county and state appeals court reversals, Gauntt said he believes “smoking pot while driving is a very stupid idea. I’m not condoning that at all.” The overturning of the conviction, he said, is ímportant personally, especially because he will be seeking new full-time employment after getting his two-year degree from the community college. Gauntt added, “Ï don’t consider myself a criminal. I’m a good person. I pay my taxes. I wasn’t responsible back then; I am now. I’m trying to elevate myself in life, going to school, and trying to get a good job.”

While the city of Auburn mulls whether to appeal the latest rejection of its conviction of Gauntt in its municipal court, Gauntt says that on the topic of drugs and the law, “there are bigger fish to fry. There’s a huge methamphetamine problem here in Auburn and South King County. And meth causes so much more damage to people’s bodies and to society.”

Gauntt added he believes that marijuana should be legalized, regulated and taxed. The revenues could be a “huge benefit,” he said, particularly if directed toward public health needs and programs.

The Washington state legislature has been considering a bill that would legalize and tax marijuana.

Guantt’s attorney was David Richard Kirschenbaum. Auburn has been represented by City Attorney Daniel Heid.

Appeals Court Upholds Dismissal Of Auburn Pot Conviction

by March 17th, 2011

SUMMARY: A state appeals court this week rejected an attempt by the City of Auburn to reverse a King County Superior Court ruling which threw out convictions in Auburn Municipal Court against Dustin B. Gauntt, a driver stopped and cited by local police for possession of marijuana and related paraphernalia. The county and appeals court rulings both found that the convictions in local court weren’t valid because the city’s municipal code did not explicitly adopt the actual state laws against possession of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia.

Public Data Ferret Courts Archive

BACKGROUND:

  • According to the City of Auburn’s appeals court brief, on December 5, 2008 Dustin B. Gauntt was stopped by local police who had seen him raise a pipe to his mouth and inhale what appeared to be marijuana. After investigating, they cited him for possession of less than 40 grams of marijuana and for possession of drug paraphernalia, contrary – the charges stated – to state law and the city code.
  • Gauntt sought to have charges dismissed in the local court, arguing that city code did not include the state’s mandatory minimum sentences for the crimes with which he was charged. His claim was rejected. He agreed there was no dispute to the facts of the case, then was tried and found guilty on June 8, 2009 on both charges in an Auburn Municipal Court bench trial.
  • However, Gauntt appealed his city court convictions to King County Superior Court on grounds the city lacked jurisdiction because it hadn’t actually adopted into its municipal code the state laws against possessing marijuana and related paraphernalia. Superior Court Judge Michael J. Trickey found in his favor, reversing Auburn Municipal Court and remanding the case to the lower court for dismissal. But the City of Auburn in July 2010 asked for reconsideration of the case in the state Court of Appeals, which issued its ruling this week.

KEY LINK: City of Auburn v. Dustin B. Gauntt, Opinion of Court of Appeals, Washington State, District 1, March 14, 2011.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • The state appeals court ruling this week in Auburn v. Gauntt emphasized that “municipal courts are creatures of the legislature,” and that “when, as here, a crime adopted under state law has not been expressly adopted by city code, or incorporated into city code by reference to state statute, and no other state statute confers authority to prosecute that statute in municipal court, the city lacks authority to prosecute it in municipal court.”
  • The ruling affirms Judge Trickey’s decision in King County Superior Court, which reversed the municipal court’s findings of guilty and sent the case back there for dismissal. Gauntt was represented by Kent defense attorney David Richard Kirshenbaum.

CITY OF AUBURN MULLING DECISION TO APPEAL TO STATE SUPREME COURT.

The City of Auburn has 30 days from the date of the appeals court ruling to appeal the case up to the State Supreme Court, which might or might not choose to hear the appeal if it is requested. City Attorney Daniel Heid said today no decision has been made yet on whether to appeal.

RELATED:

Economy May Put Pot (Legalization Bill) Back In Play,” Seattle Times, March 16, 2011

UPDATE: Interview with Dustin B. Gauntt, published March 20, 2011.

Supreme Court Affirms Kitsap Child Rape Conviction, Overturning Appeals Court Reversal

by February 25th, 2011

SUMMARY: The Washington State Supreme Court has reversed a state appeals court which last year threw out a conviction against Arthur C. Russell, convicted in trial court in August, 2008 for first degree rape of a child, a stepdaughter, when the family lived in Bremerton and he worked for The U.S. Navy. The appeals court had held that the conviction was invalid because the jury was not given “limiting instructions” on how it could and could not consider evidence of other alleged acts of sexual abuse by Russell against the stepdaughter in locations outside Washington state including Hawaii, Florida and Indiana. Such evidence is allowed to establish motive and intent, but not character. The Supreme Court overruled the appeals court and affirmed the trial court’s conviction and sentence, stating that because there was no request for “limiting instructions” on the additional evidence, none were required to be given by the trial court.

Seattle Chronic Nuisance Property Report: 2010

by February 15th, 2011

SUMMARY: The first annual report on the City of Seattle’s nuisance property ordinance and its enforcement program will be presented by the police and law departments to a city council committee tomorrow. Although a formal nuisance declaration can compel change, the mere possibility of it can also curtail problem behavior. And, focusing on nuisances which are prosecutable crimes – and in some instances pursuing criminal charges against habitual offenders at a property – can sometimes solve problems more quickly than building a case for an official nuisance declaration. Improvements to consider to the process include provisions for a criminal penalty for continuing to operate a nuisance property, and developing means to ensure new owners are aware of an official nuisance declaration if it has already been applied to their property.

U.S. Oil To Pay $230,000 For Alleged Goofs In Benzene Waste Reporting At Tacoma Refinery

by February 4th, 2011

SUMMARY: Under a consent decree finalized this week in the U.S. District Court of Western Washington, U.S. Oil will pay a $230,000 fine split between the United States government and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, in response to a complaint alleging the company failed to properly report benzene waste production levels at its Tacoma, Wash. refinery. Under the agreement the company will also spend about $746,000 for four voluntary pollution control projects; and will have to follow strict guidelines for future measurements, calculations, reporting, and attempts to meet a standard of 10 mega-grams per year in total annual benzene content from wastes at the site.

Court Supports Disclosure Of Medical Incident Data In Doctor’s Negligence Suit Against Bellingham Hospital

by January 31st, 2011

SUMMARY: A then-staff physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology at St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash. was herself a patient there in January, 2007 and suffered permanent neurological damage resulting from an intravenous infusion during the stay. She filed a corporate negligence claim against the hospital and its parent company PeaceHealth – which operates facilities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska – and for trial “discovery” proceedings sought internal records on any other documented IV complications at St. Joseph from 2000 through 2008. The records were retrievable through a database maintained by the hospital’s quality assurance committee. A trial court first upheld her information request, but then in response to a motion by the parent company, denied it, citing state law about such committees as a reason for strict confidentiality. The plaintiff asked a state appeals court to intervene and uphold her right to get and use the information in her legal action. Washington Court of Appeals District I in Seattle ruled in her favor today, stating in its opinion that although state law does prevent disclosure of the internal workings of hospital quality assurance committees and prevent direct outside disclosure of medical incident reports themselves, it “may not serve as an artificial shield for information contained in ordinary medical records.” The Appeals Court ordered that PeaceHealth would have to permit internal retrieval and inclusion in Lowy’s trial of information on “underlying facts and explanatory circumstances” of “alleged injuries, complications, malfunctions or adverse events” associated with any IV infusions at St. Joseph from 2000 through 2008.