Monthly Archives: May 2010

No Grace Period for Cell Phone Yapping Drivers

Drivers beware: There’ll be no easing into a new state law that makes it illegal to talk on a cell phone and drive without a hands free device.

Come June 10, Washington state troopers will be giving out $124 tickets. Troopers said that while it’s common for the state patrol to offer an “educational grace period when a new law requires drivers to change long-standing behavior,” there’ll be no such thing this time around.

“Drivers have already had nearly two years to adjust their driving habits,” said state patrol chief John Batiste. “We will fully enforce this law from day one.”

It had already been illegal to text and talk on a cell phone without a hands free device, but law enforcement couldn’t enforce it unless the driver had committed another “primary” offense. Even so, troopers have written 3,000 tickets and given 5,900 warnings since that law went into effect.

I’m seeing some pretty good deals on hands free devices around the web. Better to pay the $40 or so for one now than have a $124 ticket and a lecture from a state trooper.

Batiste is disappointed that the laws’ previous status didn’t win more voluntary
compliance. In some cases there was outright defiance.

“They would look right at our troopers with phones held to their ears,” Batiste
said. “They knew that without another violation we couldn’t do anything.”

The texting and cell phone requirements are intended to save lives and reduce
injuries by eliminating these two major sources of driver distraction.

“Few drivers are going to admit they were on a cell phone, or texting, after a
crash,” Batiste said. “We are choosing to take action before a collision occurs
in hopes of preventing these needless tragedies.”

The fine for a violation is $124.

Trailblazing State Supreme Court Justice to Appear in Bremerton Saturday

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham recently told a reporter. “Just find the wheel that has the broken spoke.”

Benham, a four-term justice on the Georgia Supreme Court, is a trailblazing judge whose record reflects his belief that public service can highlight and help correct injustices — such broken spokes — in communities.

Benham, here in Bremerton Saturday to speak before a crowd at the local NAACP chapter’s annual freedom fund event, broke many barriers: He was the first African American to establish his own law practice in his home county. First to be elected as a court of appeals judge. And then the first to serve on Georgia’s highest court.

Now 63, Benham leads by example. You name it, he serves on the board. He started a “comprehensive legal education program,” which has helped more than 200 minority students go to law school. He’s been honored with more than 400 awards, and the State Bar of Georgia’s community service award bears his name. Ebony Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential blacks in America.

The result of a little networking last year brought Benham to Bremerton.

Bremerton NAACP Chapter president Joan Ferebee and second vice president Denita Harden-Patton met Benham at the NAACP’s centennial celebration in New York in February 2009. Ferebee and the judge exchanged cards at that time.

Early this year, Ferebee asked if he’d come — and Benham accepted.

Ferebee said in no uncertain terms that the justice is the cream of the crop in terms of guests they’ve hosted.

“He ranks at the top,” she said.

Benham will speak at 7 p.m. tonight at the Comfort Inn and Suites Olympic Ballroom, 5640 Kitsap Way. Tickets are $50 for adults and $25 for youth ages six to 13. The dinner also includes dinner and dancing.

Report: Mentally Ill Three Times as Likely to Go to Prison Than Hospital

“Deinstitutionalization,” the report reads, ” … has been one of the most well-meaning but poorly planned social changes ever carried out in the United States.”

The emptying of mental hospitals in the latter part of the 20th century was hailed for both cutting government costs and “liberating” the people inside. But for the most serious mentally ill, the move was a disaster, says a recently published by the Treatment Advocacy Center.

Among their findings: Washingtonians who suffer from mental illness are three times as likely to be incarcerated than to be in a mental health treatment center. Also: In 1955, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans; in 2005, there was one for every 3,000 Americans.

And here in Kitsap? I have only anecdotal evidence. In a recent conversation I had with Ned Delmore, head of Kitsap County’s Juvenile Department, he told me that daily, a large tray moves through the juvenile detention center, carrying psychotropic drugs for those housed inside. And in many criminal cases I cover, mental health issues are raised — though I am not professionally trained in deciphering which claims are legitimate, and which are not.

Andrew Binion, former Kitsap Sun reporter and current editor at the Central Kitsap Reporter, wrote a story in March 2008 about this very predicament, documenting three local cases. In part, he said:

“While the three cases shed light on inconsistencies with how the criminal justice and health care system deals with mentally ill suspects, they also square with what mental health advocates have said for years — that jails and prisons have become warehouses for the mentally ill.”

Binion writes that Kitsap Mental Health Services has programs for such patients. But there is too great an “overflow,” that spills into jails and prisons — places ill-equipped to treat the mentally ill.

The Treatment Advocacy Center’s report says we’ve come full circle:

“the situation faced by individuals with serious mental illnesses today is remarkably similar to individuals with serious mental illnesses in the 1840s—a shortage of psychiatric beds and an abundance of jail and prison cells. If Dorothea Dix came back today, she would feel right at home.”

So what does the report suggest as a solution? I’ll let you read it.

Final Jails v Hospitals Study

Bremerton Crime: Has the City Turned A Corner?

Sifting through our story archives Wednesday, I came across a story by Sun reporter JoAnne Marez from the early nineties entitled, “City in a drug war.”
She was referring to Bremerton.
She writes of violent, fatal clashes between gangs and turf wars between rival drug dealers. Here’s a clipping:
“On South Montgomery Avenue the remnants of a once respectable, middle class Bremerton neighborhood still are visible. An elderly couple putters in their yard, tending their neatly clipped lawn, watering their flowers. Here and there, a homeowner paints his house or mends a fence.
But down the block, in either direction, things have changed.
At one end sits a nondescript house with a weed-choked yard, the scene of a violent clash last December over drug turf. When it was over, two teen-age crack dealers lay bathed in their own blood.
At the other end, Bremerton police fight a seemingly never-ending battle to force crack peddlers from the street. Drive-by shootings and assaults have become commonplace.
South Montgomery is perhaps a symbol of the urban decay and escalating violence that threatens Bremerton’s once tranquil neighborhoods.”
Has it gotten better since then? Just four years ago, I wrote of Bremerton’s state high rate of violent crime per capita (the graphic from the story is pictured). But in doing the story, I found that most residents feel safe here, despite these facts as I wrote them:
“A city of renters. A city with heavy drug use. A city with nighttime drunkards who like to brawl. A city with an understaffed police force. A city whose local jail has a “revolving door.” A city whose landlords allegedly ignore their renters’ criminal activity.

Many factors can be blamed for Bremerton’s violent crime rate, one that’s emerged in the past 12 years as the highest in the state.”

More recently, however, Bremerton’s crime rate has headed south. Renewing its downtown core and fighting crime in new ways are believed to have helped.

In the coming weeks, I expect to get the statistics about crime in Bremerton and see just how the city is faring in criminal activity. I suspect crime is falling in Bremerton.

But I’m curious: how far do you think we’ve come from that “City in a drug war,” Marez wrote about?

Beware the Morning DUI

A little too tipsy to drive home? You’d be wise to grab a cab, ride with a sober driver or bunk it for the night if you’re at a friend’s house.

I’ve no doubt you’ve heard these words of wisdom before. But perhaps here’s some you haven’t: if you’ve gotten a few hours of shut eye on someone else’s couch after a night of drinking, that doesn’t mean you’re sober.

Believe it or not, law enforcement doesn’t care if you attempted to “sleep it off,” for awhile, and then still put the keys in the ignition. State trooper Krista Hedstrom said they get Sunday morning DUIs all the time.

“It is very common,” she said.

Such a traffic stop often goes like this, Hedstrom said:

Trooper: “How much have you had to drink?”

Driver: “Nothing. I just woke up.”

Trooper: “But were you drinking last night?”

And whether the drinking was done before sleeping or after, a trooper will conduct a DUI investigation if they have reason to believe you have alcohol in your system, Hedstrom said.

Self Defense ‘A Tricky Thing’

A fatal shooting over the weekend has generated much discussion on our web site’s comment threads about when self defense is appropriate under the law. Here’s one opinion, from commenter robodrill:

“yes. washingtonians are allowed to shoot fleeing attackers.
if the guy’s story is true, he is innocent.”

I thought it’d be good to consult a lawyer who knows first hand how self defense works in court. Here to give us his analysis — free of any scrutinizing of the current case — is frequent Crime and Justice blog contributor and Bremerton attorney Stan Glisson:

“The statute (9A.16.020) tells us that force is not unlawful “Whenever used by a party about to be injured, or by another lawfully aiding him or her, in preventing or attempting to prevent an offense against his or her person, or a malicious trespass, or other malicious interference with real or personal property lawfully in his or her possession, in case the force is not more than is necessary”.
Homicide, specifically, is justified in the eyes of the law when committed either:

(1) In the lawful defense of the slayer, or his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister, or of any other person in his presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or

(2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he is. (9A.16.050).

Anyone accused of an assault-type crime can assert that it was done in defense of themselves, of others, or of their property.  Once the defendant raises self defense, the burden shifts to the state to disprove it; in other words, lack of self defense becomes an element the state has to prove. In general, there is no duty to retreat. The defendant can resort to use of force in self defense as long as the defendant had a legal right to be in the place where force was used.  Also, a defendant cannot claim self defense if the defendant created the situation that cause the need for defense. In other words, a person can’t provoke a fight, then claim he or she needed to use force in self defense.
Self defense is a complete defense because it negates the element of intent.  It is a dangerous defense, because the accused basically waives any defense that they didn’t commit the crime: instead, they are arguing that it was justified. You can’t simultaneously argue ‘I didn’t do it’ and ‘I only did it because..’
If a defendant succeeds in presenting self defense, it is possible to recover from the charging entity (state or city) all costs they incurred as a result of the charge. That can be attorney’s fees, lost wages, etc. Basically the jury has said that what they did was permissible, so they should not have had to incur those costs.
The fear of injury justifying self defense is evaluated in terms of the subjective experience of the defendant.  The court must instruct the jury to evaluate the claim of self defense in light of all the circumstances known to the defendant.  Jurors are instructed to place themselves in the defendant’s shoes at the time of the alleged crime, considering what he was experiencing and what was known to him about the victim at the time. So, if there is past knowledge that makes the shooter’s decision more or less understandable, the jury is entitled to hear about that. That can result in the trial being a lot more about the prior history of the victim than would normally be allowed in a trial.
Self defense is a tricky thing. The defendant needs to have ‘clean hands’ for the jury to sympathize with his or her position. They have to relate to why he or she felt that there was no other reasonable option. And the more force was used, the more the jury has to agree with that decision. The defendant’s testimony is very important, as is the perception of the seriousness of the danger they were facing.”

State Patrol Posts DUI Breath Tests Online

The Washington State Patrol has created an online database of all breath tests given to DUI defendants. You can find the database here.

Go down to the bottom of the page and click “Enter WebDMS.”Then click on “DataMaster search,” and you can browse the records.

It’s not exactly a breeze to search, however. You must know the “DataMaster” code — basically the location of the DUI breath machine — if you want to look up DUI results in a given period. But here’s one that I know: 140051. That’s the DataMaster machine in the Kitsap County jail.

The operator is the officer that made the DUI arrest. If you scroll to the right, “BrAC1” and “BrAC2” are the results of the two tests. Just plop a decimal point in front of the numbers (e.g. 123 becomes .123) and there you have it.

You cannot see defendant’s names here, only dates of birth.

Tampering ‘Trip Permit’ Proves Costly

Credit this cop for making quite the catch. The other day on Rocky Point Road, a Bremerton police officer spotted a trip permit — those little pieces of paper that function as temporary license plates — that just didn’t look quite right.

He pulled the car over, and on closer inspection, it became clear the driver had used white out to change the permit’s expiration date. And he got a ticket for it.

Just how much is the fine? $200, according to Theresa Ewing, administrator for the Bremerton Municipal Court. That’s obviously much more than the registration fee for plates, making this driver’s tampering a costly endeavor.

North Mason Man, 81, Faces Bank Robbery Charges

I got a call earlier this week from a gentleman in Allyn, who was surprised we hadn’t seen that his neighbor was nabbed for bank robbery.

And it wasn’t your typical heist: his neighbor, 81 years young, was arrested for robbing a KeyBank in University Place April 22. It was his second such robbery — he’d held up one other four decades ago, the News Tribune of Tacoma reported.

“He seemed like an upstanding guy,” the Allyn man said of his neighbor.

The robber didn’t get too far, though. A Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy pulled over his getaway car a short distance from the bank. He was booked into the Pierce County jail.

Do Vegetarians Get Special Meals at the Jail?

The short answer is no. But there’s some explanation involved.

A woman was doing time at the Kitsap County jail for stealing a Bainbridge woman’s purse recently. She grew up vegetarian, her husband says — that is, she isn’t a vegetarian by choice, but rather her body literally rejects meat.

“It makes her violently ill because her body cannot process it,” her husband told me, adding that during her 90 day stint on the inside, she lost weight and survived on only “cake, candy, junk food and once in awhile they have steamed vegetables and a small salad.”

I made a phone call to the sheriff’s office to ask about it last week.

“We try to accomodate them as much as is practical,” said Kitsap County Sheriff’s spokesman Scott Wilson. “But we don’t go and get special vegetarian meals.”

Those with certain medical conditions, along with inmates whose religions mandate certain diets, do get special meals, Wilson said.

But when it comes to vegetarians, Wilson said the best they can do in jail is avoid the meat and get extra helpings of vegetables and starches.

There are some prisons and jails around the country that actually cater to vegetarian dietary needs. But Kitsap isn’t one of them.