Kitsap Crime and Justice

The Kitsap Sun staff writes about crime and criminal justice issues.
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Archive for September, 2011

Federal government supplies weed to a handful of people

Friday, September 30th, 2011

This may come as a surprise for those of you following the great marijuana debate. Since 1976, the federal government — yes, that federal government that bans pot and lists it as a drug without medicinal value — has supplied a dwindling number of patients with medical marijuana.

The Associated Press recently published a piece documenting the history of this apparent cognitive dissonance, in which four Americans (including an Oregonian) still receive marijuana for various illnesses. In fact, since 2005, they’ve received 100 pounds of weed in the form of finely-rolled joints.

The story provides interesting history. Despite marijuana’s illegality since the 1930s, a federal judge in 1976 ruled that one man’s glaucoma could be relieved in no other way than pot. Since then, a small number of patients are given pot grown on a farm at the University of Mississippi.

Medical marijuana laws are now on the books in 16 states, including Washington. The controversy surrounding the drug will undoubtedly continue. This story shows that it’s not just the states that have trouble being consistent enforcing marijuana laws.


Crime tech: Accelerating the slow DNA testing process

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Criminal justice aficionados, put this little news tidbit under your caps. A new technology for testing DNA samples may drastically cut the time it takes investigators to analyze it, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The process is called “microfluidics” and the National Institute of Justice is supplying $1 million to to spur collaboration between the Baltimore Police Department, Yale University and Advanced Liquid Logic, a North Carolina company that came up with the new testing technology, the Sun reports.

It’s going to be awhile before the technology will be ready — and that’s if it works. But the potential here is to cut the expensive and time intensive process from 24 hours to one, using tiny samples one-hundredth of a raindrop in size, Advanced Liquid Logic CEO Richard West told the Sun.

Here at our Sun in Kitsap, we often receive calls and emails from frustrated residents about why criminal cases take so long to bring to a charge. One big reason is that the Washington State Patrol’s crime lab needs time to complete DNA testing.

Perhaps one day soon, that process will be much shorter.


Meth-makers beware: the feds are keeping a close eye on you

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Next time you have a cold, don’t be surprised if you get a bit of scrutiny with your Sudafed. Washington’s board of pharmacy just approved new rules that will make getting any pseudoephedrine product a little more like traveling through airport security.

The good news is that law enforcement will be alerted any time a small cache of pseudoephedrine — the key ingredient in making methamphetamine — is purchased at a local store.

But next time that pounding headache, cough and general feeling of awfulness drags you into Ride Aid or Walgreens, expect to be asked for your driver’s license or ID, which will get scanned into a database.

This concept isn’t too new for Washingtonians — one of meth’s first victims in the country — who’ve already been handing over IDs so they could be catalogued in a paper database for law enforcement to see. The difference now is the federal government’s “Combat Meth Act,” which makes the database electronic — and thus instant.

By October 15, all retailers will have to be using the system and complying with the new rules operating it.

In case you’d like more detail, here’s a press release on the topic, courtesy of the state’s Department of Health:

OLYMPIA — Making methamphetamine (meth) in Washington just got harder thanks to a new, instant, electronic reporting and monitoring system. The Washington State Board of Pharmacy adopted rules for the system that tracks purchases of over-the-counter medications used to make the drug.

Retailers and law enforcement are now learning how to use the system. On October 15, all retailers must comply with the system’s rules and law enforcement can use the information for investigations under the federal Combat Meth Act.

The tracking system, which is in use in many other states, scans photo identification as well as type and amount of product; it provides real-time information showing the cashier if the person buying the medication has exceeded the allowed quantity. Information on the purchase of medication over the legal limits goes instantly to a database available to law enforcement.

Restricting access to drugs used to make meth is a key step to ending illegal meth labs and dumpsites, and to deterring meth abuse and addiction. Controlling access to products containing pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, and phenyloproanolamine will help stop meth makers from buying big quantities of the products while allowing legitimate access to cold, flu, and allergy products.

The state will use the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx), a no-cost system provided to states that want to replace paper sales logs with real-time electronic tracking. Pharmacies, shopkeepers, and other vendors selling these medications will enter sales transactions into the NPLEx system at the time of sale.


Tweet with the chief of the Washington State Patrol Wednesday

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011


F
or everything, there is a first. And on Wednesday, the Washington State Patrol’s chief will forge headfirst into the foray of social media.

Chief John Batiste will host an hour and a half session of #askWSP on Twitter. From 2:30-4 p.m. Wednesday, he’ll be at ready to respond to whatever the Twittersphere throws his way.

“I love going to Rotary and Kiwanis, and other events where I get to hear directly from the people we serve,” Batiste said in a press release. “This is a simply a new way of doing what all good leaders should be doing.”

The chief said he’ll be challenged to stay to 140-character answers.

“I have big hands, so I hope people will excuse any typos,” he said.

UPDATE, 9/28: Batiste has been typing away this afternoon answering questions. To see them go here.

More from the press release:

Batiste will be assisted by staff who will quickly research any detailed questions. About the only topic off-limits will be those concerning active investigations. Questions that demand more than 140 characters will be more fully answered on WSP’s Facebook page.

You can watch or participate in the “#askWSP” event by following @wastatepatrol on Twitter. Questions should be tweeted with the hashtag “#askWSP.”


Lawsuit: If doc had diagnosed color blindness, plaintiff wouldn’t have pursued aviation career

Monday, September 26th, 2011

A recent suit filed in Kitsap County Superior Court alleges a doctor failed to find an aspiring pilot was color blind after two eye examinations — leading the pilot to pursue a career in professional aviation. 

But in 2010, the lawsuit says the doctor did find he was color blind, stopping the plaintiff’s piloting career plans in their tracks.

At eye sight exams in 2005 and 2007, the aspiring pilot’s doctor gave him the  green light for an Federal Aviation Administration second class license, the lawsuit alleges. But in 2010, the doctor then diagnosed the plaintiff with hereditary color blindness and recommended only a third class license with “night vision and color signal restrictions.”

The plaintiff had “pursued a career in commercial aviation including the substantial expense of aviation flight school,” his lawyer alleges.

“Professional and/or commercial positions for a pilot with night vision and color signal restriction are precluded or substantially limited,” the lawyer wrote. “Had (the doctor) timely and correctly diagnosed (plaintiff’s) color blindness … (he) would not have pursued aviation school and training, to which he’d devoted considerable expense and time.”

The lawsuit was filed in August and the plaintiff is asking for arbitration. He is seeking “economic injury” damages for the costs of pursuing an aviation career after the alleged misdiagnoses in 2005 and 2007.

No response to the suit has yet been filed by the defendants.


Lawyers increasingly checking social media sites to assess jurors

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Surprise, surprise: The wealth of information many of us post about our lives on social media sites is being eyed by lawyers.

Last fall during jury selection in a murder case in Kitsap County Superior Court, prosecutors asked the potential triers-of-fact if they regularly “blogged” at newspaper web sites. The motivation by the state’s lawyers was to analyze their points of view to see if they could be impartial jurors.

Fast forward to this year in Maryland, where prosecutors argued successfully to redact juror candidates’ names prior to trial, to keep defense attorneys from Googling them before trial, according to a story in the Baltimore Sun. The judge signed off on the request.

It goes without saying that the more we participate in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, the more of our lives become transparent.  They create records of our interactions, our ideas and our beliefs.

Police regularly Google suspects’ names during law enforcement investigations. So do we in the media world for the stories we write. I’d guess most people have conducted an Internet search or two (or many) to learn more about others.

So it is without surprise that our nation’s legal minds are also mining the Internet. Any information that could give them an edge — from finding evidence on Facebook that supports their case  to rooting out a juror that shows his bias commenting on news stories — is fair game.

Will there be courtroom rules to officiate such searching? So far, our judicial system, which moves far slower than technology, hasn’t caught up.


Flashing your headlights: a first amendment right? (Part 2)

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Blogger’s Note: When a Florida man flashed his headlights to warn oncoming motorists of an upcoming speed trap, he was pulled over and ticketed. He’s taken the fight to court, where he’s filed a class-action lawsuit alleging his free speech rights were violated.

I’ve sought the perspective of two locals — Bremerton defense attorney Stan Glisson and Port Orchard top cop Al Townsend — to give us their take on this unusual but intriguing case. Here is Townsend’s commentary. Glisson’s essay appeared FridayBe sure to read up on the case first

JF: “A Florida man is suing for violation of his first amendment rights because he passed a speed trap and then flashed his headlights — and got ticketed for it. In Washington, would this type of thing be grounds for a ticket? Why or why not?”

AT: “It would NOT … The legal answer is state law forbids people from shining their high beam lights at other drivers in the range of 300 to 500 feet. So it would be uncommon in my mind for someone driving around after dark to get stopped if they are driving with their high beams on because they could be impacting the vision of oncoming cars.

Now, I suppose technically, if you are flashing your high beams at another car then you are driving with your high beams on and could be subject to that law.  But … we would not stop a  car for doing that as it relates to notifying other drivers of a radar zone or even when other drivers try to get the attention of a driver who is cruising down the road with his high beams on (to get his attention to shut them off).

In fact … if more people would do that when they see cops running radar, more people would slow down and accomplish our goal.

If one of my cops did the Florida thing and stopped a car for flashing his headlights at another car that was warning him of a radar set, he’d be on the carpet in my office … I can guarantee you it would only happen once.”

Al Townsend is police chief in the city of Port Orchard. Aside from his administrative duties, he is known as one of the few top cops who regularly patrols the streets with the line officers.


Flashing your headlights: a first amendment right? (Part 1)

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Blogger’s Note: When a Florida man flashed his headlights to warn oncoming motorists of an upcoming speed trap, he was pulled over and ticketed. He’s taken the fight to court, where he’s filed a class-action lawsuit alleging his free speech rights were violated.

I’ve sought the perspective of two locals — Bremerton defense attorney Stan Glisson and Port Orchard top cop Al Townsend — to give us their take on this unusual but intriguing case. Glisson’s essay will run today while Townsend’s commentary will appear here Saturday. Be sure to read up on the case first

A car passes a hazard on a roadway; maybe a downed tree, maybe an animal in the road, maybe a police speed trap. The driver flashes their headlights as they approach oncoming traffic, to warn them of the peril ahead. The practice has existed as long as I have been driving, usually to warn of a parked police officer running their radar.

It is no surprise that some police officers disapprove of the practice. But in Florida, that disapproval commonly went one step further to ticketing the drivers for flashing their headlights. Police alleged basically that the headlight flashing is a distraction to others, but the perception is that the citations were issued as retribution for disrupting their speed trap.

One Florida man who saw a speed trap and flashed his lights as a warning at other drivers got such a ticket. He is now suing the state, arguing that flashing headlights is a form of communication, a type of ‘speech’ protected by our first amendment. Interestingly, since the lawsuit, Florida police have been instructed to discontinue the practice of issuing such tickets.

Protected speech takes as many forms as we have imagination. It’s one thing to tell a friend you saw a speed trap. It’s another to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. But free speech contains almost everything in between.

The idea of free speech is not always easy to swallow. It is completely fair to think that speeders should get caught and cited, and anyone trying to warn them is obstructing good police work. But if we believe in free speech in this country, it means protecting all speech. The most important speech to protect is the unpopular; it needs protection the most. We are free to talk to each other about what the government is doing, whether war strategy, economic policy, or police activity. The right to speak out against the government was arguably the most important right to our founding fathers, hence its prominent position in the Bill of Rights. The freedom we enjoy to speak our minds has to extend to warnings about speed traps, to literature, to profanity, and yes, on occasion to pasties on baristas.

Where the Florida law suit will end up is anyone’s guess. It speaks volumes that the police have stopped issuing these tickets. If you see a speed trap and want to warn other drivers, flash those lights. If you don’t want to, that’s fine too. We have to respect your decision about what you choose to say or not to say and every idea, popular or not, must be allowed to be heard. As Atticus Finch said, the one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience. So do as your conscience tells you. As for me, I’ll keep flashing my lights.

Stan Glisson is an attorney in Bremerton with the firm Glisson, Witt and Altman. Their firm mainly handles DUI and misdemeanor defense, as well as felony defense and civil cases. Glisson earned his law degree at the University of Washington, has worked as a Kitsap County deputy prosecutor, and as a Kitsap and Snohomish defense attorney before entering private practice.


The execution of Troy Davis: A pivotal moment in death penalty debate?

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

The most controversial American execution in recent memory was carried out last night in Georgia. Troy Davis, convicted of murdering  police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, Georgia in August 1989, was put to death amidst a wave of protests outside the prison and around the country.

The uproar was not actually centered around the death penalty itself, but rather that several witnesses had recanted their testimony of Davis’ culpability since the trial that sealed his fate.

That didn’t stop former president Jimmy Carter from hoping the case “will spur us as a nation toward the total rejection of capital punishment,” according to an AP story.

Georgia, as far as I can tell, executes far more people than Washington. There are close to 100 people on death row there. Eight people currently inhabit Washington’s death row, with the oldest case — the murder of Cassie Holden in June 1988 — occurring in Kitsap County.

Readers, how do you feel about Davis’ execution?


Crime Trend: Beware those who ‘skim’ to scam your debit card

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Beware of skimmers.

No, we’re not talking about people who switch to nonfat milk. These are tech savvy crooks who know who to get hold of electronic devices that, when hooked up to ATM machines’ card readers, can record your credit card information. To get your pin number to go with it, they generally have a small camera nearby to capture you typing it in, reported the Seattle Times in a story Tuesday.

The Times points out that even federal prosecutor Jenny Durcan herself was a victim recently, and that skimming is a $1 billion a year illicit business.

Some easy tips to protect yourself against skimming can be found here at Tech Republic. Be on the lookout when using ATMs and if you’ve been a victim of it, feel free to share your story so we learn from it.

 


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