Criminal Records and Employment in WA

If you are trying to find employment and you have a criminal record, you may be wondering how much information you need to divulge. Here are some answers to common questions.

How should you answer questions about my criminal background on an application?

Answer employment application questions accurately. Many employers run criminal background checks and you want to be truthful up front. The employer can deny you the position or terminate you if you gave inaccurate information. If you don’t know what is in your record, get a copy of your criminal history report.

Should you provide more information than they ask for?

Employers may ask many questions and it can vary from employer to employer. Some may ask only if you have been convicted of a crime, others may ask about a specific time period and others may ask about a specific type of crime.

Always answer accurately, but you are not required to disclose information they do not ask for. For example if they say a crime in the last 7 years but your conviction was 10 years ago.

Private employers can ask about convictions and juvenile adjudications. Juvenile court records are not confidential in Washington State.

What about a vacated or sealed case?

If you have a sealed case from when you were a juvenile, you do not need to disclose it. If your case has been vacated, you can say you have never been convicted. However, it is a good idea to talk to an attorney about this because employers can find the information on background checks.

These are just a few of the important questions. If you would like more information visit the ACLU or contact Charles Johnston Law.

What is Double Jeopardy?

According to the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “No person shall be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This guarantee is important because it prevents prosecutors from continually prosecuting until they come up with a conviction. Double Jeopardy prevents being prosecuted twice for the same offense.

Jeopardy begins when someone is charged with a crime. Here are the important stages to be aware of:

  • When Jury is sworn.
  • When first witness is sworn.
  • When court first hears evidence (for juvenile proceedings).
  • When a plea is excepted as an agreement between the defendant and prosecutor.

When the defendant is found innocent, jeopardy ends. The government cannot detain them for additional court proceedings. Therefore, it ends when:

  • An acquittal.
  • Trial court judge grants a dismissal.
  • Post-conviction appeal is a success.

Double Jeopardy is one of the oldest legal concepts dating back to 355 B.C. The Romans codified this principle that “the law forbids the same man to be tried twice on the same issue.

The Courts can bring further criminal action against someone as long as it is not for the same offense. For example, an individual who has stolen a car to facilitate abduction can be prosecuted and receive separate punishments for auto theft, kidnapping, attempted rape etc.

To learn more about Double Jeopardy, visit Legal Dictionary or FindLaw.

Your Rights as a Criminal Defendant

You have numerous rights under the Federal Constitution and the Washington State Constitution.We want you to have a basic understanding of your rights so that you are empowered to exercise them. If you are facing criminal charges, hire a criminal defense attorney so that you can mount a strong legal defense and ensure your rights are protected. Here are some of your rights.

The Fourth Amendment

Creates the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure. In general, you have the right to refuse a search of your property or vehicle in the absence of a valid search warrant. However, if law enforcement officers have a search warrant or a valid exception to your Fourth Amendment right is present, you must submit to the search.

The Fifth Amendment

The right to remain silent. This amendment grants us the right against self-incrimination. If you are being questioned by law enforcement regarding a crime, it is usually in your best interest to remain silent. You do not have to answer questions posed to you by law enforcement. When talking to the police never lose sight of the fact that anything you say may potentially bolster the State’s case against you and/or harm your ability to defend yourself against criminal charges. Be polite but firm in your desire to remain silent.

Your right to remain silent extends to situations when being interrogated by law enforcement and when testifying in legal proceedings.

The Sixth Amendment

This amendment guarantees criminal defendants a number of rights, including the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.

This amendment also guarantees the right to be confronted with witnesses against you and to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor.  You have the right to cross-examine any witness proffered by the State. Further, you have the right to proffer your own witnesses in support of your defense.

Other Rights

The right to be presumed innocent unless and until the State proves each element of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt.

The presumption of innocence is a constitutional principle. To secure a conviction, the State must prove each element of the crime(s) charged beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest legal standard.

The right to an attorney.

You have the right to be represented by an attorney during any police interrogation and during any legal proceeding. Exercise this right. If you do answers questions, your attorney will be there to protect your rights and ensure you do not offer statements that will bolster a criminal case against you.

Also, know that once you ask for an attorney the police are no longer supposed to interrogate you until your attorney is present.

The laws encompassing the rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution and Washington State Constitution are complex and nuanced. Hire a criminal defense attorney to advocate for your rights and mount a strong defense against aggressive prosecution.

What You Need to Know About Shoplifting

If you have been accused of shoplifting, the first thing you should do is gather all the information you can to know just what you are up against. In Washington, the crime of shoplifting, like other theft charges, is classified based on its level of severity.

Classification of Theft

Theft in the 1st Degree: If the value of the property or services exceeds $5,000 (with the exception of a firearm or vehicle), it will be classified as 1st degree theft. As a Class B felony, the penalty will include a 10 year max jail sentence and a $20,000 fine.

Theft in the 2nd Degree: If the property or services stolen is valued between $750 and $5,000. This is classified as a Class C felony and can be punished with up to 5 years in jail and a fine of $10,000.

Theft in the 3rd Degree: If the property or service stolen is valued at less than $750, it is classified as a 3rd degree theft. This is a gross misdemeanor and can be punished with a maximum of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Usually, shoplifting falls under the classification of 3rd degree theft, but that depends on the value of the things that you are accused of taking. To plan an adequate defense strategy your lawyer may ask you the following questions:

  • Were you in the store when stopped?
  • Had you already passed the checkout or register area of the store?
  • Were you carrying a personal bag?
  • Was it a mistake and you had intended to pay?
  • Where were the items recovered from?
  • Did you make any statements or admissions, and to whom?

If you or someone you know has been accused of shoplifting, contact the Charles Johnston team.  

National Crackdown on Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

For the past two weeks, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been conducting a national campaign titled “Drive High, Get a DUI.” This campaign is to bring awareness to, and crack down on, driving while under the influence of drugs. The tagline of this campaign is, “If You Feel Different, You Drive Different.” This campaign entails an increase in law enforcement patrols and a crack down on impaired driving.

Driving Under the Influence Has Been On the Rise

Roadway deaths where the driver was under the influence of drugs like marijuana, opioids, and prescription drugs has been on the rise. According to a Governor’s Highway Safety Association study, 44% of individuals who died in traffic crashes in 2016 had drugs in their system. A decade ago, only 28% of individuals who died had drugs in their system at the time of the accident.

The legalization of marijuana is far from the only cause of this rise. Since there is not yet a tool that can be used roadside to test for drugs like there is for alcohol, many people believe they can get away with driving under the influence. Also, opioid use is on the rise, as well as driving while on prescribed medicines. It is important to remember that even though they are prescribed legally, it is still a DUI.

Facing a DUI

If you or someone you know is facing a DUI charge, be sure to contact Charles A. Johnston and his team. Drug related DUIs carry severe penalties such as jail time, loss of driving privileges and big fines. You need to give yourself the best chance to beat a drug related DUI charge, and the only way to do that is to have an experienced legal team in your corner.

For more information about the campaign, check out their website here.

DIY Firearms: What Does This Mean and Who Is Fighting Back?

There has been a lot of talk lately about the eight States including Washington, New York, Oregon, and the District of Columbia who are joining in on the lawsuit challenging the outcome of a 2015 case. The verdict of the case allows Defense Distributed’s Cody Wilson to release blueprints for 3D-printed firearms.

In case you are unfamiliar with what is going on, a restraining order blocking the release of downloadable blueprints for 3D-printed firearms has been issued by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik. This is happening one day after Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, filed a suit challenging the Federal Government’s decision to allow their release.  

What exactly are 3D-printed firearms? 3D-printed firearms are guns that are assembled by a 3D printer using ABS plastic (the same kind of plastic used to make Legos).

Anybody who has enough money, can buy the higher end 3D printer that is required to assemble functional firearms.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives conducted a test of the accuracy of 3D-printed firearms in 2013. One gun tested called ABS-M30, fired a .380-caliber round eight times without fail.

The blueprints include plans for an AR-15 style rifle and a Beretta M9 handgun, among other firearms. It is believed that the release of the blueprints would facilitate a broad, unregulated access to dangerous weapons.

This raises concerns because the firearms would be untraceable and virtually undetectable by metal detectors. Also, those who would otherwise be unable to purchase a firearm because, they would fail a background check, could more easily get their hands on one.

For more information check out The Seattle Times  and CNN.

Fewer Juveniles Tried in Adult Court Under New Law

Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed a new law that removes a handful of crimes from the list of auto-decline offenses extending juvenile jurisdiction for those crimes to age 25. The sentences for these crimes will include time served in juvenile rehabilitation facilities instead of state prisons.

Additionally, for violent offenses, such as murder, rape and aggravated assault, county prosecutors can use discretion to decide which of these 16/17 year olds will be tried as adults.

Senate Bill 6160, the bill signed by the governor last month, removes first-degree robbery, drive-by shooping, first-degree burglary if has a prior offense, and any violent crime committed with a firearm from the list of crimes that can automatically send 16 and 17 years into the adult criminal system. It does not affect youth committing crime after age 18.

Read more about the specifics here.

How does DNA testing for evidence work?

DNA is a molecule that contains our genetic code and determines all of our traits. Every cell in the human body contains a complete set of our DNA. 99% of the DNA from two people will be identical, 0.1% of the DNA code is what makes each person unique.

These sequences, genetic markers are used by forensic scientists when doing a DNA test. Identical twins will have identical genetic markets.

Forensic evidence could include samples from skin, hair, blood or other body fluids.

The accuracy of DNA is crucial as it can be life changing for someone on trial. DNA tests can sometimes be the only evidence to prove someone was involved in a crime or free someone wrongly convicted. Testing more markers will insure the accuracy of the test, but this can be expensive. Unrelated people can be the same, however this is only a one in one billion chance.

DNA was not used to profile people until the mid 1980’s. Compared to fingerprints or eyewitness testimony, DNA evidence is a high accurate method. DNA evidence is heavily relied on in court.

For more about DNA evidence in criminal law, check out these resources:

Washington Fair Chance Act- What is it?

The Washington Fair Chance Act was signed into law this week by Governor Jay Inslee. Referred to as “ban the box” by supporters, this law prohibits employers from asking about arrests or convictions until after the employer determines if the applicant is otherwise qualified for the position. Exceptions include law enforcement, state agencies, schools and other jobs that work with children or vulnerable adults.

More than one million people living in Washington State have a criminal record. Nationwide 11 states and 150 cities have adopted a similar concept.

The main goal is to prohibit excluding someone with a criminal history solely based on that fact if they are otherwise qualified during the initial screenings. Many qualified applicants can be discouraged from applying for a position if they need to check a box saying they have a past history with the law.

Another goal of this legislature is to help ex-offenders fine productive employment. The idea is if they are able to make a living wage, provide for their families and have work then they are less likely to re-offend or turn to criminal activities.

You can read more about the bill and what supporters believe are the benefits here.

In the News: Lawyer Admitted Client’s Guilt

The U.S. Supreme Court considers the question: When a defendant in a capital case says, “not guilty,” can his attorney say “guilty?”

This happened in the case of State of Louisiana v. McCoy. Robert McCoy is currently on death row after his conviction for triple murder after being charged with first-degree murder. He claimed he was innocent, but his lawyer thought the evidence against him was overwhelming.

Lawyer, Larry English wanted to spare him from execution and proposed admitting guilt and pleading for a lesser sentence. McCoy did not agree. At trial, McCoy said he was out of the state during the time of the murders. English, mentioned in his closing arguments that his client was guilty of second-degree murder because of mental deficiencies.

The lawyer had told McCoy to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. The lawyer was trying to avoid the death penalty. This strategy failed.

The Supreme Court heard arguments on this case during an appeal. McCoy asked for a new trial because his lawyer disobeyed his instructions. The justices will have to decide “whether the lawyer’s decisions was a reasonable effort to make the best of a bad situation or instead a violation of McCoy’s constitutional rights, entitling him to a new trial.”