Law

Stories about law and politics in the Pacific Northwest, with many from KPLU's Law and Justice reporter, Paula Wissel.

President Obama says he's not Big Brother. The author who created the concept might disagree.

Addressing the controversy over widespread government surveillance of telephone records and Internet traffic Friday, Obama said, "In the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we've struck the right balance."

GGtimeshares / Flickr

The state’s attorney general says an Olympia couple ripped off thousands of people, including about 1,500 in Washington, in a series of timeshare and travel scams. He’s suing the couple as part of a nationwide crackdown.

Some Democrats in the US Congress are pushing measures to bring marijuana dispensaries in the Northwest under the federal tax code. Since federal law prohibits possession and sale of marijuana, dispensaries can't take advantage of any federal tax deductions.

Working jointly with the FBI, Microsoft says it has disrupted a botnet responsible for stealing more than $500 million from bank accounts worldwide.

zeraien / Flickr

It’s the stuff of bad movies: a masked man snatches a toddler, tucks him under his arm and runs off. And yet the King County Sheriff’s office says that’s exactly what happened Sunday in White Center.

It was one of four attempted kidnappings reported in the area over just a few days. All the kids were returned safely, and the incidents appear to be unconnected. But the rash of seeming abduction attempts have Seattle-area police and parents on edge. But just how much should people worry? 

Alan Cleaver / Flickr

Violent crime has gone up in our region, according to the latest statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to the FBI's Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report for 2012, Seattle and Tacoma saw more murders, robberies and aggravated assaults in 2012 than in 2011. Some other Washington cities, including Bellevue, also saw more crime.

Jessica Robinson

Even if you've never visited a jail, you probably have a pretty clear image of what inmate visitation is like: a shatterproof glass barrier, two people sitting on either side, speaking into telephones. But that's changing in some parts of the Northwest.

More and more county jails are switching to privately-operated video conferencing systems that are not unlike Skype for inmates. But these systems have technical difficulties, and come with costs for the inmates’ families.

Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of private retail liquor sales in Washington. According to the Liquor Control Board, 1,680 retailers now stock vodka, whiskey, and other spirits.

Dean Hasegawa, manager of the Red Apple supermarkets on Seattle’s Beacon Hill and in the Central Area, says the biggest problem for him and other retailers has been theft. 

"That was an expensive learning curve, I’m going to tell you," said Hasegawa, reflecting on the past year.

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

For Walt Stawicki, the past year has been one of grieving and what-ifs. Exactly one year ago, his 40-year-old son Ian Stawicki, killed himself in West Seattle after fatally shooting five people, including four at Café Racer.

Stawicki is pleased the Legislature passed a law making it easier to commit someone involuntarily for psychiatric care. He says he and his wife struggled to find the right care for their son, especially after they took a trip and noticed their son had deteriorated.  

Associated Press

United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jenny Durkan faced tough questions from senators in Washington D.C. on Wednesday when she testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.

Durkan, who was speaking as chair of the U.S. Justice Department Task Force on Cyber Crime, was asked why more isn't being done to stop thieves who use the Internet to steal everything from credit card numbers to trade secrets.

A new state audit is calling for automatic notifications when someone like a foster parent or childcare worker is suspected of committing a crime any time after they've already passed an initial background check.

The automatic checks are being recommended to improve public safety. State Auditor Troy Kelley says this kind of check-back service is being developed or is already in use in 37 other states.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Prosecutors have charged five May Day protestors with felonies following last week’s confrontation with police in downtown Seattle.

The standoff between anti-capitalist marchers and Seattle police escalated quickly around dusk on May 1, and before long, bottles and rocks were flying toward police, pepper spray and blast balls toward protesters.

Wikimedia Commons

Last week’s tumultuous May Day protests got many of us wondering: What is May 1 all about, anyway?

It’s been a workers’ holiday in Europe for years, but when did it become a big deal in the U.S.?

SUNY Empire State College history professor Jacob Remes says last week’s hubbub—from the union involvement to the spotlight on immigration, to the anarchist presence and police response—all fit right in to May Day’s radical history.

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

Seattle police said they’re continuing to investigate crimes committed in the course of an unruly May Day demonstration, but that they’re proud of how officers handled themselves.

Capt. Chris Fowler said Seattle police incorporated some important lessons from last year’s May Day protests. They had much longer to plan this year, even treating a small March 15 protest as a “rehearsal.” 

Schulte family

A Seattle man who lost his parents and whose wife and infant son were critically injured by a drunk driver says these tragedies must be stopped. 

"This is preventable and it should be prevented," said Dan Schulte at a news conference Tuesday. "I don't know what that means yet. I don't know if I'm going to dedicate my life to this cause, which I might, but I do know that things need to change."

Justin Steyer

Seattle police insist they’re ready for whatever happens on May Day, that they are better staffed, better organized and better trained than last year.

“We’re as prepared as we can be, given our resources,” said Captain Chris Fowler, the designated commander for police May Day response.

Last year on May Day, there was widespread confusion among officers on duty about how to respond to black-clad vandals smashing windows downtown.

What’s different this time?

Reverberations from last year's May Day melee in downtown Seattle are still being felt among some activists in the Pacific Northwest.

You could say what happened after the window-smashing by black bloc anarchists on May 1, 2012 has spawned a whole new protest movement, the grand jury resistance movement.

Gun control advocates in Washington are launching an initiative campaign after state lawmakers declined to expand background checks on gun sales.

The group Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility announced its plans Monday. Supporters will need to collect nearly 250,000 valid signatures, with state officials recommending the submission of more than 300,000 to account for duplicates and invalid signatures.

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

Marijuana legalization could be going back to the ballot in Colorado — a prospect that infuriated pot legalization activists Friday.

The marijuana ballot measure proposal went public as the House started debate on bills to regulate and tax pot. One bill would state how pot should be grown and sold, and the other would tax recreational marijuana more than 30 percent.

Tom Harpel / Flickr

The court-appointed watch dog monitoring the Seattle Police Department has completed his first report on the department's progress, and the report paints a picture of a police force moving unevenly toward reform.

Merrick Bobb and his team's job is to make sure police follow the plan to end excessive use of force and racially-biased policing.

Ed Andrieski / Associated Press

The Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled that there is no employment protection for people who use marijuana.

In a split decision issued on Thursday, the court said marijuana use is still barred by the federal government, even though state-licensed marijuana use has been approved by voters and is considered lawful.

"For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law," the appeals court said.

David Snyder / NPS

Seattle's elected officials are moving to make sure sprawling marijuana farms don’t take over the city’s industrial areas, though it’s not clear whether growers would want to locate in the city at all.

Just who actually gets licensed to grow marijuana will be up to the state. But Seattle City Council members say any Seattle grower will likely end up in one of the industrial areas along the Duwamish corridor or Interbay.

Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press

Frustrated at being left out of an immigration overhaul, gay rights groups are pushing to adjust a bipartisan Senate bill to include gay couples. But Democrats are treading carefully, wary of adding another divisive issue that could lose Republican support and jeopardize the entire bill.

Both parties want the bill to succeed. Merely getting to agreement on the basic framework for the immigration overhaul, which would create a long and costly path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally, was no small feat for senators. And getting it through a divided Congress is still far from a done deal.

Prosecutors and crime lab scientists say a little-noticed provision in Washington's new legal marijuana law has jeopardized their ability to go after any pot crimes at all, and they're calling for an immediate fix in the Legislature.

The problem stems from a part of the law meant to distinguish marijuana from industrial hemp, which is grown for its fiber. The law defines marijuana as having more than 0.3 percent of a certain intoxicating compound, called delta-9 THC.

New Mexico Department of Public Safety

Sit in a courtroom where people are being arraigned on charges of driving under the influence, and you get an idea of the obstacles Washington lawmakers face in trying to pass tougher drunk driving laws.

I recently spent an eye-opening afternoon in Judge Mark Eide's courtroom in King County District Court in Burien.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Repeat drunk drivers in Washington may soon carry a scarlet letter driver’s license and have to wear an alcohol detection bracelet. Those are just two of the requirements contained in DUI legislation proposed Tuesday in Olympia.

The bipartisan plan follows two recent drunk driving tragedies in the Seattle area. 

House Public Safety Chair Roger Goodman says the ankle bracelet detects alcohol consumption and alerts authorities.

The settlement of a class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of asylum seekers, should make it easier for people to work in the U.S. while for their asylum petition to be acted on.

The problem has been with something called the “asylum clock.” The clock is actually a complicated formula the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies use to decide when someone is allowed to legally begin working in the United States. Theoretically, it’s supposed to be around six months. But, according to the court case, it stretches into years.

Keith Seinfeld / kplu

Federal law prohibits banks from helping drug dealers. So where do marijuana businesses keep their cash?  

“We would put the cash in the safe on premises, which obviously makes you nervous. You have to leave it there overnight,” said Cale Burkhart, who sells cannabis-infused lotions. His shop closed last year, but he’s still selling a line called Vita Verde.

New Mexico Department of Public Safety

In the wake of several fatal crashes in which alcohol likely played a role, state lawmakers are debating stricter DUI penalties.

Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, has proposed a bill to that would require suspected drunk drivers to use the ignition interlock device.

Do law enforcement officials need a search warrant to use Google Earth images in a criminal investigation?

“It’s interesting to me that it’s worrisome to some people, because we’ve been doing this for some years,” says San Juan County Prosecutor Randy Gaylord.

But an Orcas Island court case now questions whether the practice should be allowed.

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