The Law Office of Chris Van Vechten is celebrating our 150th criminal case dimissed! We’re proud of our record and we want to help you with your criminal case.
The Law Office of Chris Van Vechten has served as counsel to clients who seem to represent every cross-section of our community. Chris has represented: professional athletes; politicians and elected officials; the homeless and the addicted; business owners and working class heroes; soldiers who serve our country, and immigrants – documented or otherwise – who seek to join it; high school drop-outs, college students, university professors and fellow attorneys; people as young as 10 and as old as 81; residents of countless communities; the famous, the infamous and a lot of people who wish to remain unknown; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Many lawyers employ an assembly-line-strategy for representing the accused, particularly those charged with petty crimes like Assault 4, DUI, or even high volume felonies like unlawful possession of a controlled substance. By contrast, Chris Van Vechten strives to provide a defense which is both powerful AND personalized to meet the individual goals/needs of each client.
This, along with a willingness to go to trial and to win, has kept Chris’s service in demand across the South Sound.
The Law Office of Chris Van Vechten has a new location in down-town Tacoma, conveniently located just a few blocks away from the Pierce County Court House.
Our new address is 306 S 7th St, Suite 208, Tacoma, WA, 98402.
Look forward to seeing you soon.
HYPOTHETICAL BASED ON REAL EVENTS
One day in January, police officers responded to a house in Pierce County for a domestic disturbance and possible no contact order violation. It was reported that the Defendant – Jack – was living with his sister – Jill. Deputies subsequently arrived at the aforementioned address and interviewed both Jack and Jill. Although no evidence of a fight was uncovered and no assault was subsequently charged, it was quickly discovered that Jack was prohibited from having contact with his sister per a pre-trial domestic violence no contact order. Jill did not want a no contact order against Jack, but the court had imposed one anyway because Jill had previously called 9-1-1 on Jack making allegations that were later held to be unfounded.
Jill was homeless, and had asked her brother Jack if she could stay with him “for a while” just two weeks prior to his arrest. Jack knew about the no contact order and that it was illegal for him to be within 500 feet of Jill, her place of employment, or her “residence” – but, he felt his duty as a brother necessitated he provide Jill with shelter. He never put Jill on the lease, never gave her a key, and Jill never paid any rent.
When Jack was arrested following the officers’ discovery that he was prohibited from being within 500 feet of Jill, he expected to be charged with violation of a no contact order – a gross misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Instead, prosecutors charged him with residential burglary, a Class B Felony with a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and a $20,000 fine.
At common law, burglary was defined as:
the trespassory breaking and entering of the dwelling of another at night with an intent to commit a felony therein.
This definition was absurdly narrow for modern times and was subsequently eroded over the ages. Residential Burglary today is found when a defendant “with intent to commit a crime against a person or property therein, the person enters or remains unlawfully in a dwelling other than a vehicle.” However, this definition is absurdly too broad in the outcomes it creates.
For example, suppose Herfy steals a liquor bottle from Wal-Mart, gets caught, and subsequently is trespassed from all Wal-Mart stores and properties for life. (This is standard Wal-Mart procedure). A few years later, he goes to a different Wal-Mart store and steals a pack of gum. He now gets charged with Second Degree Burglary because he unlawfully entered a building with the intent to commit a crime. See RCW 9A.52.030. The theory being that it was unlawful for him to be there because he was banished from all Wal- Marts. So long as the State can prove that he entered the store with the intent of committing any crime there-in, they can sentence Herfy to up to ten years for that little pack of chewing-gum.
In Jack and Jill’s case, because No Contact Orders don’t define “residence” and because Jill was homeless – thereby making any place she spends the night her “residence” no matter how transitory that experience is – the State feels justified in bringing residential burglary charges against Jack.
Anyone currently saddled with an involuntary No Contact Order (the vast majority of domestic violence no contact orders are imposed over the alleged victims objection) needs to be aware that cohabitation with the prohibited party is not only illegal, it is a Class B felony.
Unfortunately, few – if any – persons prohibited from having contact with someone are aware that this is the law, and until courts start printing more explicit No Contact Orders, more defense attorneys should be encouraged to file motions on behalf of clients facing burglary charges like this. One interesting argument is that charging people with residential burglary under facts similar to those facing Jack is a violation of Jack’s right to due process.
Due process requires that criminal statutes be properly worded so that they give fair warning of the type of conduct they purport to criminalize. State v. Wilson, 117 Wn.App. 1, 12, 75 P.3d 573, 578 (2003). Although due process requirements primarily extend to the proper wording of statutes, other regulations or statutes may require specific notice be provided on court orders. Id. Where such statutory notice is required but not given, a due process violation may occur. Id. The Court requires that all protection orders “shall include, in a conspicuous location, notice of the criminal penalties resulting from violation of the order.” State v. Dejarlais, 136 Wn.2d 939, 943 969 P.2d 90, 92 (1998); see also RCW 26.50.035(c).
Generally, No Contact Order forms warn the prohibited party that:
Violation of the provisions of this order with actual notice of its terms is a criminal offense under chapter 26.50 RCW and will subject a violator to arrest; any assault, drive-by-shooting, or reckless endangerment that is a violation of this order is a felony.
Nowhere is notice ever given on a standard No Contact Order form that cohabitation with the protected party constitutes residential burglary and is a felony. Applying the maxim of expressio unius est exclusion alterius, a defendant could not reasonably be put on notice that residential burglary is among the possible criminal penalties resulting from violation of the standard No Contact Order.
Often times, No Contact Orders include “Additional Warnings to Defendant” which read: “Willful violation of this order is punishable under RCW 26.50.110.” Had Jack read this statute he would have known that willful violation of the order is a gross misdemeanor. See RCW 26.50.110(1)(a). He would have known that assaults or conduct that is “reckless and creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person” is punishable as a class C felony. See RCW 26.50.110(4). He would have known that a violation of the NCO can be a class C felony if she had previously been convicted of violating the restrain provision twice before. See RCW 26.50.110(5). But he never would have known that allowing his homeless sister to live with him would transform his lawful residence into hers, and make any subsequent entry into his own home a residential burglary.
Nationwide, gun violence has been in a continual decline for the past 30 years. Nevertheless, this year Washington’s gun-control advocates made the case that additional laws were necessary to keep guns away from criminals and the mentally ill. Their mechanism for doing so was I-594.
Here’s the facts about the new law, what it changes, and what it does not.
First, it was already illegal for Washingtonians who had been convicted of any form of domestic violence to possess a firearm. This means if you responded to a text message from a girlfriend who had a No Contact Order against you and got caught, your right to own a firearm was terminated.
It was also already illegal for someone charged with domestic violence to possess a firearm, with select exceptions for members of the military and law enforcement. It was also illegal to sell a firearm to someone convicted or charged with these crimes or to buy a gun on behalf of an individual charged with these crimes.
For such individuals, it’s a risk to be in someone else’s house if they own a gun, because mere proximity could constitute “possession” in the eyes of a zealous prosecutor.
There were and are other ways to lose the right to own a firearm that had nothing to do with guns. For example, a drunk driver who falls asleep at the wheel and consequently kills someone can lose the right to possess a firearm.
However, for those of us still allowed to possess a firearm, there were several ways to go about getting one. We could purchase them through a licensed dealer, or we could sell them at gun shows – though the ability to purchase, sell or carry at these gun shows was already restricted in multiple ways. For example, some shows wouldn’t let you buy or sell unless you were an NRA member. Another way to get firearms was as gifts or through inheritance.
Not that much actually. §1 explicitly says:
This measure would extend criminal and public safety background checks to all gun sales or transfers. Background checks would not be required for gifts between immediate family members or for antiques.
So, you can still inherit your daddy’s pistol without the executor of the estate or the probate court going through a background check. You can also gift guns to “immediate family members” defined as “spouses, domestic partners, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, first cousins, aunts, and uncles.” §3(4)(a). However, now you do need to report your possession of these guns to the department of licensing. §3(4)(g)
What you can no longer do – unless you are a licensed gun dealer – is sell guns to a stranger at a gun show, unless you do so through a licensed intermediary. Again, there was already regulations prohibiting who could sell and buy at gun shows, so this law is truly unnecessary.
The practical effect is that now, everyone must sell through or via a licensed dealer. The problem with this is it’s not uncommon for dealers to take consignment fees. We’ve seen these fees go as high as 40% of the sale price. Given how expensive guns are, such a significant loss in the sales price might actually discourage gun owners from jettisoning their unwanted firearms and that might actually create a risk that neglected firearms will lie around in attics until discovered by the wrong hands. I-594 seems to acknowledge this problem and attempts to address it by declaring:
The licensed dealer may charge a fee that reflects the fair market value of the administrative costs and efforts incurred by the licensed dealer for facilitating the sale or transfer of the firearm.
However, it doesn’t define what “fair market” is. Presumably, since the market currently allows 40% consignment fees, I-594 considers that fair.
WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
It’s unclear, but one could interpret the new law as forbidding the purchase of a pistol without a concealed pistol license. §5(1)(a). Prior to I-594, the law stated that no dealer could deliver a pistol to the purchaser until:
- The purchaser produces a valid concealed pistol license;
- The dealer was notified in writing by the chief of police or the sheriff of the jurisdiction in which the purchaser resides that the purchaser is eligible to possess a pistol under RCW9.41.040 and that the application to purchase is approved by the chief of police or sheriff; OR
- Five business days, meaning days on which state offices are open, have elapsed from the time of receipt of the application for the purchase thereof as provided herein by the chief of police or sheriff designated in subsection (5) of this section, and, when delivered, the pistol shall be securely wrapped and shall be unloaded.
See RCW 9.41.090
I-594 removes option #3, meaning if you don’t have a concealed pistol license, you can’t purchase a pistol.
This is a strange policy choice, as it almost encourages pistol owners to carry pistols, and that can only lead to more shootings.
There’s a lot of hubbub about “transfers” surrounding this initiative. Opponents of I-594 seem to believe that allowing someone else to hold the gun might be a crime. This interpretation is unfounded, but they are correct in that there are a lot of scenarios not covered by this initiative which do not constitute a crime by the law of common sense, but may under this initiative.
For example, the photo of Lawyer Chris Van Vechten holding the assault rifle in this post was not taken at an established shooting range, but rather in a ditch in Eastern Washington. The gun belongs to Chris’ brother-in-law, not an “immediate family member” under this Initiative. And because Chris was only target shooting, not hunting, he arguably could be arrested for doing this in a post I-594 world.
Your right to own and carry a gun has not been seriously diminished by the passage of I-594. However, the amount of money you can collect selling your old gun probably has been reduced by the forced inclusion of licensed dealers. Also, it is very likely that many of us will fail to report ownership of inherited guns to the department of licensing and one day potentially face criminal charges simply because the bureaucratic machinery fails to provide a method for giving notice.
The Law Office of Chris Van Vechten is committed to defending client’s Second Amendment rights and to assisting those who have lost said rights in restoring them.