Case, Staff, Community, & Extern/Intern News
Coram Nobis Granted!
Mr. S. has been represented by the Seattle AFD Mohammad Hamoudi since his arrest in 2014. His case was finally and fully dismissed on June 29, 2021, after a successful Writ of Coram Nobis. His story is one of the rare, full success stories at FPD, with big twinges of heartache.
Mr. S had a troubled upbringing filled with family addiction, abuse and overall chaos. This upbringing led to our client’s own substance use disorder struggles. In 2014, when Mr. S’s wife was battling terminal cancer and Mr. S had a state burglary conviction that was pending, he was also charged in federal court with a Felon in Possession offense. Based on our Seattle AFD’s advocacy and Mr. S’s current family needs, he was release on bond and allowed to move out of state to live with his in-laws, which allowed him to provide support for his wife and 3 young daughters, while also attending court proceedings in two courts.
Knowing that his wife would likely not live through the duration of the federal court proceedings, our office visited client and his extended family in Iowa to document our client’s personal growth and sobriety, while he cared for his terminal wife and three young daughters, the oldest who also was suffering from brain cancer.
In addition to the mitigation evidence that the defense team was gathering, the team also began preparations for the drug dog challenge / Fourth Amendment suppression motion, aggressively litigated by Seattle AFD Mohammad Hamoudi, Defender Mike Filipovic, and Tacoma Research & Writing Specialist Alan Zarky. When the motion was denied, the case proceeded to a stipulated facts trial to preserve the suppression issue, and Mr. S was sentenced in January 2016.
By then, Mr. S had become a valued construction worker, with many friends and supporters, and he had provided extraordinary love and support to his wife as she died, to their three daughters, and to the whole family. His mother-in-law compared Mr. S’s character before and after release on our case: from "Selfish, Drug abuser, Law breaker, Socially inept, Inattentive to his family, Mentally unstable, Angry" to "Selfless, Sober, Law abiding, Socially engaged, Role model of a husband and father, Mentally stable, Patient, Loving, Funny, Engaged in life."
The defense team presented many heartfelt letters of support and admiration for Mr. S, along with a mitigation video that Tacoma Investigator Stacey Brownstein and Seattle Paralegal Janet Stanton collaborated on (which Judge Lasnik complimented warmly at sentencing), resulting in a five-year probationary sentence. The appreciation of Mr. S’ near-miraculous growth and selflessness during the pendency of the case was palpable in the courtroom, as was the loss of his wife, grief, and relief that David had fulfilled all of his commitments. There was not a dry eye in the courtroom. Mr. S’s defense team knew that Mr. S would continue down this positive path as he fulfilled his sentence.
And it did. Mr. S’s progress continued into supervision, which was terminated on December 23, 2019. Mr. S continued to stay employed and was able to meet a new partner to share his life with and the two got married and had a new baby daughter. Sadly, Mr. S was dealt another devastating loss when his oldest daughter passed away from her brain cancer. Mr. S however, continued to battle through his loss and continued to excel in the construction industry where he is a highly respected and sought-after employee.
Our office filed a Writ of Coram Nobus, on April 26, 2021 and our pleadings were accompanied by over a dozen glowing letters, which also explained why there was a delay in filing--a must-read if you are ever feeling down. On June 29th, Judge Lasnik granted our Coram Nobus and Mr. S’s conviction was vacated.
Mr. S’s case is one of the inspiring cases that help us maintain the hope that our relationships and work with a client is part of a transformative moment, where maybe things have gotten so bad that they will go to any lengths to change; and they do change.
This case’s outcome is a direct correlation of the hard work of not only our client, but for Seattle AFD Mohammad Hamoudi, Defender Mike Filipovic, Tacoma Research & Writing attorney Alan Zarky, Seattle paralegals Janet Stanton, Charlotte Ponikvar, & Suzie Strait and Tacoma investigator Stacey Brownstein.
Mr. S.H., 20 years old, was charged with possessing a destructive device—specifically an alleged Molotov cocktail during the Summer 2020 Capital Hill protests. ATF seized the device and submitted it for testing. The Washington State Crime Lab determined that the liquid contents were flammable. We hired an independent forensic chemist to analyze the liquid compounds in order to reconstruct the device and to test whether the device was an explosive. The chemist was able to recreate the device and through several demonstrations we concluded that although the liquid is technically flammable, it would never explode nor would it cause any destruction. We also established that the ATF failed to adequately preserve the liquid contents of the seized device which also compromised the reliability of any opinion that the liquid was ignitable. As a result, the government agreed to dismiss the indictment. This was a true team effort to get these results. The team included Seattle AFD Jesse Cantor, Tacoma Research & Writing Specialist Alan Zarky, Seattle paralegal Donna Maxwell, Seattle investigator Jennifer Davis. Amazing work, team!
In April 2021, counsel moved to reopen their client’s detention hearing based on new information not available at the time of the original November 2020 hearing, including a viable release plan and the family’s support. Counsel was concerned for the client’s well-being given a BMI of at least 35 and other health conditions, given conditions of confinement included rolling lock downs, isolation and a coronavirus outbreak. On May 27, 2021, the Honorable David Christel, US Magistrate Judge, agreed with the defense that there was information not known to counsel at the time of the original hearing that had a material bearing on whether there are conditions of release that will reasonably assure the client’s appearance and protect the community. Magistrate Judge Christel also concluded that, despite the seriousness of the offense alleged, the presumption of detention was overcome and considering all factors and individual characteristics under § 3142, the client should be released on conditions recommended by the Pretrial Services Office. The government appealed to the Honorable Benjamin Settle, US District Court Judge, repeating the same arguments it made in proceedings below that, in essence, the seriousness of the offense alleged meant detention was the only answer. The defense conceded the offense was/is indeed, serious, but the government’s argument meant no person charged with such a serious offense could be released pretrial, which is simply not true. Citing the law and facts, the defense argued all factors rebut the rebuttable presumption of detention and warrant release. After briefing and hearing from the parties, Judge Settle affirmed Judge Christel’s ruling and the client was released. Congratulations to the defense team – including Seattle investigator Jennifer Davis, Seattle Paralegals Donna Maxwell and Barbara Hughes, Tacoma AFD Colin Fieman and Seattle AFD Jennifer Wellman – and most importantly, the client, who now not only has the opportunity to work with counsel without the hurdles presented by pretrial incarceration, but is also in a safe environment with wrap around services. Congrats to the client and his defense team!
The Federal Defender Office successfully moved for compassionate release for a client serving out a 96-month sentence at FCI Sheridan. In August of 2020, a prison doctor had recommended our client see a cardiologist and undergo an echocardiogram. Although our client continued to request medical care, at the time of the court’s ruling in June the Bureau of Prisons still had not followed its own doctor’s orders. The district court found that our client’s “health is endangered with a system that has ignored conditions that may present a danger to his health” and ordered his release so that he may seek proper medical care in the community. The office is grateful for the assistance of Dr. Marc Stern who reviewed our client’s medical records and provided two declarations that guided the court’s ruling.
Caroline Lewis, one of our summer legal interns, wrote a motion to terminate supervised release for a client who was on supervised release for a firearm offense. This was not a typical “early termination” motion which is normally based on good conduct. Instead, it was a pretty specific legal issue – whether the client’s time in pretrial detention a couple of years ago for an offense that was later dismissed and which was not credited toward any sentence acted to toll his period of supervised release?
Thinking that the issue was pretty clear under Mont v. U.S. 139 S.Ct. 1826 (2019), the defense tried to get probation to follow the statute and terminate supervised release. The Probation Department cited “national policy” and a footnote in Mont that the probation officer believed supported its position that the time in custody had tolled the term of supervised release. Caroline wrote a clear and tight memo for early termination, pointing out that the court was clear that, while probation arrest warrants may preserver jurisdiction for violations adjudicated after a term may have expired, they do not toll the term of supervised release. The government conceded that Caroline’s analysis was correct and Judge Robart agreed, ordering that the term of supervised release be terminated. Congrats Caroline!
The Federal Public Defender Hires a New Operations Supervisor!
Please join us in congratulating Ana Liza Garcia, our new Operations Supervisor. Ana Liza joined the office as a Clerical Assistant in 2002, was promoted to Case Manager Assistant in 2005, and then to Administrative Assistant in 2018. While working full time, Ana Liza earned her Paralegal degree in 2015, graduating with honors and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Integrated Studies, graduating summa cum laude in 2019. Throughout her time with the office, Ana Liza has taken on increasingly complex case management duties involving statistical reporting. She recently provided guidance and training to the Oregon Public Defender office on new Defender Data software. Ana Liza knows case management inside and out. She is creative, innovative and has excellent problem solving skills. She is excited about the opportunity to be an advocate for the entire OPS group and to find training opportunities to help them each realize their full potential.
N.Y. U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein died on June 15th at 99 years-old. He stepped down from the bench and entered inactive service in February 2020, at the age of 98 and was the longest-serving federal judge in U.S. history. When asked for a 2020 NY Times article announcing his retirement, how he would like to see his legacy described, he said:
“I would like to be remembered for trying to work with individuals to help them avoid the life-killing environment of prisons and to save them for a life with relatives and friends, with a job, and with the opportunity to lead a lawful life. Partly by reducing sentences to the extent possible, partly by reducing supervised release and partly by getting them out into the real world. It’s on a one-to-one basis that I see myself operating—the judge to the individual defendant.”
His obituary can be found here:
Lindsay Zerfas, who interned with us this past semester as a 3L from the U. of Minn., wanted to share the great news that she received and accepted an offer to begin her career as a public defender with Snohomish County beginning in the Fall. Congrats to Lindsay!
Kate McCracken, another former legal intern, received an offer from the Pierce County Assigned Counsel for full-time employment as a public defender after she takes the bar exam. Congrats Kate!
Former undergrad intern Anthony Stokes was written up in the University of Washington news, check it out here:
Meet the three new legal interns who started with our office in June:
Meet our new undergrad intern who started with our Seattle Office in June: