Jennifer Witt

Jennifer Witt

 

If you are seeking a drug and alcohol evaluation because your lawyer thinks it’s a good idea or you have been ordered to do one, it is important to know a few things.

 

#1

 

First, Prosecutors and Judges do not want you to “shop around” for a good evaluation. If you have been ordered to get one following a plea or a guilty verdict, you better choose wisely the first time. This means do your research with reviews and referrals. Your lawyer may have a strong opinion about where you go. 

 

Unfortunately, there is an inherent conflict at most of the chemical dependency treatment providers because they are both evaluators and treatment providers. By this, we mean that if you are found to have a “problem” with drugs or alcohol, the treatment that is suggested can be completed and is billed by the same company that does your evaluation. If you think that gives them a reason to find you have a drug or alcohol problem…well, it might. Evaluators should be professional and keep their financial incentives separate from their judgment but some locations have a reputation for doing the opposite. So do your homework in advance. If there are a lot of complaints about unfair or exaggerated evaluations, take that into consideration.

 

Additionally, if you haven’t been ordered to do an evaluation and are simply having one done in preparation for your case, you can choose to go to more than one location. However, when possible, simply choose the best place you can based on research and stick with the one evaluation. That evaluation should be sent to your lawyer ONLY.

 

#2

 

Second, you will be answering written questions and oral questions. Be prepared. Don’t show up uninterested or “bothered” by the evaluation. That is usually seen as lacking awareness of your problem. If you’ve been arrested for an alcohol-related offense, you, by definition, have a problem. The issue the evaluator is trying to resolve is to what extent you have a problem and whether you will continue to have that problem. If you don’t have a problem, participate fully so they can figure that out.

 

Furthermore, do not minimize things that should not be minimized. Even if your criminal charge is a one time occurrence, don’t minimize the fact that you got arrested, perhaps hurt someone or yourself, or could have endangered others. Basically, don’t try to “outsmart” the evaluator by choosing the “right” answer. There really are no perfect answers. The best thing you can do is be respectful, responsive, and take responsibility for your mistakes. Making a terrible mistake on one occasion does not mean that you need treatment. If you don’t know that you made a mistake, it might indicate that you do need treatment. So, don’t try to play games.

 

#3

 

Third, you will be taking a UA at some point during your evaluation. Do not show up with any substance, including alcohol, in your system! This would seem like a no brainer but it happens all the time. If you can’t show up sober to an evaluation, you have a problem. Similarly, do not try to “cheat” the UA. These are highly sensitive tests and it WILL pick your THC, alcohol, or any other substance. It will also pick up your diluted sample. So, drinking a gallon of water before your UA will only mean that your test is labeled deceptive and counted as a positive. Not a great way to start the evaluation process.

 

If you have questions about what to expect, where to go, or any other questions before your evaluation, contact your lawyer as soon as possible. If you think you will test positive for THC because you used two weeks ago, you might want to delay your evaluation. These are issues you can discuss with your criminal defense lawyer. For some folks, a positive THC test will not matter and for others it could make a big difference on the outcome of your case. Every case is unique and the outcomes vary wildly depending on every detail. Do not take legal advice from blogs or from friends. Get advice from a lawyer who can go over your particular facts and give experienced advice.

 

If you would like to know more about chemical dependency assessments, CLICK HERE.

 

If you haven’t hired a lawyer yet, Witt Law Group offers free consultations. If you have a criminal case in Kitsap or Pierce County, give our office a call. 360-792-1000. We answer evenings and weekends so don’t hesitate to get peace of mind.

 

 

The short answer is that you probably don’t. The reason is that the State of Washington has certain statutory requirements and, additionally has additional time enhancements if a child in the vehicle. In most cases, if you have a DUI or Physical Control conviction or plea, you will be required to have an IID for at least one year. Additionally, if you are charged with reckless or negligent driving within 7 years of another alcohol-related driving offense, you can be required to put in an IID for the new non-DUI charge.

 

While some states have exemptions that help avoid the installation of an ignition interlock device, Washington only has the Employer Exemption. The vehicle can’t be for commuting and the employer must fill out the declaration. This is not an option for those with a CDL. However, if you are not a professional driver but drive a work vehicle during work hours, this can be an option to keep your job.

 

Many people struggle with the upfront costs of an ignition interlock device and it is possible you may be able to seek financial assistance for reimbursement. This option is through the Department of Licensing. You will need to fill out their financial assistance form and they will determine if you qualify based on indigency. As assistance you can refer to the DOLs indigent guidelines chart.

  

2020 poverty guidelines for Washington State

 

People in Family / Household Annual Income Monthly Income
1 $15,950 $1,329
2 $21,550 $1,796
3 $27,150 $2,263
4 $32,750 $2,729
5 $38,350 $3,196
6 $43,950 $3,663
7 $49,550 $4,129
8 $55,150 $4,596

 

•  For families/households with more than 8 people: add $5,600 annually, or $467 monthly, for each additional person.

Source: Washington DOL

 

There is one other option for those who qualify for a Tolling Medical Exemption. This is not really an exemption that allows you to drive, like the Employer Exemption, but it does allow for the clock to start ticking on your Ignition Interlock time requirement.

 

For example, if you are required to have an IID for one year, you could apply for this tolling application on the Washington Department of Licensing website and, if you were approved on February 1st of 2021, you could apply to reinstate your license one year later in 2022. You are NOT automatically allowed to drive and you may NOT drive during this medical tolling period. However, if you qualify, it allows you to wait the year without paying for the install and maintenance of the device in your car. Again, you must have a medical condition that meets the qualifications for the tolling exemption and be approved by DOL.

December 12, 2020

Can I Beat My DUI?

Often, law firm ads will give defendants an impression that “beating a DUI” is a likely outcome. While it would be impressive to think that hiring just the right lawyer will get your case dismissed, that is not how criminal defense works. If you fall for it, you may have been suckered out of a lot of money for a hollow promise or gimmicky ad.

 

Simply put, if you are seeing the “get your DUI dismissed 95% of the time” ads, there are not a few top lawyers who get all the dismissals and 99% who are just terrible at their job and can only plead you guilty. While there are certainly more experienced defense lawyers, the outcome of your DUI greatly depends on your lawyer’s strategy, experience, willingness to educate the client as well as the motivation of the client to take proactive measures. This is where the evaluation and other actions can work to your favor. CLICK HERE to learn more evaluations.

 

The truth is that fewer than 2% of DUIs go to trial and outright dismissals occur less frequently than that. So, you have a 98% chance of NOT “beating” the DUI. Every experienced and successful defense lawyer will certainly review discovery for legal challenges but, the truth is, law enforcement makes DUI arrests for a living and they’re pretty good at it.

 

So why would I hire a lawyer if I can’t get my DUI dismissed?

 

Your attorney at Witt Law Group will use his or her history as a former prosecutor and years of defense experience to find every legal challenges possible to try for that dismissal or to create a solid trial case. However, if that does not look promising, you will want a lawyer who knows the options and realties in the jurisdiction where you were arrested. In the case of a DUI, local is always better. If an out of town lawyer does not about the PDA options, do not expect the prosecutor to enlighten them. Our lawyers know the culture of Kitsap as well as the municipal courts of Poulsbo, Bremerton, Port Orchard, and Gig Harbor and the fact that we can get a resolution that works within your goals—even if it isn’t in the form of a straight dismissal.

 

For some clients, success can be getting a really tough DUI into some kind of pretrial diversion agreement. Another client might simply want to keep a security clearance and avoid jail time. Make sure you convey to your attorney what success means to you. Since you have about a 98% chance of NOT getting a dismissal or winning at trial, it is important to set your priorities with your attorney.

 

If you are unsure about your odds in your case, the only way to know what can happen is to talk with a local attorney where you were charged. A local experienced criminal defense attorney will know how the prosecutors in that area handle a DUI charge, a refusal, or a high blow. The details make a difference and so does the jurisdiction. If you were charged in Kitsap District, you can expect a very different outcome than if you were charged in Mason County. For further discussion of your Kitsap or Pierce County case, give our office a call for a free consultation. 360-792-1000.

There is no clear answer on this. First, it depends on enforcement. Second, it depends on the type of enforcement. Will it be a warning, a fine, or an arrest? Third, if you opened the door, did you lie to the officer or obstruct in some way? Your arrest might have to do with making a false statement, resisting, or obstructing. Finally, are you really going to open the door???

This morning we read that the Oregon Governor is announcing arrests for those gatherings over six people. The issue is that some folks, including governors, seem to forget that they may give executive orders but that doesn’t mean there are officers prepared to enforce it. If a governor announces that it is illegal to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Wednesdays, I will venture to guess there will be zero arrests on Wednesdays for that violation. Why? Well, officers are usually busy at the holidays with DUI arrests, shoplifting, and assaults. PB & J eaters are not making it to the most wanted list.

What about Washington?

 

In Washington, it remains to be seen whether law enforcement would respond to a neighbor calling 911 about a gathering. To be sure, we have all had that neighbor who will call whether you have 6, 7, or 8 people—even if everyone lives under one roof. They will call. But, will dispatch send an officer? Honestly, we are curious ourselves.

Thanksgiving might be canceled but not the Fourth Amendment

 

If you have a Karen who has and will be calling regardless of your gathering size (and we are not encouraging or promoting large gatherings), be aware that you still have the 4th Amendment even in a pandemic. Government cannot demand you open your door because the neighbor says you have five cars in the driveway and yesterday you had four cars. If your instinct is to open the door, does the officer have clear view of a large gathering or some other evidence of a crime? Will you be answering the officer’s questions? If so, it is your answers, rather than the gathering, that might get you into trouble.

Your guests might want a Covid test but also check them for warrants

 

In the interest of you getting back to turkey and pie, we will keep this short and sweet (leaving out the pages of case law and constitutional analysis that could go into this blog) and let you know that, if an officer responds to your neighbor’s complaint, in nearly all circumstances, you do not need to open your door.

However, if you cause a scene or flip the officer off from the window, you’re probably opening the door on trouble. Officers have a way of finding a way to arrest someone if they are hellbent to do so. For example, does a registered owner of one of the cars in your driveway have a warrant? Depending on your buddy’s situation and reason for an arrest warrant, the officer might get a warrant to enter. Best not to test that theory.

So, in a very brief summary, unless there is evidence of a crime occurring, the officer can’t knock down your door. Cars in your driveway might suggest a large gathering but it also might suggest you have a chop shop. That last one isn’t good either but, in any case, if the officer wants to enter, she will need a warrant. This will bring into question the veracity of the statements made by the complainants (Now, I’m talking to you Karen. You better not be lying when call 911! Making a false statement is a crime.) If you are in Washington State and your third serving of stuffing is interrupted by a knock at the door, give our office a call. We expect the phone to be pretty quiet. Unless you have firearms going off and drunk wrestling in the front yard, we really doubt you will see law enforcement today. We sure hope not!

Happy Thanksgiving! Don’t go spreading anything but holiday cheer!

November 12, 2020

Contingency Fee

How does a personal injury lawyer get paid?

An attorney who is working on a personal injury case has a very different set of rules and interests than other areas of the law. To avoid having an injured person unfairly treated due to a lack of funds to sue a tortfeasor (at fault party), the rules allow attorneys to charge a contingency fee for the case. This means the lawyer will not get paid unless the lawyer is able to successfully resolve the case for their injured client. The contingency fee for almost all personal injury cases is 33% for the law firm. If the case goes to trial and is very complex or costly in terms of experts, the law firm may raise that contingency fee to 40-50% of the verdict. If it is a simple auto accident trial and experts are not needed, some firms will keep the 33% fee in place. 

The unique value of the Witt Law Group attorneys handling your injury case is that we will never make more money than our clients—even if we are entitled to the 33% fee. Try to find another law firm that will put that in writing! 

We are different because our law firm receives nearly three-quarters of our cases on referral. This means we keep people happy and they think of us when their friends and family need legal help. It is in our best interest to make sure we treat our community right and we have been successful because of that philosophy. In a time when firms spend tens of thousands of dollars a month in advertising, we just have to treat clients fairly. Occasionally, it might cost a bit in cutting our fee but, so far, we don’t regret giving money to a client rather than spending it on an advertisement. 

There are many factors that will contribute to the overall success of your case. An attorney will look at injuries, witnesses, whether the at-fault party was cited, when you began your medical care and where, how consistent that care has been, and, most importantly, are there any funds for recovery. Typically, a search for insurance policies is one of the first things a law firm will do when they take on a new client.

 

What kind of insurance concerns are there?

 

•  The most obvious concern for a fair settlement is whether the at-fault party has insurance. It’s even better when that insurance company has a good reputation. Some companies have very clever commercials but very terrible policies when it comes to reimbursing injury victims.


•  Another relevant insurance question is whether you, the victim, have good insurance. Basically, do you have PIP to cover medical bills immediately or even lost wages. If not, you will have to wait until the resolution of the case to get paid back for lost wages. Additionally, if you have UM/UIM, you are in a better position in the event the at-fault party has a small policy ($25,000). If your bills are $50,000, the small policy won’t adequately compensate you. Your attorney would get third party to tender the policy limits and then open a UIM (underinsured motorist) claim to seek additional money from your own carrier. This way, your medical bills are covered and, if subrogation can be reduced, you should end up with a fair amount of money in your pocket.


•  If neither you nor the negligent party has insurance, you can always try to seek compensation from the• Washington State Crime Victims Compensation Fund. There are a significant number of limitations to using these funds, including subrogation should you recover money in a lawsuit, but it is worth looking into if no insurance exists.


•  Finally, if the at-fault party was charged with a crime at the time you were injured, you can reach out to the prosecutor and see if there is an opportunity for restitution. Typically, the prosecutor’s office will send out a form called the Victim’s Impact Statement and this should include instructions to include your losses. However, since every jurisdiction handles criminal matters differently, it is best to reach out to the prosecutor’s office handling your situation within a few weeks of your accident.

 

Should I be concerned about other insurance tricks?

 

Absolutely! These are just some of the initial concerns to consider when valuing your case. Of course, all medical care must be deemed relevant and necessary, too. Insurance companies like to devalue a case by claiming your treatment was not related to the accident—even when it clearly was. They also like to argue that you had gaps in your treatment and, therefore, you are not truly injured. There are many tricks insurance adjusters use to keep from paying fair settlements and it is always a good idea to seek legal counsel at the beginning of your accident.

 

Does it cost any money to get advice from a personal injury attorney?

 

No. It costs you nothing to speak with a personal injury lawyer because they are only paid based on contingency—meaning, if you don’t get paid, they don’t get paid. Always take the time to do a free consultation and learn whether you are on the right track for your case and whether a lawyer can help you get a better settlement based on the facts of your case.

 

The lawyers at Witt Law Group are always available to discuss your case. We work evenings and weekends, too. Don’t delay in getting advice. It will cost you nothing to call but, long term, it might cost you significantly if you don’t. 360-792-1000.

 

A fair number of clients come to us after trying to settle their own personal injury case. There are certainly times when a lay person can neatly wrap up an accident case by themselves but those cases usually do not involve bodily injury. For example, if someone hits your truck while you are inside a store, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting your truck repaired or replaced with a third party property damage adjuster (particularly where you have video). However, be very cautious about accepting a settlement amount and signing releases if you are unrepresented. The primary reasons for this caution is:

1) If you received medical treatment, most providers have an entire year to bill you for services. Quite often, the hospital will bill for services but the ER physician’s bill is separate and comes later. If you missed that bill, you are still on the hook to pay it (the average ER doctor bill is about $900). You might also have X-ray or imaging bills that will be coming separately. All of these providers must be paid with your settlement. The third party (at-fault) insurance adjuster will send a release that clearly indicates that you must pay any bills related to the accident.


2) In almost all cases, if your insurance (PIP, medical insurance, L&I, Medicare/Medicaid, etc.) paid any bills, you are required to pay them back. This is called subrogation. If you accepted a settlement that is smaller than what you owe, you will be in debt after your settlement. This is the reason third party adjusters call a lot right after the accident. They want you to settle the case before you realize how much you owe back in medical payments. A settlement of $1000 might sound like a lot until you realize that you have $10,000 in medical bills simply from the one ambulance ride, the 3 hour visit to the Emergency Department, the ER doctor, the imaging, and lab work. More often than not, we see well over $7,000 from the initial hospital visit immediately post-accident (that is for victims who have no broken bones or serious head injuries).


3) Even if the offered settlement says the third party insurance will pay “all reasonable and necessary medical expenses” to date plus $3000 for your trouble, that does not mean all of your medical bills will get paid. Every month, we have insurance adjusters decide that certain aspects of someone’s care was not “necessary” in their eyes. Likely, it will be ridiculous but they will simply refuse to pay that portion of a bill. If you signed the settlement, there won’t be much you can do to refute their version of “necessary.”


4) If you have Medicare or Medicaid as insurance, realize that you may be precluded from having coverage for any additional medical care related to the accident following your settlement. In certain cases, you are supposed to get a “set aside” that acts like a savings for accident-related future care. If you accept a settlement without a set-aside (and it was required), you will be personally responsible for any further medical care.


5) If you accepted settlement money for lost wages, this is a taxable event. Just like paying taxes on earned income, you could be required to pay taxes on the portion that you accepted specifically for lost wages. So, if you accepted $2,000 in lost wages, it may not in fact be $2000 in your pocket. Your gross settlement is not always the amount of money you are “entitled” to under all of the rules and tax realities.

There are many other reasons you should be cautious in handling your own personal injury case. First and foremost, the adjusters do not owe you any fiduciary duty and will not advise you of all of the legal ramifications of your settlement. In most cases, you will receive more money in your pocket if you have a lawyer handle the case and manage the above noted risks.

If you are unsure whether your injury case warrants hiring a lawyer, call for a free consultation. Every case is unique and it doesn’t cost anything to ask the questions. Since personal injury lawyers work on a contingency basis, it will cost you nothing to hire a lawyer at Witt Law Group. We are based in Kitsap County, Washington with offices in Poulsbo, Bremerton and Gig Harbor. We’re here 24/7 so don’t hurt your case by delaying!

Just when we thought we had seen everything...Zoom court! Our clients have been great but we've seen a few defendants who were not well-advised before their appearance.

Here is our top 10 list of how to manage yourself in a virtual/zoom court hearing:

1) Do not appear from your bed.
2) Wear a shirt.
3) Do not simultaneously play video games.
4) Do not use the screen as your mirror (i.e. do not check your hair and makeup on the zoom screen).
5) Do not have a pot leaf on your shirt or as your background.
6) Do not appear via your phone while you are driving.
7) Do not have someone in the bathroom in your background.
8) Mute your television or radio.
9) Do not smoke any substance.
10) Do not eat or drink.


Believe it or not, we've seen 9 out of 10 (one of the above was actually another lawyer ?‍♀️).


If you ever have questions about any courtroom protocol, feel free to call our office. While it has been somewhat entertaining to see all the ways people "appear" in court, not following proper protocol can hurt your case. Don't let that happen.


If you're unsure about what will be happening in your hearing, how to dress (no suit necessary), or whether you will need to speak to the Judge, give us a call to clarify.

Why did it take so long to charge me with Assault?

 

It is not unusual that we receive calls from clients who had an altercation months ago and are now receiving a summons. At the time of the incident, the client was under the impression that the issue was resolved and there would likely not be any criminal charges. They are often quite surprised to face criminal charges for an argument that occurred so long ago.

 

Unfortunately, assault charges can be tricky. Where the assault does not involve a domestic violence incident, there is no mandatory arrest requirement. Therefore, an officer can take statements and do a follow up investigation rather than immediately make a determination whether a crime has been committed. The investigation can take many months and the report is then forwarded to a prosecutor. It is also not uncommon for a detective’s report to sit “on hold” at the prosecutor’s office for many months before a criminal charging decision is made. Hence, we then see criminal charges filed based on a fight that occurred months or even a year earlier.

 

If I didn't get charged for 6 months, does that mean the Prosecutor has a weak case?

 

From the defense stand point, time does not often benefit the alleged perpetrator. The criminal charges are based on the officer’s report and the victim’s version of events—seemingly credible sources. If there were other witnesses who might refute the victim’s version of events, they are often no longer available or do not remember the incident clearly. However, that does not mean assault cases are easy for a prosecutor to prove. When it comes down to it, these cases are often “he said vs. he said” with no clear evidence. Basically, without an unbiased witness, the jury has to decide who is most credible.

 

If you are facing an assault charge, that reality might make you rather uncomfortable. Can you trust a jury to see the truth? For that reason, some people would rather find a resolution short of trial. In most circumstances, there are options for resolving an assault case without taking the risk at trial, which often means the prosecutor will add additional “hold back” charges and/or seek longer jail time. The route you should take greatly depends on the facts of your case. Those facts are primarily determined by the discovery your defense attorney receives, which will include the officer’s reports as well as witnesses statements. It is hard to advise anyone without seeing those documents.

 

What does the domestic violence "tag" or weapons enhancement mean for my charge?

 

If you’re curious about the potential outcome of your charge, the primary concerns occur where you are charged with a special allegation of domestic violence and/or whether a weapons enhancement is added to your assault charge. These “extra” allegations mean significantly more negative outcomes and they are often hard for lay people to understand. The terms are often applied broadly and the RCW allows prosecutors to add these “extras” based on the circumstances or relationships involved.

 

For example, a domestic violence allegation can be added to your underlying assault charge simply because the you and the victim had previously been roommates. The term “domestic” does not mean that you are or have been in a romantic relationship with the victim. It is a very broad term that encompasses a wide array of relationships. The biggest consequence of being found guilty of any crime that includes a domestic violence “tag” is that you will likely lose your gun rights—even if the underlying charge is a misdemeanor offense. And, for a weapons enhancement, you will likely face a longer jail or prison sentence. Again, the term “deadly weapon” can be as confusing as the term “domestic” because prosecutors have been known to consider many types of objects (broom, butter knife, etc.) as a potential deadly weapon. Essentially, if the object has the capacity to inflict death in the manner in which it was used, it can be considered a deadly weapon for enhancement purposes.

 

How can it be Assault if I never touched the victim?

 

Perhaps the most confusing assault charge occurs when the accused did not believe he did anything that could have amounted to an assault because there was no touching of the victim. This charge can occur because the accused put the victim in a position of apprehension of harm. This means the victim was scared enough by the perpetrator’s actions or words to believe the defendant was going to cause physical harm. Therefore, no actual touching has to take place for the person to be charged with a crime. While you can be charged with assault despite no touching, this charge does present more challenges for the prosecutor. The threat or fear of harm must still be reasonable under the circumstances. And, quite frequently, these situations occur without witnesses so it is still an issue of credibility before the jury.

 

Don't delay

 

If you or a loved one have been accused of assault or believe assault charges could be filed, it is very important to speak with a defense attorney immediately. As noted above, it is important to locate witnesses, take statements, and, in some cases, contact the prosecutor prior to the case being charged. If you are unsure about this process or need counsel, please contact our office early in the process. The delay can easily impact the outcome of an assault case. If you would like to learn more about assault charges, click the button below. 

 

CLICK HERE to learn more about Assault charges

Online court is fairly common with the new Covid regulations. For some criminal charges, certain counties are requiring defendants to appear at the courthouse but, most counties, are still wanting a zoom hearing. Better yet, there are many circumstances in which we can have Arraignment waived completely if we are hired early in the case.

 

If you are not required to appear in person, be aware that virtual court is still court. You want to look neatly groomed, dressed appropriately, and address the Judge as “Your Honor.” For most people, the following list of “don’t do” will be obvious. Since we have actually witnessed most of the following over the past few months, we decided some folks might need clarification.

 

Witt Law Group’s “What to know about Zoom court” list:

 

1.  Do not appear from your bed.
2.  Wear a shirt.
3.  Do not simultaneously play video games.
4.  Do not use the screen as your mirror (i.e. do not check your hair and makeup on the zoom screen).
5.  Do not have a pot leaf on your shirt or as your background.
6.  Do not appear via your phone while you are driving.
7.  Do not have someone in the bathroom in your background.
8.  Mute your television or radio.
9.  Do not smoke any substance.
10.  Do not eat or drink.

 

While appearing in court on your computer or phone is still a bit strange for most of us, there are some obvious benefits. You can still go to work. This allows people to avoid taking the day off and commuting. It is very efficient. You can still speak with your lawyer in a “chat room” so there is no risk of being without counsel. And, anecdotally, it seems that there are fewer sentences that require in-custody jail time.

 

If you have any questions about Zoom court or how to log into your court hearing, please give our office a call.