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In a series of three decisions the court clarified the definition of what it means to violate a no-contact order, emphasized the illegality of following women you don't know, and declared that harassing witnesses isn't kosher even if they aren't afraid of you. Edward, pay attention.
In the first ruling, the court considered three cases where people were arrested for violating a no-contact order. Two, Leo Bunker and Rachel Vincent, were arrested after they were found traveling in cars with the people who had taken a restraining order out against them. The third, Donald Williams, showed up at a woman's house drunk and tried to get in the window.
In the case of Williams, he argued that he hadn't actually done anything to the woman who had a court order forbidding him to contact her. But the justices were unanimous in deciding he was pretty clearly in violation.
It's the first two cases that are more interesting. In both, the person who had a no-contact order was willingly in the car with the person against whom they had sought the order. The violation was only discovered when each was pulled over on a traffic stop. The court ruled 8 - 1 that violating the order is illegal, even if you have the permission of the person who obtained it.
Justice Richard Sanders, known for siding with the accused, authored the lone dissent writing: "For Bunker and Vincent, it is not even clear they committed a crime ... because there was no act or threat of violence and no presence in prohibited places requiring arrest."
As Nina Shapiro reported in 2007, in some cases the person who holds the no-contact order didn't even want it in the first place. Courts can enter one on behalf of someone who calls 9-1-1 over a domestic violence incident even if the caller later retracts their report.
The second decision handed down today concerned a man named Clarence Kintz who was twice convicted of following women he didn't know in the Lake Sammamish area around in a white van. He would stop and ask for directions then slowly drive past them repeatedly several more times until, in both cases, they called the cops.
Kintz's defense was that he was merely lost and never threatened the women in any way. Sanders and Justice Tom Chambers argued that upholding his conviction would mean that:
[M]any Washingtonians would be guilty of stalking in their everyday lives. A person who enters into a heated verbal exchange with a customer at a coffee shop, breaks off the exchange, but then restarts the debate minutes later on the sidewalk could be guilty of stalking. Similarly, a man who uses an ill-considered pickup line, is rebuffed, but again attempts to woo the object of his affection later, could be convicted of stalking. This cannot be right.
But seven members of the state high court ruled that Kintz's behavior went too far. One of the women became frightened enough to arm herself with a brick. Writing for the majority, Justice Gerry Alexander noted that Kintz's own expert in clinical psychology "answered 'yes' when asked if 'women reasonably fear harm or injury when stalked in the manner described in these police reports.'"
Not even Sanders dissented in the final opinion today. In the midst of a dispute over his right to see their 7-year-old son, Andre Toi Meneses repeatedly called his ex-girlfriend, threatening to kill her, her new boyfriend, and her new baby. According to court records, Meneses "touts his connection to the Filipino Mafia, boasting that he and his family would enjoy hurting [his ex], and at one point suggests that his confederates have surrounded [his ex's] workplace and are going to attack her."
Meneses' defense: the calls were simply angry rants, not threats, as evidenced by the fact that his ex and her boyfriend "were not frightened by them." Meneses said that the jury should have at least had the option of convicting him of a lesser crime on that basis.
The court ruled unanimously that when you call someone with whom you have a legal dispute and threaten to kill them and their new family, you've got yourself a case of witness intimidation.
The lesson in today's rulings: obey court orders, don't stalk people, and keep your mouth in check on the phone.