Is Collusion a Crime?

The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines collusion as “secret cooperation for an illegal or dishonest purpose,” but Webster’s New World College Dictionary calls it “a secret agreement for fraudulent or illegal purpose; conspiracy.” According to Black’s Law Dictionary, collusion is “a deceitful agreement or compact between two or more persons, for the one party to bring an action against the other for some evil purpose, as to defraud a third party of his right.”

Definitions offered by the latter two sources suggest illegal acts, but Merriam-Webster’s definition is more vague (i.e. simply being dishonest is not necessarily a crime). However, despite its “legalistic” tone, the term collusion has no specific legal meaning in criminal law; there’s no such criminal charge called “collusion,” nor does the term necessarily signal a criminal offense.

We know that collusion has a few different definitions and that “collusion” is not an actual criminal charge, but when are acts that can be characterized as collusion considered crimes? Even though collusion is not a legal term, quite a few offenses are characterized by collusive acts. Similarly, the simple act of lying is not itself a crime, but it becomes a crime in specific situations, like when lies are told under oath (perjury) or to gain something of value (fraud).

The following are examples of situations where acts of collusion amount to crimes:

The legal definition of conspiracy, which is a criminal charge, perhaps most closely mirrors the various definitions of collusion. The term is defined as “an agreement between two or more people to commit an act prohibited by law or to commit a lawful act by means prohibited by law.” The underlying crime is not as important as the intent to commit a crime and acts taken to plan for the crime. For instance, you and your co-conspirators can be charged with conspiracy to rob a bank even if the robbery is never actually attempted.

To commit treason is to “levy war against” the United States, “adhere to its enemies,” or give its enemies “aid and comfort.” This doesn’t necessarily require an act of collusion, since an individual may choose to commit treason on their own, but traitors often work directly (or “collude”) with the enemy. For example, U.S. citizen Mildred Gillars (aka “Axis Sally”) colluded with the Third Reich by broadcasting Nazi propaganda during World War II. She was convicted of treason and served a prison sentence.

Racketeering activity is broadly defined under federal law, including such crimes as murder, kidnapping, gambling, robbery, bribery, and extortion. The “racket,” therefore, is much larger than any one of the specific crimes or operations it may encompass.

Rackets, or criminal organizations, often utilize legitimate businesses to launder (or hide the source of) money received from illegal operations. Since rackets typically require the coordination of multiple players (often including corrupt insiders), they almost invariably involve collusion. These crimes are prosecuted at the federal level under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (or “RICO”) Act, which enables prosecutors to more easily connect the dots of such rackets.

Federal and state governments have antitrust laws in place to thwart actions that would restrain trade or create an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Antitrust laws often are invoked when large companies merge and squeeze out other, smaller competitors. But since competition generally results in lower prices and thus benefits consumers, large companies may be tempted to collude together instead by agreeing not to go below a certain price point. This illegal activity is called “price-fixing.”

All states now offer some form of no-fault divorce, whether it’s “irreconcilable differences” or an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.” Therefore, couples no longer have much incentive to fabricate grounds for divorce. Still, there’s plenty of case law regarding couples who colluded in order to falsify grounds for divorce in states that once didn’t offer the option of no-fault divorce.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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Prosecutorial Discretion

Prosecutors have the power to decide whether or not to charge a particular defendant and which charges to file. This rather broad power is called “prosecutorial discretion.” Under this power, prosecutors also have the authority to enter into plea bargains with a defendant, which can result in the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge or receiving a lesser sentence for pleading guilty to the original charge.

Prosecutors may have a variety of reasons for using prosecutorial discretion. One reason that a prosecutor may decide not to file charges against a defendant is lack of evidence. A prosecutor has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any charges they file against a defendant, so if the evidence isn’t there or it’s shaky, they may decide against filing the charges.

Prosecutorial discretion also allows prosecutors not to file charges, to drop charges or to offer a plea deal when the circumstances surrounding the “crime” warrant it. For example, if the facts and evidence indicate that a killing was actually in self-defense (which can be a close call in some cases), the prosecutor may reduce the charges from murder to manslaughter, or even drop the charges entirely.

Probably one of the biggest advantages of allowing prosecutorial discretion is that it promotes judicial economy. There’s only so much time available on a court’s calendar, so a prosecutor’s ability to decide when to charge a defendant as well as their ability to plea bargain with a defendant allows prosecutors to ease the burden not only on themselves but also on courts and judges.

Prosecutorial discretion also allows prosecutors to secure cooperation of witness defendants by allowing them to offer reduced sentences or charges in exchange for testimony against another defendant. For example, a prosecutor may offer a low-level drug dealer probation in exchange for testifying against a serious drug trafficker.

Probably the biggest downside of prosecutorial discretion is that it creates the potential for prosecutorial misconduct that can be seen in cases of selective prosecution. Because of the inherent subjectivity of a prosecutor’s discretion, their personal beliefs and biases – whether conscious or unconscious – can creep into their decisions. This can lead to prosecutors filing charges based on a defendant’s race or social status.

Selective prosecution isn’t just societal problem, it’s actually a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In fact, a defendant can use it as a defense, although it can be difficult to prove. In order to succeed, the defendant must prove that the prosecutor’s policy: 1) was motivated by a discriminatory purpose; and 2) had a discriminatory effect.

In proving a discriminatory effect, the defendant would need to show that similarly situated individuals of a different race, class, etc. weren’t prosecuted for the same or similar crime. Given that most cases have a unique set of facts, there are any number of ways that a prosecutor could argue that certain facts warranted prosecution while others did not.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Explaining Statutory Rape

Statutory rape refers to sexual relations involving someone below the “age of consent.” People who are underage cannot legally consent to having sex, so any form of sexual activity with them violates the law. This is true even in situations where they signal their agreement.

While the crime is popularly called statutory rape, many states don’t use that term officially but instead classify it as sexual assault, corruption of a minor, or carnal knowledge of a child. Most laws on this subject are state rather than federal ones.

Usually people think of the word “rape” as meaning a forcible sexual encounter. However, with statutory rape, no force is required to be in violation of the law. The crime typically involves an underage participant who willingly engages in sexual relations. However, because the individual is too young to legally consent to sex, it’s a crime whether or not force is involved. If the act involves force or coercion, many states prosecute the offender on charges such as child molestation or aggravated rape.

The age at which a person can legally consent to have sex varies from state to state. In most places it is 16 years old, but some set it at 17 or 18. In the eyes of the law, people below this age are simply too immature to make a decision that could have consequences such as a pregnancy. Society protects them by making it a criminal offense to have sex with them. Note that “age of consent” is a different legal concept from “age of majority,” which refers to becoming an adult for general purposes, such as being able to enter into contracts.

Historically, statutory rape was a “strict liability” offense, meaning that it didn’t matter whether the actor knew that the other person was too young to consent to sex. Some states now permit a defense of honest mistake. Basically, the actor argues “I honestly thought she was old enough because….” However, other states do not recognize this defense.

The usual punishment for statutory rape is imprisonment, sometimes along with a hefty fine and an order to register as a sex offender. A number of factors affect the severity of the sentence in a particular case. One is the age of the victim: the younger, the more serious the crime. Other factors that can impact a sentence include: 1) the age difference between the two people; 2) whether the actor and victim are members of the same household; 3) whether the actor is a teacher or other employee at the victim’s school; and 4) the actor’s past sex offenses, if any.

To address potential statutory rape situations where two people are close in age, a number of states have enacted what are sometimes called “Romeo and Juliet laws.” These laws carve out a different set of rules where the offender is only slightly older than the minor.

For example, in New Jersey, having sex with an underage person is sexual assault only if the actor is four or more years older. Thus, a 22-year-old who has intercourse with a 15-year-old commits a felony, but an 18-year-old who does the same thing does nothing unlawful. In some states, such as Georgia, closeness in age is not a complete defense but rather lowers the offense level to a misdemeanor.

States impose a duty on certain classes of professionals to report any suspicion of child abuse, which can include statutory rape. Generally, they types of professionals designated as mandatory reporters are those with access to children (such as teachers or medical professional) or in service positions (such as public employees and clergy). Mandatory reporting requirements are outlined in state laws, so the people designated as mandatory reporters, and the circumstances in which they must report suspected child abuse, will vary from state to state.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Jury of Peers

While it isn’t specifically stated anywhere in the Constitution, criminal defendants generally have the right to be tried by “a jury of peers.” You may be wondering what exactly that entails. Contrary to popular belief, defendants are not entitled to a jury containing members of their own race, gender, age, or sexual orientation. So what exactly is a jury of peers and what are defendants’ rights in this respect?

The phrase “a jury of peers” dates back to the signing of the Magna Carta in England. At that point, the provision ensured that members of the nobility were tried by a jury comprised of fellow nobles, rather than being judged by the king. Now, however, this phrase more accurately means “a jury of fellow citizens.”

While courts don’t have to ensure that a defendant’s race, gender, or age group is represented in the jury pool, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that courts may not remove a potential juror based solely on their race or gender. In practice, however, potential jurors often are removed for what appears to be their gender or race, even though the removal is for other stated reasons (or for no particular reason at all).

The state puts together “a jury of peers” by first randomly selecting local citizens for the jury pool. The pool is then shaped during the jury selection, or voir dire, phase of the trial. During jury selection, the judge, prosecution, and defense question each potential juror in order to determine whether there’s anything in the juror’s background that may prejudice their judgment in the case.

The prosecutors and defense attorneys may then object to the inclusion of certain jurors. Attorneys have two types of objections to potential jurors: challenges for cause and peremptory challenges. While attorneys must have a legitimate reason to exclude a juror when making a challenge for cause, they typically don’t need to give reasons for peremptory challenges.

In the past, prosecutors and defense attorneys may have used peremptory challenges to exclude jurors who were either of the same or different race or background as the defendant. In a number of recent decisions, however, the Supreme Court has placed restrictions on attorneys’ ability to use peremptory challenges based on a juror’s race, gender, or other attributes.

While courts aren’t required to include members of a defendant’s race to create “a jury of peers,” attorneys can’t exclude a juror based on race during jury selection. In Batson v. Kentucky, James Batson, an African American man, was on trial for burglary and receipt of stolen goods. The prosecutor in the case used peremptory challenges to exclude all four African American members of the jury pool, effectively creating an all-white jury.

After being convicted of the crimes, Batson appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the removal of the black jurors violated his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court ruled in Batson’s favor. It found that while a defendant has no right to a jury composed, in whole or in part, of persons of their race, the State can’t exclude jurors simply because they’re of the same race as the defendant.

Courts aren’t only prohibited from removing a juror on account of their race, they also may not exclude a juror on the basis of gender. The Supreme Court has ruled that challenges based solely on the sex of a juror are unconstitutional. As a result, attorneys may not challenge a potential juror merely because the juror is a man or a woman.

While race and gender are off-limits, there are a few other traits that attorneys may use as the basis for challenging a potential juror. For example, attorneys may use a peremptory challenge on the basis of a juror’s age. Some attorneys may feel that a juror who is either very young or elderly, for instance, may have a harder time keeping track of the details involved in a complex case.

In addition, courts have not yet deemed challenges based on a juror’s sexual orientation unconstitutional. As a result, attorneys may be able to use peremptory challenges to remove a juror based on their sexual orientation.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

DNA Evidence Explained

One of the most reliable forms of evidence in many criminal cases is in our genes, encoded in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA evidence can be collected from blood, hair, skin cells, and other bodily substances. It can even be used to solve old crimes that occurred prior to the development of DNA-testing technology. Similar to fingerprints, each individual has a unique DNA profile (except for identical twins, who share the same genetic code). But unlike fingerprints, only a minuscule amount of genetic material is needed to identify a suspect.

The science of DNA testing was developed in 1985 by British scientist Alec Jeffreys. Genetic evidence was first tested using his method one year later to solve a double homicide in England and to link the suspect to other previously unsolved rapes and murders in the area. In 1987, a Florida rapist became the first criminal defendant in the United States to be convicted through DNA. Genetic material collected at crime scenes and preserved in evidence lockers also has become an important factor in exonerating those who were wrongly convicted of violent crimes.

As DNA became the gold standard for identifying criminal suspects, the FBI and police departments throughout the U.S. started assembling databases. Additionally, sex offenders in all states are now required to submit DNA samples to their local police department. Unfortunately, many crime labs are overwhelmed with backlogs of genetic samples and may be unable to process them in a timely fashion.

A sufficient amount of DNA may be found in virtually any type of biological evidence. For violent crimes, such evidence typically comes from blood or other bodily fluids. Hair and skin cells left at the crime scene also may provide investigators with enough DNA for testing purposes.

DNA evidence is analyzed using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, which allows for very small samples to be tested and identified. Once the sample is tested, it may be cross-referenced with DNA profiles already in a database or with genetic data provided by a suspect.

While DNA testing is not completely foolproof, it is more than 99 percent accurate (in fact, there is only a one in one billion chance that the DNA of two individuals will match). Typically, errors in testing are the result of mix-ups in the lab or the contamination of samples. Additionally, each state has specific rules for DNA sample collection and handling. Courts might not allow the use of genetic evidence in court if these requirements are not met.

In addition to criminal investigations and trials, DNA can also be used to exonerate wrongly accused individuals. This is particularly important for those convicted of serious crimes solely on the basis of eyewitness testimony, which is not always reliable. More than 250 people have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA tests, according to the Innocence Project.

Also, DNA can be used to determine paternity in child support cases; to identify the remains of crime and accident victims; and to conduct genealogical research.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.