Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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Jennifer Dreewes was the victim of property theft when a laptop, an iPhone, checks, credit cards, and other items were stolen from her truck. She reported the theft to law enforcement. After one of her credit cards was used at a store, Dreewes contacted the store to get a description of the person who had used her card. A store employee described the person as a skinny white girl with pink hair and a black eye. Dreewes contacted the detective working on her case to give him the description and also informed him that she had put the information on Facebook and communicated it through her nephew and his friends to see if anyone knew the pink-haired girl. Through her social media connections, Dreewes gave police the name and license plate number of the alleged pink-haired girl. Dreewes' and her Facebook tipster, Michelle Thomas, exchanged over 170 messages about retrieving the stolen property and bringing the pink-haired girl to Dreewes so Dreewes could harm her. Dreewes offered Thomas money to track down the pink-haired girl. Thomas and her boyfriend Don Parrish forcefully entered the house at which the pink-haired girl was staying: Parrish carrying a semi-automatic rifle, and Thomas carrying a pistol, duct tape and zip ties. The occupants of the house resisted Parrish and Thomas' attempts to subdue the pink-haired girl. Immediately after the incident, Thomas called Dreewes and told her that everything had gone wrong. Dreewes told Thomas to go to Dreewes's mother's home and wait for her, and to delete all of their communications from her phone. Instead, Thomas contacted law enforcement. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on the interplay of the law of the case doctrine and accomplice liability: specifically, whether the State's assumption of the burden to prove an element added to the "to convict" instruction for second degree assault also altered the State's burden of proof as to accomplice liability. The trial court instructed the jury that Dreewes was guilty as an accomplice and legally accountable for the conduct of another person in the commission of the crime if, with knowledge, she solicited, promoted, or facilitated the commission of the crime. The jury found Dreewes guilty as an accomplice to first degree burglary and as an accomplice to second degree assault. By special verdict, the jury found Dreewes was armed with a firearm. Under the circumstances of this case, the Supreme Court held the Court of Appeals improperly applied the State's assumed burden under the law of the case context to the State's burden to prove accomplice liability, and reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated defendant's conviction for accomplice to second degree assault. View "Washington v. Dreewes" on Justia Law

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Petitioner John Chacon sought reversal of an unpublished Court of Appeals opinion affirming his conviction for second degree assault and criminal trespass. At trial, the judge instructed the jury on reasonable doubt, using 11 Washington Pattern Jury Instructions: Criminal 4.01, at 93 (4th ed. 2016) (WPIC), but omitted the last sentence of that instruction, which stated, "The defendant has no burden of proving that a reasonable doubt exists." Chacon failed to object to the instruction at trial, but argued the omission was a manifest constitutional error, which could be reviewed for the first time on appeal pursuant to RAP 2.5(a)(3). After review, the Washington Supreme Court found the instruction was not manifest constitutional error, and affirmed Chacon's conviction. View "Washington v. Chacon" on Justia Law

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In November 2009, Maurice Clemmons shot and killed four Lakewood, Washington police officers. Respondent Darcus Allen drove Clemmons to and from the crime scene. Allen was charged as an accomplice with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder. This case presented an issue of whether the aggravating circumstances listed in RCW 10.95.020 were "elements" of the offense of aggravated first-degree murder for purposes of the Fifth Amendment's double jeopardy clause. The Washington Supreme Court previously vacated Allen's convictions and remanded for a new trial; the question now was whether Allen could be tried a second trial on the RCW 10.95.020 aggravating circumstances. The trial court ruled he could not, and the Court of Appeals agreed. The Supreme Court held the retrial on the aggravating circumstances is barred by double jeopardy, and thus affirmed the lower courts. View "Washington v. Allen" on Justia Law

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Michael Henderson shot and killed Abubakar Abdi during an argument. Henderson was charged with felony murder based on second degree assault with a deadly weapon. Henderson contended that while acting in self-defense, he accidentally killed Abdi. The jury was instructed on justifiable homicide as a defense; it was not instructed on excusable homicide. The jury found the shooting was neither self-defense nor an accident, and found Henderson guilty of felony murder predicated on second degree assault. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding the trial court erred by not instructing the jury on excusable homicide. The Washington Supreme Court agreed with the State that the excusable homicide instruction was properly rejected: Henderson was able to adequately argue his theory of the case under the instructions that were given. The appellate court was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Henderson" on Justia Law

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This case concerned whether a prosecutor properly aggregated numerous offenses that would, individually, constitute theft in the second degree into two counts of theft in the first degree. Washington's common law standard for bringing multiple aggregated counts differed from that created under RCW 9A.56.010(21)(c). At issue in this appeal was whether the statutory standard or the common law standard for aggregating theft charges applied in this case and whether the State properly aggregated charges under that standard. The superior court allowed the State to aggregate charges against Gary Farnworth, II into two counts of theft in the first degree, but in a split opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded to vacate one count and resentence Farnworth. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding under the facts of this case, the State acted within its discretion when it aggregated Farnworth's offenses into two counts. View "Washington v. Farnworth" on Justia Law

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Scottye Miller murdered his longtime girlfriend, Tricia Patricelli, 15 days after he was released from prison on Department of Corrections (DOC)-supervised probation. Patricelli, Patricelli's family and friends, and DOC—knew that Miller had physically abused Patricelli in the past and would likely do so again if they resumed their relationship. Patricelli hid the renewed relationship from her friends, family members, and DOC. In fact, Patricelli explicitly assured DOC that she was not in a relationship with Miller, that she was moving to a place where he could not find her, and that she would call the police if she saw him. Miller's mother also verified in writing that he was sleeping at her home, though it turns out that he was actually living with Patricelli. The question this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether DOC was liable for Patricelli's death, despite Patricelli's, Miller's, and his mother's active and successful efforts to prevent DOC from knowing that Miller was in contact with Patricelli. The parties agree that DOC had a duty to supervise Miller while he was on probation and that DOC was not liable unless its supervision constituted “gross negligence.” The parties disagreed on whether DOC’s actions rose to the level of gross negligence. The trial court dismissed on summary judgment, finding the DOC’s failure to take additional steps to verify Patricelli’s statement’s or Miller’s housing arrangements could qualify as gross negligence. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the trial court's order granting summary judgment for DOC. Tricia Patricelli’s Estate failed to produce sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact on the question of gross negligence. View "Harper v. Washington" on Justia Law

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While in prison serving a life without parole sentence, Byron Scherf murdered a prison guard. He was tried, convicted of aggravated murder, and sentenced to death. In his appeal, he raised multiple claims of error: procedural, statutory, and constitutional. Based on the holding of Washington v. Gregory, No. 88086-7 (Wash. Oct. 11, 2018), the Washington Supreme Court vacated the sentence, but affirmed the conviction. View "Washington v. Scherf" on Justia Law

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The question this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether detaining an incompetent defendant in jail for 76 days before providing competency restoration treatment violates his substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The trial court found Anthony Hand incompetent to stand trial and ordered Western State Hospital (WSH) to admit Hand within 15 days for competency restoration treatment. Hand remained in county jail for 61 days after the court's 15 day deadline, for a total of 76 days of confinement. Hand's competency was eventually restored through treatment at WSH. He was subsequently convicted on both charges. Hand argued the State violated his substantive due process rights by detaining him in jail for 76 days before admitting him to WSH for treatment, and that the proper remedy was dismissal with prejudice. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and held that detaining Hand in county jail for 76 days violated his due process rights but that dismissal with prejudice, the only relief Hand requested, was not warranted. View "Washington v. Hand" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Derek Gronquist was sentenced to three consecutive, 114-month terms of total confinement for three counts of attempted first-degree kidnapping with a special finding of sexual motivation. On petition to the Washington Supreme Court, Gronquist claimed his sentence expired in 2016, so his continued confinement was unlawful. The Department of Corrections contended Gronquist’s sentence was to expire in 2022. The Supreme Court determined the DOC sentence tracking system was “complicated, its explanations have been confusing and contradictory, and it has not pointed to clear legal authority directly supporting its position.” However, the Court concluded Gronquist had not shown his continued confinement was unlawful either. “DOC has no authority to change the length of Gronquist’s sentence or to run any portion of his consecutive terms concurrently. Gronquist’s proposed sentence structure, however, would require it to do so.” The Court therefore denied relief on Gronquist’s personal restraint petition. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Gronquist" on Justia Law

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Tyree Jefferson was convicted by jury of first degree murder, first degree assault, and first degree unlawful possession of a firearm. On appeal, he challenged the State's use of a peremptory strike against the only African-American juror on the jury venire, contending the strike was exercised in a racially discriminatory manner. Further, Jefferson challenged the current Batson test, arguing it failed to address racial discrimination in jury selection. The Washington Supreme Court found the trial court did not err in finding no purposeful discrimination in the strike of the juror. The Court found, however, Jefferson's argument about the Batson test was well taken, modifying the Washington three-step inquiry with a new third step. View "Washington v. Jefferson" on Justia Law