Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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Diana Merritt was convicted of ten counts of mortgage fraud in 2015. The actual crimes were committed between 2008 and 2009, but law enforcement did not discover the extent of those crimes until 2014. Merritt argued the charging document did not sufficiently provide information that the alleged charges occurred within the applicable statute of limitations. She also argued failure to comply with the statute of limitations constituted a violation of her due process rights. The Court of Appeals affirmed Merritt's convictions, and finding no reversible error, so too did the Washington Supreme Court. View "Washington v. Merritt" on Justia Law

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In 1998, petitioner Christal Fields pled guilty to attempted second degree robbery for trying to snatch a woman's purse. As a result, Fields was permanently disqualified from working at any licensed childcare facility in Washington pursuant to Department of Early Learning (DEL) regulations. At issue in this case was the extent to which a criminal record could preclude a person from supporting herself through lawful employment in her chosen field. The Washington Supreme Court held DEL's regulations prohibiting any individualized consideration of Fields' qualifications at the administrative level violated her federal right to due process as applied. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for further administrative proceedings. View "Fields v. Dep't of Early Learning" on Justia Law

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James Yancey, a military veteran with no prior criminal history, was caught selling drugs in a school zone. He pled guilty, but asked the trial court for a lenient sentence. The State objected for a drug offender sentencing alternative (DOSA) because the relevant DOSA statute allowed only a prison-based (not residential based) sentence for defendants with a standard range like the one Yancey had. Over the State's objection, the trial court imposed a residential-based DOSA, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court found that based on the plain language of the DOSA statute, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to sentence Yancey to a residential-based DOSA. The sentence was vacated and the matter remanded for a new sentencing hearing. View "Washington v. Yancey" on Justia Law

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Michael Gehrke and Christopher Pineyro had a history of conflict; Pineyro died after being stabbed in a streetfight with Gehrke. When police arrived, Gehrke admitted to striking Pineyro, claiming self-defense. Gehrke was originally charged with second degree murder, predicated on second degree assault. Immediately before the State rested its case, the trial court allowed it to amend its charges to include first degree manslaughter. A jury found Gehrke guilty of first degree manslaughter, but not second degree murder. On appeal, Gehrke asked the Washington Supreme Court to vacate his conviction and dismiss with prejudice, arguing the amendment to the charges brought against him violated his constitutional right to be informed of those charges. The Supreme Court agreed with Gehrke, reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court to vacate Gehrke's conviction, dismissal of first degree manslaughter with prejudice, and for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Gehrke" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Derek Salte came home to find an unfamiliar truck parked in his driveway, with a man, Petitioner John Mayfield, asleep in the driver's seat. After being asked to leave, the truck would not move. Mayfield got out through the passenger side, ran away, leaving the door open with the engine and windshield wipers still running. Salte called police; a responding officer turned off the truck's engine, placed the keys on the driver's seat, and closed the passenger door. The officer did not search for or observe anything in the passenger compartment. The officer spotted Mayfield walking on the other side of the street; Salte identified him as the person who was in the truck. The officer believed Mayfield was trying to walk past them without making contact, which seemed odd given the truck was Mayfield's (and not stolen). Mayfield was eventually asked about recent drug use, consented to a pat-down search, and consented to a search of the truck. Police discovered methamphetamine in the truck and arrested Mayfield. Mayfield was charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. He moved to suppress the drugs found in the truck, arguing he was unlawfully seized. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on the attenuation doctrine: where evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment is not subjection to exclusion if the connection between the constitutional police conduct and the evidence is remote or was interrupted by some intervening circumstance. The Supreme Court determined the Washington exclusionary rule was not categorically incompatible with the attenuation doctrine, but attenuation had to be narrow and apply only where intervening circumstances have genuinely severed the causal connection between the misconduct and the discovery of evidence. The Court found no intervening circumstances to satisfy the attenuation doctrine in this case as a matter of law. Therefore, Mayfield's motion to suppress should have been granted, and reversed the appeals court's holding otherwise. View "Washington v. Mayfield" on Justia Law

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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