Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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Ronald Brown appealed an unpublished Court of Appeals decision affirming his exceptional sentence for two counts of first degree robbery and one count of first degree burglary. At his first sentencing hearing, the trial court decided not to impose an exceptional sentence on his original convictions. On appeal, four of his seven original convictions were vacated. Upon resentencing, the trial court exercised its discretion and imposed an exceptional sentence above the sentencing range for his remaining convictions. Brown argued the decision to impose an exceptional sentence on remand was collaterally estopped, that the exceptional sentence is the result of judicial vindictiveness, and that the State's recommendation for an exceptional sentence was the result of prosecutorial vindictiveness. The Washington Supreme Court held that collateral estoppel did not apply when a court imposed an exceptional sentence at resentencing based on the "free crime" aggravator when it chose not to impose an exceptional sentence at the first sentencing. Furthermore, the Court held that a presumption o f vindictiveness was not triggered when a judge imposes a shorter overall sentences than the original, or when a prosecutor recommends an exceptional sentence at resentencing when it did not recommend such a sentence at the original sentencing. In sum, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Washington v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Marc McKee was convicted by jury on four counts of possessing depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The Court of Appeals reversed those convictions on the ground that the warrant police used was overbroad in order to obtain the underlying cell phone photos and videos. Instead of remanding for suppression of that evidence, the appellate court ordered all counts dismissed, meaning retrial was barred. Though the appellate court provided no reason to justify that remed, the Washington Supreme Court determined the lower court thought dismissal was warranted because once the cell phone evidence was suppressed, there would be insufficient evidence to sustain the convictions in a second trial. The State appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed: the proper remedy following suppression of the cell phone evidence was to vacate McKee's convictions and remand for further proceedings. View "Washington v. McKee" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Washington charged Jason Catling with two counts of delivery of heroin. Pursuant to a plea deal, Catling pleaded guilty to one count in exchange for the State's agreement to dismiss the other, and to recommend a residential drug offender sentencing alternative (DOSA). During the sentencing hearing, Catling's attorney argued that because Catling's sole source of income was Social Security disability benefits, the trial court should not impose any legal financial obligations (LFOs), including mandatory obligations, based on the Washington Supreme Court's decision in City of Richland v. Wakefield, 380 P.3d 459 (2016), which had just issued the day before Catling's sentencing hearing. The trial court took the LFO matter under advisement, finding Catling's sole source of income were benefits totaling $753 per month. The trial court ultimately issued an order imposing LOFs totaling $800, finding LFOs could be ordered when a person was indigent and whose only source of income was social security disability. The Court of Appeals held that the particular obligations imposed here did not violate the federal antiattachment statute, but remanded for clarification of the payment order. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals in part, holding that the trial court erred in imposing a $200 filing fee on Catling. Further, the case was remanded to the sentencing court for a determination of whether Catling previously provided a DNA sample; if so, then the trial court's imposition of a $100 DNA collection fee was in error. The Supreme Court affirmed the imposition of the $500 crime victim fund assessment, but remanded for the trial court to revise the judgment and sentence and repayment order to comply with HB 1783, and to indicate the LFO could not be satisfied out of Catling's Social Security benefits. View "Washington v. Catling" on Justia Law

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Washington charged Michael Burns with second degree assault, domestic violence, and felony violation of a no-contact order, for strangling Christina Jackson while the no-contact order was in effect. The appeal presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether Burns was improerly denied his right to waive counsel and represent himself at trial, and whether he could assert a violation of the confrontation clause for the first time on appeal. The trial court judge denied Burns' request to proceed pro se based on a lack of understanding of the nature of the charges against him where he indicated the criminal charges brought against him did not pertain to him, and that he had not entered into a contract such that the State could bring charges against him. Burns contended on appeal his right to confrontation was violated when statements of his victim came in as evidence through testimony of her neighbor and the responding police officer, though she herself did not testimony. Burns did not objet to the testimony on confrontation grounds at trial. The Washington Supreme Court concurred with the Court of Appeals that the trial judge did not abuse her discretion in denying Burns' request to proceed pro se, and that Burns waived his right to assert a confrontation violation by not objecting at trial. View "Washington v. Burns" on Justia Law

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A bystander called 911 about a loud, late-night argument in a home. Police, concerned about domestic violence, went to investigate. Officers heard the argument and demanded entry. Petitioner Solomon McLemore and his girlfriend Lisa were inside and refused to open the door. Police broke down the door under a well-established exception to the warrant requirement, community caretaking. Officers found no one was injured, and no other evidence of any other crime, they arrested LcLemore for obstruction of law enforcement, mostly based on McLemore's belligerent refusal to open the door. McLemore challenged that conviction, namely, whether under the obstruction statute (as properly limited to its constitutional scope and the facts of this case) McLemore's conviction could stand. The Washington Supreme Court concluded it could not, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "City of Shoreline v. McLemore" on Justia Law

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In 1992 when Jeremiah Gilbert was a juvenile, he was charged and convicted of aggravated murder, premeditated murder, and multiple other crimes. He was sentenced to life without parole for the aggravated murder along with a consecutive sentence for the premeditated murder, as required under the laws in effect at that time. When RCW 10.95.035 was enacted, Gilbert became entitled to a new sentencing hearing. During his resentencing, Gilbert argued that the judge should restructure his two sentences such that they would run concurrently. However, the judge ruled that he lacked Statutory authority to address anything other than Gilbert's sentence for aggravated murder and imposed a sentence of 25 years to life, leaving intact the consecutive sentence of 280 months for the premeditated murder conviction. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court found that because the judge presiding over Gilbert's resentencing believed he did not have discretion to consider anything other than an adjustment to the aggravated murder sentence, he did not consider whether the mitigating factors of Gilbert's youth might warrant an exceptional sentence. The Court found this to be error: Gilbert was entitled at his resentencing to consideration of an exceptional sentence in light of the potential mitigating factors of his youth. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for that consideration. View "Washington v. Gilbert" on Justia Law

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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