Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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The district court dismissed the criminal case against Mikhail Karpov on the ground that the State had failed to prove jurisdiction. Karpov was tried in the district court of Spokane County, Washington for five counts of indecent exposure. After the State rested, Karpov moved to dismiss the case on the ground that the State had provided insufficient evidence of jurisdiction. The court granted the motion because no witness had expressly stated that the alleged crimes took place in Spokane County, to which the district court's jurisdiction was statutorily limited. The question this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether the State could appeal that dismissal and retry Karpov upon reversal. Karpov argued that jurisdiction was an essential element of every crime and thus that the dismissal for the State's failure to prove jurisdiction resulted in an acquittal, meaning double jeopardy barred the State's initial appeal and prohibited retrial. The State countered that jurisdiction was not an essential element of every crime and thus that double jeopardy did not apply here. The Supreme Court held that jurisdiction was not an essential element of every crime but, rather, was the power of the court to hear and determine a case. However, the Court reversed the superior court and remanded for the reinstatement of the trial court's dismissal with prejudice. “When the trial court substantively treated jurisdiction as an essential element of the crime, the dismissal for failure to prove jurisdiction was no different than if jurisdiction were actually an essential element. The trial court therefore judicially acquitted Karpov when it dismissed the case against him, and double jeopardy barred the State's appeal from the district court and prohibits retrial of Karpov on these charges.” View "Washington v. Karpov" on Justia Law

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In January 2017, petitioner Jamie Hugdahl was the target of two controlled drug buys executed by a confidential informant in the vicinity of a Safeway parking lot in Ellensburg, Washington. Hugdahl was subsequently charged by an information in 2017, which was amended twice. All three versions of the information alleged four counts of delivery of a controlled substance in violation of RCW 69.50.401(1). Count I was based on the first delivery of heroin. Counts II, III, and IV arose out of the second delivery involving methamphetamine, alprazolam, and ecstasy. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review concerned the adequacy of the charging document in alleging statutory sentence enhancements for delivering controlled substances within a protected zone under RCW 69.50.435(l)(c). The statutory sentence enhancement applied where a delivery of a controlled substance occurred within 1,000 feet of a school bus route stop. Hugdahl's information alleged that she delivered controlled substances "within one thousand feet of a school bus route.'" Hugdahl first challenged the adequacy of the information on appeal, and a divided Court of Appeals affirmed finding that the information provided constitutionally adequate notice of the enhancement. The Supreme Court, however, reversed, finding that the charging document omitted the facts necessary to charge the statutory enhancement. The sentencing enhancement was vacated and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "Washington v. Hugdahl" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court. In 2011, Phonsavanh Phongmanivan was convicted of two counts of first degree assault with two firearm enhancements, and he was sentenced to 306 months' imprisonment. Phongmanivan appealed, and the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and denied his motion for reconsideration. Phongmanivan's judgment and sentence becamse final on March 11, 2014 when his window to file a petition for certiorari review by the Washington Supreme Court expired. This marked the beginning of Phongmanivan’s one-year statute of limitations to file a federal habeas petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). On February 4, 2015, 329 days later, Phongmanivan filed a PRP with the Washington Court of Appeals, thereby tolling AEDPA's statute of limitations for the pendency of that proceeding. The acting chief judge dismissed Phongmanivan s PRP as frivolous; the Washington Supreme Court’s commissioner denied further review. Phongmanivan then filed a timely motion to modify the commissioner's decision, which the Supreme Court denied on February 10, 2016. On April 1, 2016, the clerk of the Court of Appeals issued Phongmanivan's certificate of finality. Acting pro se, Phongmanivan filed his federal habeas petition 8 days later. However, following the federal magistrate's recommendation, the federal district court denied Phongmanivan’s petition as untimely, holding AEDPA's one-year tolling period had ceased on February 10, 2016, when the Supreme Court denied his motion to modify. By such reasoning, 388 total untolled days had elapsed prior to Phongmanivan's filing, rendering his habeas petition untimely by 23 days. Having reviewed the certified question from the Ninth Circuit relating to the denial of the PRP and the appellate court’s clerk’s certification of finality. Adopting Phongmanivan's suggested reformulation, the Washington Supreme Court determined Phongmanivan's PRP proceeding did not become final until the date his certificate of finality was issued on April 1, 2016. View "Phongmanivan v. Haynes" on Justia Law

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Respondent Robert Grott was put on trial for a shooting incident in which he claimed he acted in self-defense. He appealed to the Washington Supreme Court contending the trial court erred in instructing his jury that Grott could not claim self-defense if the jury found "beyond a reasonable doubt that [Grott] was the aggressor, and that defendant's acts and conduct provoked or commenced the fight." Grott maintained the instruction was improperly given because it was unsupported by the evidence presented at trial. Grott's brother and cousins were friends with Julian Thomas, and Thomas would sometimes spend the night at their house. In August 2015, one of Grott's handguns went missing. Grott and his brother came to believe that Thomas had stolen the gun, but they did not confront him about it. Thomas stopped coming by their house around that time. Then on Halloween night in 2015, Grott came home intoxicated. Thomas' younger sister was at the house with some friends. Grott began yelling at the sister, accusing Thomas of stealing the gun. A man standing at the end of the driveway shot through the house's front door, nearly missing Grott's head. After the Halloween incident, Grott became "paranoid" and bought another gun. Months later, Thomas was shot while sitting in a car parked in a convenience store parking lot. Forty-eight shell casings were retrieved from the scene. The medical examiner testified that based on Thomas' wounds, he must have been directly facing Grott rather than lying on the car floor. A loaded gun with the safety off was discovered beneath Thomas' body. The Court of Appeals concurred with Grott the first-aggressor instruction was not properly given, but the Washington Supreme Court reversed the appellate court. The Supreme Court determined the jury was properly instructed, and Grott's trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to object. The matter was remanded for the Court of Appeals to address other issues raised on appeal. View "Washington v. Grott" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Washington legislature enacted RCW 81.104.160(1) (MVET statute) authorizing Sound Transit to use two separate depreciation schedules to calculate motor vehicle excise taxes (MVET). Under the statute, Sound Transit could pledge revenue from a 1996 depreciation schedule for MVETs to pay off bond contracts; Sound Transit could use a 2006 depreciation schedule for all other MVETs. Though each schedule is referenced, the MVET statute did not restate in full either schedule. Taylor Black and other taxpayers alleged the MVET statute violated article II, section 37 of the Washington Constitution, stating "no act shall ever be revised or amended by mere reference to its title, but the act revised or the section amended shall be set forth at full length." The Washington Supreme Court held the MVET statute is constitutional because (1) the statute was a complete act because it was readily ascertainable from its text alone when which depreciation schedule would apply; (2) the statute properly adopted both schedules by reference; and (3) the statute did not render a straightforward determination of the scope of rights or duties established by other existing statutes erroneous because it did not require a reader to conduct research to find unreferenced laws that were impacted by the MVET statute. View "Black v. Cent. Puget Sound Reg'l Transit Auth." on Justia Law

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Naziyr Yishmael, who was not an attorney, advised clients that they could "homestead" in apparently abandoned properties and, after a period of time, acquire title through adverse possession. After some of his clients were arrested for taking up residence in other people's houses, he was charged with and convicted of misdemeanor unlawful practice of law. On appeal, he contended: (1) the jury was improperly instructed that the unlawful practice of law was a strict liability offense; (2) the trial court's use of GR 24 to define the practice of law violated separation of powers was an inappropriate comment on the evidence; (3) the Statute was unconstitutionally vague; and (4) the evidence presented was insufficient to sustain his conviction. Finding no reversible error, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed Yishmael’s conviction. View "Washington v. Yishmael" on Justia Law

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The State charged David Nickels with first degree murder in 2010 in Grant County, Washington. Though represented by counsel. Nickels acquired additional legal assistance from a local criminal defense attorney, Garth Dano. The parties agreed that Dano's involvement in Nickels' defense created a conflict of interest requiring Dano's personal disqualification, but they disputed the scope of his involvement. The record established that Dano entered a notice of association of counsel and appeared on the record to receive a jury question and to receive the jury's verdict. The record further establishes that after Nickels' conviction in 2012, Dano conducted interviews with jurors and potential exonerating witnesses. Via his counsel's uncontested affidavit, Nickels claimed Dano received privileged work product through his participation in crafting the defense's strategy and theory of the case, and his meeting personally with Nickels. In 2014, while Nickels' appeal was pending, Dano was elected Grant County prosecutor. Subsequently, in 2017, the Court of Appeals reversed Nickels' conviction. On remand, the Grant County Prosecuting Attorney's Office immediately sought to screen now-Prosecutor Dano. Nickels moved to disqualify the entire office, arguing that under “Stenger,” Dano's prior involvement in his defense necessitated the blanket recusal. The trial court denied Nickels' motion; but the Court of Appeals reversed and, applying Stenger, ordered the disqualification of the entire Grant County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. The Washington Supreme Court determined Stenger’s narrowly crafted rule applied only to Washington's 39 elected county prosecutors who, despite adequate screening, retained broad discretionary and administrative powers over their offices and employees. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that Stenger remained good law, and affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision disqualifying the Grant County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. View "Washington v. Nickels" on Justia Law

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In 1994, 17-year-old Cristian J. Delbosque was convicted of aggravated first degree murder and received a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of release. Because he was a juvenile at the time of his offense, Delbosque was resentenced in 2016 in accordance with the Miller-fix statute and received a minimum term of 48 years without the possibility of parole. The Court of Appeals concluded that Delbosque could seek review of his sentence only through a personal restraint petition (PRP), rather than direct appeal, but nevertheless reversed his sentence, holding that the trial court's factual findings were not supported by substantial evidence. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' holding that the sentencing court's findings were not supported by substantial evidence, thus remanding for resentencing was proper. However, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' holding that Delbosque was not entitled to a direct appeal. View "Washington v. Delbosque" on Justia Law

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Defendant Kenneth Brooks was a friend of fifteen-year-old C.H.’s brother. On the evening of August 16 2014, C.H., her sister, and Brooks played games while drinking beer and vodka into the morning of August 17. C.H. became intoxicated and passed in and out of consciousness. Brooks raped C.H. and then left her to sleep. C.H. was still intoxicated and was vomiting until the afternoon of August 17. C.H. told her sister what happened, and police were notified. Police came to C.H.’s home and gathered evidence regarding the rape allegation. Brooks was ultimately charged with third-degree rape of a child, and third-degree child molestation. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting the State’s motion to expand the time period noted in the information after both the State and defense rested. The Court held that under the circumstances of this case, the trial court did not err, and this affirmed the Court of Appeals, which affirmed defendant’s conviction. View "Washington v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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Michael Biehoff and Karl Pierce were tried by jury and convicted of first degree murder. Before the Washington Supreme Court, they both contended (among other things) that their jury was not fairly selected because the State improperly elicited a conversation about the death penalty during voir dire and improperly used a peremptory strike to dismiss an African-American juror. The Court of Appeals found the prosecutor committed misconduct by eliciting a conversation about the death penalty in a noncapital case, and that the trial court abused its discretion in not curtailing that conversation. Since that conversation led to the dismissal of at least two jurors, the Court of Appeals reversed both men's convictions. The Washington Supreme Court found that while the prosecutor did not explicitly raise the death penalty during voir dire, as a direct result of his questions, ten jurors all expressed concerns about sitting on a possible death penalty case. As a result of the questions, all of the potential jurors' minds were drawn to the possible sentence, which could have had an "unfair influence on a jury's deliberations" sufficient to violate Washington v. Townsend, 142 Wn.2d 838 (2001). The Washington Supreme Court found the jurisprudential landscape had changed in two relevant ways since Townsend was tried: (1) it was error to tell potential jurors during selection that they were not being asked to sit on a death penalty case; and (2) in the wake of "increasing evidence" that the Batson rule did not adequately protect Washington's jury selection process from racial bias, the Supreme Court promulgated GR 37. The Supreme Court held that Townsend was incorrect and harmful because it "artificially prohibits informing jurors whether they are being asked to sit on a death penalty case," and overruled it. And because an "objective observer could conclude that race was a factor" in the State's peremptory challenge to juror 6, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals in result and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Pierce" on Justia Law