Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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Michael Murray appealed his exceptional sentence for three counts of indecent exposure. His appeal raised two questions for the Washington Supreme Court’s review: (1) whether the sexual motivation aggravator, RCW 9.94A.535(3)(f), could apply to the crime of indecent exposure, RCW 9A.88.010; and (2) whether the rapid recidivism aggravator, ROW 9.94A.535(3)(t), was void for vagueness as applied to Murray. The Court held that because indecent exposure lacked an inherent sexual motive, the sexual motivation aggravator could apply. Second, because a reasonable person would not have to guess that reoffending 16 days after being released from jail is "shortly after," the Court held the rapid recidivism aggravator was not void for vagueness as applied to Murray. View "Washington v. Murray" on Justia Law

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This case addressed the adequacy of the parole remedy available under RCW 9.94A.730, the Miller "fix" statute. Jai'Mar Scott was convicted by a jury in 1990 of first degree premeditated murder for killing his neighbor, a 78-year-old-woman who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Scott was 17 years old when he committed the murder. The juvenile court declined jurisdiction, and Scott was tried, convicted, and sentenced as an adult. At sentencing, the parties agreed that the standard range was 240 to 320 months, with 240 months being the mandatory minimum sentence that could be imposed. The State requested an exceptional sentence above the standard range. The defense requested the low end of the standard range. The trial court sentenced Scott to an exceptional sentence of 900 months based on four independent findings: (1) that Scott's conduct constituted deliberate cruelty, (2) that his conduct was an abuse of trust, (3) that the crime involved multiple injuries, and (4) that the victim was particularly vulnerable. On direct appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the 900-month sentence imposed was not clearly excessive because the "aggravating factors are both numerous and individually and collectively egregious." The Court of Appeals also rejected Scott's assertion that his exceptional sentence was improper in light of his youth at the time of the crime. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed: consistent with the federal Supreme Court’s decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016), the Washington Court held that RCW 9.94A.730's parole provision was an adequate remedy for a Miller violation, rendering unnecessary the resentencing of a defendant who long ago received a de facto life sentence as a juvenile. View "Washington v. Scott" on Justia Law

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Jameel Padilla was convicted for communicating with a minor for immoral purposes. At issue was Padilla's community custody condition prohibiting him from "possess[ing] or access[ing] pornographic materials, as directed by his supervising Community Corrections Officer" (CCO). Padilla argued the condition and its accompanying definition of "pornographic materials" were unconstitutionally vague. Although the condition included a definition of "pornographic materials," the Washington Supreme Court determined the definition itself was vague and overbroad. “A condition cannot be saved from a vagueness challenge merely because it contains a definition when that definition itself suffers the same weakness. Moreover, an overbroad definition does not sufficiently put the offender on notice of what materials are prohibited and subjects him to possible arbitrary enforcement.” The Court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision upholding the condition and remand to the trial court for further definition of the term "pornographic materials" following a determination of whether the restriction was narrowly tailored based on Padilla's conviction. View "Washington v. Padilla" on Justia Law

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Hollis Blockman was charged with and convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop. Blockman was discovered in Patricia Burton's apartment during a protective sweep by police, which Burton consented to, in response to a report of an assault and robbery committed in the apartment by Burton and two men. On appeal. Blockman contended the sweep exceeded the scope of the "protective sweep" exception to the warrant requirement under Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990), and therefore the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence discovered in the course of the protective sweep. The Washington Supreme Court found that because Burton's unchallenged consent fit within the consent exception to the warrant requirement, the trial court did not err in denying the motion to suppress. View "Washington v. Blockman" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Robert James of second degree rape. James timely filed a personal restraint petition with supporting documents. The acting chief judge of Division Two of the Court of Appeals dismissed the petition as frivolous, and the Washington Supreme Court's commissioner denied James's motion for discretionary review. Based on the evidence included in James's pleadings and the State's subsequent statements, the Supreme Court granted James's motion to modify the commissioner's ruling, grant discretionary review, and remand to the Court of Appeals for further consideration. “The acting chief judge likely was correct in determining that the majority of James's claims for relief are frivolous, but James's ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on counsel's failure to understand the DNA evidence may not be frivolous, and it is not clear that the evidence presented and the State's statements regarding a plea offer were fully considered below.” View "In re Pers. Restraint of James" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case was whether the duration of a domestic violence (DV) no-contact order entered by a court of limited jurisdiction was limited to the length of the underlying suspended sentence. A jury convicted Wendy Granath in King County District Court of two gross misdemeanor DV crimes - cyberstalking and violation of a DV no-contact order -based on e-mails she sent to her estranged husband. The judge did not enter an expiration date, and so, by the terms of the pattern form order, it expired by default five years later. Granath completed her sentence in December 2014. She thereafter moved to vacate the no-contact order on the basis that it ended when she was no longer subject to the underlying no-contact condition of the sentence. The State appealed the published Court of Appeals decision that vacated the no-contact order and held that the district court lacked authority pursuant to RCW 10.99.050 to enter a no-contact order exceeding the duration of the underlying sentence. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, holding that RCW 10.99.050 authorized a district court to issue a DV no-contact order that lasts for the duration of the defendant's suspended sentence. The no-contact order issued in this case was not enforceable after Granath completed her suspended sentence in December 2014, and the district court should have granted her motion to vacate. View "Washington v. Granath" on Justia Law

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Teacher Tanya James-Buhl was charged with failure to comply with the mandatory reporting law that requires specified professionals to report incidents of child abuse when they have reasonable cause to believe a child has suffered abuse or neglect. James-Buhl received notice of child abuse from her three daughters alleging that they were being touched inappropriately within the home by their stepfather, but she did not make an immediate report. At issue is whether James-Buhl's employment status as a teacher required her to report the alleged abuse of her own children, who were not her students, when the abuse occurred within the home and was perpetrated by another family member. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that a teacher's failure to comply with the mandatory reporting duty must have some connection to his or her professional identity. View "Washington v. James-Buhl" on Justia Law

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Evan Bacon, a juvenile, pleaded guilty to second degree robbery and received a suspended disposition. The State challenged the juvenile court's authority to enter such a disposition, arguing that the Juvenile Justice Act of 1977 (JJA), chapter 13.40 RCW, does not give trial courts the statutory authority to suspend juvenile dispositions (except in specific situations that are absent here). The Court of Appeals agreed, and so did the Washington Supreme Court. The Court therefore affirmed, holding that juvenile court judges lack statutory authority to suspend JJA dispositions, even manifest injustice JJA dispositions, unless the disposition fits under one of the specifically listed exemptions in RCW 13.40.160(10). View "Washington v. Bacon" on Justia Law

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Conner Schierman was convicted of four counts of aggravated first degree murder and sentenced to death. He appealed his convictions and sentences on multiple grounds. Schierman was convicted for the 2006 stabbing deaths of members of the Milkin family; he was also charged with the first-degree arson of their house. The Washington Supreme Court reviewed all of Schierman’s challenges to trial and his death sentence. The Court affirmed all convictions; a majority of the Court rejected Schierman's challenges to his death sentence. View "Washington v. Schierman" on Justia Law

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This case required the Washington Supreme Court to consider the "independent source doctrine," a recognized exception to the exclusionary rule under article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution. The superior court admitted into evidence Ray Betancourth's cell phone records, which were initially obtained under a jurisdictionally invalid district court warrant. In 2012, Betancourth assembled a group of friends to look for Terrance Frank, whom Betancourth suspected of breaking his car windows a few days earlier. Betancourth drove the group around in his pickup truck until they located Frank walking down the sidewalk with two other men, Jordan Lemus and Jose Rodriguez. Betancourth's group exited the truck and chased after Frank, Lemus, and Rodriguez. Betancourth turned back after realizing he had left his truck running, while his friends chased Lemus and Rodriguez into an alley. Betancourth's friend, Marco Cardenas, pulled out a pistol and fired twice, killing Rodriguez. Almost a year after Betancourth's arrest, a superior court judge ruled in a separate case that RCW 10.96.060 authorized only superior courts to issue warrants for the records of out-of-state companies. Based on this ruling, police obtained a new warrant for Betancourth’s Verizon phone records. Though a valid superior court warrant was subsequently issued, police did not physically return and reseize the evidence. In upholding admission of the cell phone records, the Court of Appeals fashioned what it deemed an "invalidity correction corollary" to the independent source doctrine Betancourth argued this corollary improperly interjected reasonableness or good faith considerations that were incompatible with Washington constitutional privacy rights. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals: “[w]hile we do not embrace the notion of an ‘invalidity correction corollary,’ we agree with the lower courts that the exclusionary rule does not apply in this case. We hold that Betancourth's cell phone records were admissible under our existing independent source doctrine.” View "Washington v. Betancourth" on Justia Law