Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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Appellants Levi Guerra, Esther John, and Peter Chiafalo appealed a superior court decision upholding the imposition of a $1,000 file for failing to cast their votes in the United States Electoral College in accordance with the popular vote in the State of Washington. They argued the file was a violation of their Constitutional rights, specifically, the Twelfth Amendment and the First Amendment. The Washington Supreme Court determined the fine imposed pursuant to RCW 29A.56.340 fell within the authority of Article II, section 1 of the federal Constitution. Furthermore, the Court held nothing under Article II, section 1 or the Twelfth Amendment granted the electors absolute discretion in casting their votes, and the fine did not interfere with a federal function. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's judgment. View "In re Guerra" on Justia Law

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Leonel Romero-Ochoa was convicted by jury of burglary, unlawful imprisonment, assault, and multiple counts of rap all arising from an incident in which he broke into a woman's home, beat her, and raped her twice. At trial, Romero-Ochoa wanted to admit evidence that the victim was a U-visa applicant, which would grant her temporary legal resident status if she was the victim of a qualifying crime and helps law enforcement investigate or prosecute that crime. The trial court excluded the U-visa evidence. Romero-Ochoa argued that exclusion violated his constitutional rights to present a defense and confront witnesses. The Court of Appeals agreed and revered all but the unlawful imprisonment conviction, holding the constitutional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt as to that conviction but not the others. The Washington Supreme Court granted the State's petition for review, which raised only the harmless error issue. The Supreme Court reversed, finding any error excluding the U-visa evidence was harmless as to all of Romero-Ochoa's convictions. The convictions were reinstated, and the matter remanded to the Court of Appeals to consider the claim of sentencing error that was not previously reached. View "Washington v. Romero-Ochoa" on Justia Law

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David Morgan was convicted by jury of first degree assault, attempted murder and arson. A bloodstain pattern analysis performed on his clothing revealed he was in close proximity to the victim when she suffered her injuries. The question Morgan's case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether the warrantless seizure of his clothing, which officers concluded contained evidence, was justified by an exception to the warrant requirement. The Court of Appeal determined the State was required to establish inadvertence as a separate element, and reversed Morgan's convictions. The Supreme Court, however, held inadvertence was not a separate element required under the plain view doctrine. The Court therefore reinstated Morgan's convictions and remanded the case back to the Court of appeals for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Morgan" on Justia Law

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Time Rikat Meippen was a juvenile when he was convicted in adult court of first degree assault, first degree robbery, and second degree unlawful possession of a firearm. The trial court sentenced Meippen to the top of the standard sentencing range and imposed a firearm sentence enhancement. Several years after Meippen's sentencing, the Washington Supreme Court decided Washinton v. Houston-Sconiers, 391 P.3d 409 (2017). Meippen subsequently filed an untimely personal restraint petition (PRP), arguing that Houston-Sconiers constituted a significant and material change in the law that should apply retroactively. Even assuming Meippen could show that Houston-Sconiers was a significant, material change in the law that applied retroactively, the Supreme Court held he was not entitled to collateral relief because he did not demonstrate that any error actually and substantially prejudiced him: the trial court had the discretion to impose a lesser sentence under the Sentencing Reform Act, at the time, and instead sentenced Meippen at the top of the sentencing range. View "In re Pers. Restraint Petition of Meippen" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the Snohomish County, Washington sheriff was required to issue a concealed pistol license (CPL) to an individual whose juvenile record included adjudications for class A felonies. The Washington Supreme Court concluded: no, the sheriff was not required to issue a CPL to a person prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law. The Court of Appeals was reversed and Barr was denied a writ of mandamus to require the Sheriff issue him a CPL. View "Barr v. Snohomish County Sheriff" on Justia Law

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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