Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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At issue in this appeal was whether the trial court in Ascencion Salgado-Mendoza's trial for driving under the influence abused its discretion by refusing to suppress the testimony of the State's toxicology witness. The State initially disclosed the names of nine toxicologists, indicating it intended to call "one of the following" to testify. The State eventually whittled the list down to three names the day before trial, but did not specify which toxicologist it would call until the morning of trial. Salgado-Mendoza moved to suppress the toxicologist's testimony under CrRLJ 8.3(b) based on late disclosure. The trial court refused, finding no actual prejudice to the defense and observing that the practice of disclosing a list of available toxicologists rather than a specific witness was driven more by underfunding of the crime labs than trial mismanagement. The superior court found the trial court abused its discretion and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding the delayed disclosure violated the discovery rules and caused prejudice. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed, finding that while the State's disclosure practice may have amounted to mismanagement, Salgado-Mendoza did not demonstrate actual prejudice to justify suppression. View "Washington v. Salgado-Mendoza" on Justia Law

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In 2015, after attempting to steal a riding lawnmower, Joshua Barnes was arrested and charged with theft of a motor vehicle. He filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that a riding lawnmower was not a "motor vehicle" under RCW 9A.56.065. The Washington Supreme Court's plain reading of the statute found that a riding lawn mower could conceivably have contemplated a riding lawn mower. However, the Court found the Washington Legislature intended otherwise. "Because the act itself denotes a restrained definition, we find that as a matter of law, a riding lawn mower is not a 'motor vehicle' for the purposes of the theft-of-a-motor-vehicle statute." View "Washington v. Barnes" on Justia Law

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Three cases were consolidated for review by the Washington Supreme Court. Each petitioner-defendant was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). Two had high blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) but no previous DUI arrests, while the third petitioner had allegedly used marijuana and had a previous DUI conviction. Each challenged his or her testing conditions by petitioning for a writ of review with the Spokane County Superior Court. The superior court denied the writ applications. After review of the superior court record in each petitioner’s case, the Supreme Court reversed, finding all three were entitled to statutory writs of review because they lacked an adequate remedy at law to challenge their pretrial release conditions and because their urinalysis testing requirements contravened article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution. View "Blomstrom v. Tripp" on Justia Law

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A jury found Steven Canha guilty of two counts of assault in the second degree and two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree. At the sentencing hearing, the superior court calculated Canha's offender score by using four out-of-state criminal convictions, one from California and three from Oregon. However, the court failed to perform a comparability analysis of these out-of-state convictions to see whether they were sufficiently comparable to any Washington offenses. The superior court sentenced Canha to serve 154 months. At issue before the Washington Supreme Court was whether the four criminal convictions from other states were sufficiently comparable to Washington crimes that they should have been included in a defendant's criminal history for sentencing purposes. The Supreme Court conducted the comparability analysis, concluded that three of Canha's four foreign convictions were comparable to Washington offenses, and remanded the case to the superior court to resentence Canha accordingly. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Canha" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Eric Gray electronically sent an unsolicited picture of his penis to an adult woman when he was seventeen years old. The woman notified police; police found and charged petitioner with one count of second degree dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct pursuant to RCW 9.68A.050. Petitioner appealed, arguing the plain language of the statute did not anticipate minors who took and transmitted sexually explicit images of themselves. The Washington Supreme Court found the language of the statute unambiguous, and found petitioner's actions were included under the statute, and the statute did not infringe on his freedom of expression or other Constitutional rights. View "Washington v. Gray" on Justia Law

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Zaida Yesenia Cardenas-Flores did not make a corpus delicti objection at trial, raising it for the first time on appeal. Cardenas-Flores and Carlos Austin brought their infant son, C.A., to the emergency room. They reported that earlier that night, Austin had accidentally rolled over onto C.A.' s leg while they were sleeping near each other on a bed. Both parents were concerned that C.A. had been injured as a result of the rollover. A doctor examined C.A. and ordered X-rays, noting some initial swelling and tenderness around his left leg. After reviewing the X-rays, the doctor reported that "everything looked normal." Less than a week later, the child was again rushed to the emergency room complaining of leg pain. The doctor found a displaced femur fracture that should have shown healing since the initial ER visit days earlier. The doctor concluded the rollover incident could not have injured C.A, and contacted Child Protective Services. Upon questioning, Cardenas-Flores admitted to police that she tried to take her son out of his car seat too fast, which could have caused the fracture. She was ultimately charged with second-degree child assault. At trial, she denied pushing her son's leg or pulling him from his car seat too quickly. She claimed that she lied to appease the police and that her confession was false. A jury convicted Cardenas-Flores, and the court sentenced her to 31 months in prison, the bottom of the standard sentencing range. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals, holding that a criminal defendant may raise corpus delicti for the first time on appeal as a sufficiency of the evidence challenge. On the merits of Cardenas-Flores's claims, the Court held the State presented sufficient evidence to establish the corpus delicti and all elements of the crime charged, and rejected her challenge to the jury instructions. Accordingly, the Court affirmed her conviction. View "Washington v. Cardenas-Flores" on Justia Law

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Zaida Yesenia Cardenas-Flores did not make a corpus delicti objection at trial, raising it for the first time on appeal. Cardenas-Flores and Carlos Austin brought their infant son, C.A., to the emergency room. They reported that earlier that night, Austin had accidentally rolled over onto C.A.' s leg while they were sleeping near each other on a bed. Both parents were concerned that C.A. had been injured as a result of the rollover. A doctor examined C.A. and ordered X-rays, noting some initial swelling and tenderness around his left leg. After reviewing the X-rays, the doctor reported that "everything looked normal." Less than a week later, the child was again rushed to the emergency room complaining of leg pain. The doctor found a displaced femur fracture that should have shown healing since the initial ER visit days earlier. The doctor concluded the rollover incident could not have injured C.A, and contacted Child Protective Services. Upon questioning, Cardenas-Flores admitted to police that she tried to take her son out of his car seat too fast, which could have caused the fracture. She was ultimately charged with second-degree child assault. At trial, she denied pushing her son's leg or pulling him from his car seat too quickly. She claimed that she lied to appease the police and that her confession was false. A jury convicted Cardenas-Flores, and the court sentenced her to 31 months in prison, the bottom of the standard sentencing range. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals, holding that a criminal defendant may raise corpus delicti for the first time on appeal as a sufficiency of the evidence challenge. On the merits of Cardenas-Flores's claims, the Court held the State presented sufficient evidence to establish the corpus delicti and all elements of the crime charged, and rejected her challenge to the jury instructions. Accordingly, the Court affirmed her conviction. View "Washington v. Cardenas-Flores" on Justia Law

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In 2011, when he was 26 years old, Troy Belcher was civilly committed as a sexually violent predator. In 2015, the superior court ordered that he continue to be indefinitely committed, based on two sexually violent crimes he perpetrated as a juvenile, a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder with high levels of psychopathy, and a finding that he was more likely than not to recommit if released. The Washington Supreme Court has held that juvenile offenses may be predicate offenses when an adult has committed a more recent sexually overt act. However, the had not yet ruled on whether commitment can be continued using juvenile crimes as the sole predicate offenses. Belcher argued commitment under this act violates due process because it has the potential to permanently confine a person for a juvenile offense. However, because of the robust commitment procedure, confining individuals only so long as they are a danger to society, the Supreme Court disagreed. The Court held juvenile convictions could be predicate offenses for continued commitment proceedings under RCW 71.09.090. Furthermore, a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder is sufficient for a finding of mental abnormality under the statute, and that the use of an actuarial tool grounded in both sexual and nonsexual offenses does not violate due process when applied to a sexually violent offender. View "In re Det. of Belcher" on Justia Law

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In 2011, when he was 26 years old, Troy Belcher was civilly committed as a sexually violent predator. In 2015, the superior court ordered that he continue to be indefinitely committed, based on two sexually violent crimes he perpetrated as a juvenile, a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder with high levels of psychopathy, and a finding that he was more likely than not to recommit if released. The Washington Supreme Court has held that juvenile offenses may be predicate offenses when an adult has committed a more recent sexually overt act. However, the had not yet ruled on whether commitment can be continued using juvenile crimes as the sole predicate offenses. Belcher argued commitment under this act violates due process because it has the potential to permanently confine a person for a juvenile offense. However, because of the robust commitment procedure, confining individuals only so long as they are a danger to society, the Supreme Court disagreed. The Court held juvenile convictions could be predicate offenses for continued commitment proceedings under RCW 71.09.090. Furthermore, a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder is sufficient for a finding of mental abnormality under the statute, and that the use of an actuarial tool grounded in both sexual and nonsexual offenses does not violate due process when applied to a sexually violent offender. View "In re Det. of Belcher" on Justia Law

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This case centered on Seattle Ordinance 124833 (Ordinance), which imposed a "Firearms and Ammunition Tax" on each firearm and round of ammunition sold within the city limits. Its stated purpose was to raise revenue for public health research relating to gun violence and to fund related social programs. Two individual gun purchasers, Phillip Watson and Ray Carter (collectively, “Watson”) filed suit to challenge the constitutionality of the Ordinance, arguing the Ordinance was actually a regulation, not a tax, and was preempted by RCW 9.41.290 in any case. Watson also argued that even if the Ordinance was a tax, it exceeded Seattle's delegated taxing authority. The Superior Court ruled in favor of Seattle, holding that the Ordinance imposed an authorized tax and that it was not preempted. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed: a charge intended to raise revenue for the public benefit is a tax. “While courts should be dubious of regulations masquerading as taxes (and vice versa), in this case Watson offers no convincing evidence that the Ordinance has a regulatory purpose or intent. It is a tax.” RCW 9.41.290 preempted only municipal gun “regulation,” not taxation. View "Watson v. City of Seattle" on Justia Law