Articles Posted in Constitutional 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

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Brandon Bigsby failed to undergo a chemical dependency evaluation after he was released from jail on community custody as ordered by the trial court. Both the Department of Corrections and the trial court sanctioned him for failing to comply with the court's order. At issue was whether the trial court was authorized under RCW 9.94B.040 to sanction Bigsby for sentence violations committed while he was on community custody under the Department's supervision for a 2014 crime. The Washington Supreme Court held it did not and reversed. View "Washington v. Bigsby" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a court could require a probationer convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) to submit to random urinalysis testing (UAs) for controlled substances. In 2014, Brittanie Olsen pleaded guilty to one count of DUI, a gross misdemeanor offense. The court imposed a sentence of 364 days of confinement with 334 days suspended. As a condition of her suspended sentence, the court ordered that Olsen not consume alcohol, marijuana, or nonprescribed drugs. Over defense objection, the court also required Olsen to submit to "random urine analysis screens ... to ensure compliance with conditions regarding the consumption of alcohol and controlled substances." Olsen appealed, arguing that the random UAs requirement violated her privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. She contended a warrantless search of a misdemeanant probationer may not be random but instead "must be supported by a well-founded suspicion that the probationer has violated a condition of her sentence." The court agreed, vacated Olsen's sentence, and remanded to the district court for resentencing without the requirement that Olsen submit to random urine tests. The Court of Appeals reversed. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding the testing did not violate article I, section 7 where urinalysis was authorized to monitor compliance with a valid probation condition requiring Olsen to refrain from drug and alcohol consumption. View "Washington v. Olsen" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Cecily McFarland of first degree burglary, ten counts of theft of a firearm, and three counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. The trial court imposed standard range sentences on each count and, relying on RCW 9.41.040(6) and 9.94A.589(l)(c), ordered the firearm-related sentences be served concurrently as to the burglary sentence but consecutively as to each other. This resulted in a total sentence of 237 months. McFarland appealed, arguing for the first time that the sentencing court erred by failing to recognize its discretion to impose an exceptional mitigated sentence by running the firearm-related sentences concurrently based on the rationale of In re Pers. Restraint of Mulholland,166 P.3d 677 (2007). The Court of Appeals refused to consider this issue, noting that the sentencing judge "cannot have erred for failing to do something he was never asked to do." After its review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded the statutory analysis supporting the Supreme Court’s decision in Mulholland, which involved sentencing for multiple serious violent felonies under subsection (l)(b) of RCW 9.94A.589, applied equally to sentencing for multiple firearm-related offenses under subsection (1)(c). The Court therefore remanded this case for resentencing to allow the trial court the opportunity to consider whether to impose a mitigated sentence by running McFarland's thirteen firearm-related sentences concurrently. View "Washington v. McFarland" on Justia Law

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John Marcum was civilly committed as an SVP for more than 15 years. He had been convicted of one count of indecent liberties against a child under the age of 14 and two counts of first degree child molestation. While he was on community placement for those offenses, Marcum committed second degree child molestation. He was convicted of that offense and sentenced to 89 months of incarceration. Just before his scheduled release in January 2000, the State petitioned to have Marcum civilly committed as an SVP. Marcum stipulated to commitment as an SVP in January 2001. He resided at the Special Commitment Center (SCC), where he participated in sexual deviancy treatment. In January 2009, he was transferred to a less restrictive alternative (LRA) where he remained for approximately two years. At the transition facility, Marcum battled depression and his behavior deteriorated, although not in a way directly related to sexual offending. Because of these behaviors, Marcum's treating psychologist, determined that he could no longer provide Marcum with sex offender treatment therapy. Accordingly, the Department of Corrections submitted a recommendation to the superior court that Marcum's LRA release be revoked. The reasons given all pertained to Marcum's refusal to work and generally negative attitude, and not to any sexual misconduct. In August 2013, Marcum filed a "Petition For An Unconditional Release Trial Pursuant To RCW 71.09.090 Annual Review Hearing." Because of the gains Marcum made in treatment over his many years in civil commitment, an evaluator in the report concluded that Marcum was no longer diagnosable as having pedophilia and no longer met the definition of an SVP. The trial court ultimately agreed with the State and denied Marcum's petition for a trial, noting in part that Marcum could not show changed mental condition "through positive response to continuing participation in treatment" because he had not engaged in treatment for two years. Marcum appealed, arguing that the superior court's denial of a release trial violated both statutory and constitutional protections. The Washington Supreme Court resolved this case on the threshold issue concerning the burden placed on the State by chapter 71.09 RCW at the ensuing show cause hearing. Because the State here failed to meet its threshold burden at the show cause hearing as set forth in RCW 71.09.090(2)(b), the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that Marcum was entitled to a full evidentiary hearing. View "In re Det. of Marcum" on Justia Law

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The trial court denied Wesley Weyand's motion to suppress evidence obtained during a Terry stop. In this case, the Washington Supreme Court held that the facts known to the police did not justify stopping Weyand and the evidence discovered during that encounter should have been suppressed. The Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court. View "Washington v. Weyand" on Justia Law

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Travis Lile appealed his convictions for multiple assaults and resisting arrest. A jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Lile, acting as the aggressor, attacked Christopher Rowles and Amanda Millman and then struck Bellingham Police Officer Jeremy Woodward while the officer attempted to arrest Lile for assaulting Rowles and Millman. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions. The Washington Supreme Court granted Lile's petition for review and the State's cross petition for review on two issues: (1) judicial disqualification; and (2) the trial court's exclusion of evidence impeaching Rowles' asserted nonviolent nature. Finding no reversible error by the Court of Appeals affirmance of the trial court’s judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Washington v. Lile" on Justia Law

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Petitioner John Johnson challenged the sufficiency of the evidence in an appeal of conviction for second-degree theft of an access device. The outcome turned on the Washington Supreme Court’s determination of whether Musacchio v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 709 (2016) superseded its decision in Washington v. Hickman, 954 P.2d 900 (1998). Under Hickman, the State must establish all elements it agrees to include in the to-convict instruction, even if not required by statute, because unchallenged instructions become the "law of the case." In Musacchio, the Supreme Court rejected a "law of the case" argument and held that due process requires only that evidentiary sufficiency claims "be assessed against the elements of the charged crime, not against the erroneously heightened command in the jury instruction." Here, the jury was instructed that an element of the theft charge included Johnson's intent "to deprive the [victim] of the access device." The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, holding Musacchio superseded Washington’s “law of the case” doctrine. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed, finding the State did not demonstrate that the "law of the case" doctrine was incorrect and harmful, or that its legal underpinnings have been eroded. Accordingly, the Court held the State was required to prove Johnson specifically intended to steal an access device. Because sufficient evidence supports this element, the Court affirmed Johnson's conviction. View "Washington v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Trial courts must engage in a full Batson analysis when a peremptory strike of a juror is the only member of a cognizable racial group. In 2013, Petitioner Matthew Erickson, a black man, was charged in Seattle Municipal Court with unlawful use of a weapon and resisting arrest. After voir dire, the city of Seattle (City) exercised a peremptory challenge against the only black juror on the jury panel. After the jury was empaneled and excused from the courthouse with the rest of the venire, Erickson objected to the peremptory challenge, claiming the strike was racially motivated. The court found that there was no prima facie showing of racial discrimination and overruled Erickson's objection. Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, (1986), guarantees a jury selection process free from racial animus. Yet, the Washington Supreme Court noted that Washington's Batson protections were "not robust enough" to effectively combat racial discrimination during jury selection. The Court used the opportunity of this opinion to "better effectuate the equal protection guaranties espoused in Batson." The Court amended Washington's Batson framework and held that the peremptory strike of a juror who is the only member of a cognizable racial group constitutes a prima facie showing of racial discrimination requiring a full Batson analysis by the trial court. View "City of Seattle v. Erickson" on Justia Law

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Esmeralda Rodriguez petitioned for protection on behalf of her two-year-old son, arguing that Luis Zavala's repeated threats against her son constituted "domestic violence" under the plain language of RCW 26.50.010(3), and that she could petition for a protection order on her son's behalf based on her reasonable fear for him. Rodriguez feared Zavala would make good on his past threats and kill her, her daughters, their son, and then kill himself. Rodriguez petitioned ex parte for a domestic violence protection order for herself and her children, including L.Z. In her petition, Rodriguez described the assault that compelled her to seek the order, as well as Zavala's history of violence. The court issued a temporary order pending a full hearing. The temporary order restrained Zavala from contacting Rodriguez and all four children. The trial court issued a protective order for Rodriguez and her daughters, but excluded L.Z., explaining that the boy was not "present" during the assault or threatened at all. According to the trial judge, "[L.Z.] wasn't involved in any of this." Rodriguez appealed. Among other things, she argued that her son should have been included in the final protection order based on her fear that Zavala would hurt L.Z. The Washington Supreme Court agreed that Rodriguez could petition for protection of L.Z. under the plain language of RCW 26.50.010(3), and reversed the trial court's decision. View "Rodriguez v. Zavala" on Justia Law