Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on the Department of Natural Resources' ("DNR") land management strategies applicable to certain federal land grants (“state lands”) and county land grants (“forest board lands”), which involves harvesting timber from these lands to generate revenue for state institutions and counties. The petitioners, a group of individuals and nonprofit organizations (collectively Conservation NW), challenged DNR’s land management strategies on the grounds they violated the mandate under Washington Constitution article XVI, section 1 that “[a]ll the public lands granted to the state are held in trust for all the people.” Conservation NW argued DNR’s strategies prioritized maximizing revenue from timber harvests and undercut its obligation to manage granted lands for the broader public interest, which would have been better served by prioritizing conservation and efforts to mitigate climate change, wildfires, and land erosion. DNR contended it had a trustee obligation to manage the state and forest board lands specifically for the state institutions enumerated in the Enabling Act and the county beneficiaries. DNR acknowledged its land management strategies generated revenue but not “at the expense of forest health.” The trial court dismissed Conservation NW’s lawsuit against DNR pursuant to County of Skamania v. Washington, 685 P.2d 576 (1984), establishing DNR as a trustee under the Enabling Act. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the case. View "Conservation Northwest v. Commissioner of Public Lands" on Justia Law

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A trial court granted petitioner Mary Walker’s motion to dismiss with prejudice based on a violation of CrR 3.3. The Court of Appeals reversed and held that Walker waived the right to object to the trial date because, according to that court, defense counsel knew at the time of trial setting that the trial date set was untimely and failed to advise the trial court of the known time-for-trial violation. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court in result, but for differing reasons, finding Walker lost the right to object to the untimely trial date under CrR 3.3(d)(3) because the trial date was set before the time-for-trial period expired, but she failed to raise an objection until after the time-for-trial deadline expired. View "Washington v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Lance Thomason attempted to steal about $15 worth of meat and cheese from Yoke’s Fresh Market in Spokane and fought with a security guard on his way out. A jury convicted him of second degree robbery, and the trial court imposed a 63-month sentence—a sentence at the bottom of the standard sentence range. Thomason appealed, arguing that the “de minimis” nature of his crime, especially his supposedly minimal use of force, justified an exceptional sentence below the standard range. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court concluded that under RCW 9.94A.535(1), the de minimis nature of a crime could constitute a substantial and compelling factor that supported an exceptional sentence below the standard range, in the appropriate case. An appropriate case was one in which (1) the legislature did not consider the mitigating factor already when it listed the elements of the crime or set the standard sentence range and (2) the factor constitutes a substantial and compelling reason to depart below the range. The Supreme Court concluded Thomason failed to satisfy the statute's criteria. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Washington v. Thomason" on Justia Law

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On Super Bowl Sunday, February 5, 2017, at approximately 9:30 p.m., Petitioner Joseph Zamora was walking to his niece’s house when a neighbor called the police to report a possible vehicle prowler. When Zamora reached the driveway of his niece’s home, he was contacted by responding officer Kevin Hake who indicated he needed to speak with Zamora. Hake quickly became nervous because of Zamora’s demeanor. Fearing Zamora had a weapon, Hake grabbed Zamora and attempted to restrain him. A struggle ensued and escalated to include what was described as “extreme acts of violence.” Ultimately, eight officers were involved in subduing Zamora. When responding paramedics arrived, Zamora was handcuffed, hog-tied, and lying face down in the snow with two officers restraining him; he had no heartbeat or pulse. It took the paramedics seven minutes to revive him. Zamora was taken to the hospital and remained in intensive care for approximately four weeks. A jury found Zamora guilty of two counts of third degree assault of a law enforcement officer. This case involved an issue of whether the prosecutor committed misconduct when, during jury selection, he repeatedly asked the potential jurors about their views on unlawful immigration, border security, undocumented immigrants, and crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. The Washington Supreme Court concluded the prosecutor’s questions and remarks apparently intentionally appealed to the jurors’ potential racial or ethnic bias, prejudice, or stereotypes and therefore constituted race-based prosecutorial misconduct. The judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed and Zamora’s convictions vacated. View "Washington v. Zamora" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Jeffrey Conaway was prosecuted for felony indecent exposure. The State entered evidence of a docket entry showing that Conaway previously pleaded guilty to misdemeanor indecent exposure, complied with the conditions of a deferred sentence and was allowed to change his plea to not guilty, and had his case dismissed. The trial court determined that Conaway had “previously been convicted” of indecent exposure, making his current offense punishable as a felony. The Court of Appeals affirmed Conaway’s conviction. The Washington Supreme Court granted review to decide whether the dismissal of a previous misdemeanor conviction following completion of a deferred sentence precluded consideration of that conviction under RCW 9A.88.010(2)(c). The Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts that it did not. Consistent with Washington v. Haggard, 461 P.3d 1159 (2020), the Supreme Court held that Conaway’s prior guilty plea to indecent exposure was sufficient to establish that he was previously convicted of that crime for purposes of proving the element of a prior conviction under RCW 9A.88.010(2)(c). View "Washington v. Conaway" on Justia Law

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In March 2017, three North Seattle banks were robbed. Police administered a variety of photomontages to witnesses. Some aspects of the photomontage process complied with best practices generally recognized by new scientific research; some aspects of that process did not; and some aspects of that process fell into a gray area on which the scientific literature was in dispute. Defendant John Stites, a/k/a Christopher Lee Derri, moved to suppress the identifications resulting from those photomontages on federal constitutional grounds; the trial court denied his motion, and he was convicted of all three robberies. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review asked whether trial courts had to consider new scientific research, developed after the 1977 Manson v. Brathwaite, 432 U.S. 98, decision, when applying that federal due process clause test. To this, the Supreme Court answered yes: courts must consider new, relevant, widely accepted scientific research when determining the suggestiveness and reliability of eyewitness identifications under Brathwaite. Considering this research, the Supreme Court concluded all three of the challenged identification procedures were suggestive. Under the totality of circumstances, however, the identifications were nonetheless reliable. Defendant’s convictions were affirmed. View "Washington v. Derri" on Justia Law

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On April 9, 2019, Deputy Mark Rickerson was on patrol, driving an unmarked police vehicle through an area where there were “some problem houses.” The deputy noticed a Honda parked near the entry gate to a church parking lot, where residents were “concerned about all the vehicles that were parking there that didn’t belong in the area.” As Rickerson observed the Honda, he saw petitioner Palla Sum, who “was slumped over and appeared to be unconscious in the driver’s seat.” Rickerson conducted a records check of the Honda; the records showed that the car had not been reported stolen, but did not state the name of the current owner. Rickerson approached the car on foot, wearing his full uniform, asking Sum what he and his passenger were doing there, and for identification. Sum provided a false name and date of birth; the passenger gave his true name and birth date. Rickerson walked back to his patrol vehicle to check the names provided. While the deputy was in his vehicle, Sum started the Honda, “backed up quickly, and then took off,” driving partially on the sidewalk and over some grass. Rickerson activated his emergency lights and started pursuing the Honda, soon joined by another deputy in a separate vehicle. Sum drove at a high rate of speed through a stop sign and multiple red lights before ultimately crashing in someone’s front yard. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on the analysis that courts had to apply to determine whether a person has been seized by law enforcement for purposes of the Washington Constitution, and whether all the circumstances” of the encounter included the race and ethnicity of the allegedly seized person. Based on the totality of the circumstances presented in this case, the Court held Sum was seized when the deputy requested Sum’s identification while implying that Sum was under investigation for car theft. As the State properly conceded, at that time, the deputy did not have a warrant, reasonable suspicion, or any other lawful authority to seize Sum. As a result, Sum was unlawfully seized, and the false name and birth date he gave to the deputy had to be suppressed. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Sum" on Justia Law

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M.Y.G. was 15 years old when he stole two cars. The State charged him with two counts of theft of a motor vehicle. M.Y.G. moved for and was granted a deferred disposition, but he objected to providing a DNA sample. The trial court ordered M.Y.G. to submit a DNA sample but stayed collection pending appeal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, upholding the DNA collection. I.A.S. was 17 years old and under the influence of alcohol when he stole a truck, crashed it into a tree, and ran from the scene. The State charged him with one count of second degree burglary, theft of a motor vehicle, second degree theft, driving under the influence, and failure to remain at the scene of an accident. I.A.S. moved for and was granted a deferred disposition. He too objected to providing a DNA sample, but the court ordered him to submit one, staying collection pending his appeal. The Court of Appeal again affirmed the trial court, requiring I.A.S. to give a DNA sample. I.A.S. and M.Y.G. appealed, presenting the question of whether a juvenile was “convicted” when they enter into a deferred disposition. The Washington Supreme Court held that a juvenile is “convicted” when they enter into a deferred disposition. However, the Court held that the juvenile offenses committed by the petitioners in this case did not trigger the DNA collection statute. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals in part and reversed in part. The orders requiring a DNA sample from M.Y.G. and I.A.S were vacated. View "Washington v. M.Y.G." on Justia Law

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In 2012, when Washington voters approved Initiative 502 legalizing recreational cannabis, it modified the driving under the influence (DUI) law and created a prong under which a person can be convicted of DUI depending on the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in one’s blood. Douglas Fraser III was convicted of DUI under the per se THC prong of RCW 46.61.502(1)(b) for driving with a THC blood level of 9.4 +/- 2.5 ng/mL within two hours of driving. On appeal, Fraser challenged the constitutionality of this prong of the DUI statute, claiming that the statute was not a legitimate exercise of the legislature’s police power, that it was unconstitutionally vague, and that it was “facially unconstitutionally overbroad because no scientific evidence supports the conclusion that there is a per-se concentration of active THC at which all or most drivers would be impaired.” The Washington Supreme Court disagreed with all of Fraser’s contentions raised on appeal and affirmed his conviction. View "Washington v. Fraser" on Justia Law

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Ronald Snider, who was convicted of third degree rape in 2003, failed to update his registration when he moved out of a residential treatment facility in mid-2017. This was at least the fifth time Snider had failed to register since 2003. Snider pleaded guilty to failure to register. Snider sought to withdraw his plea, arguing the plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent because the trial court misinformed him about the knowledge element of failure to register. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, concluding the trial court’s descriptions of the knowledge element were accurate and Snider’s plea was constitutionally valid. The Washington Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals and affirmed Snider’s conviction. View "Washington v. Snider" on Justia Law