Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Petitioner Sione Lui challenged his conviction for the second degree murder of his fiancee, Elaina Boussiacos. He sought a new trial based on allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, Brady nondisclosure, jury misconduct, and newly discovered evidence. The record showed the trial judge was acutely observant of the courtroom and cautious of possible grounds for ineffective assistance claims. With respect to his other claims, the Washington Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals dismissed each claim as meritless and agreed with denying Lui's request for a reference hearing. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Lui" on Justia Law

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In Washington v. Smith, 334 P.3d 1049 (2014), the Washington Supreme Court held that the constitutional right to an open courtroom did not require trial courts to invite the public to attend sidebars. examples of sidebar discussions are often scheduling, housekeeping, and decorum. In this case, however, the topic of discussion was the proper extent of cross-examination of a confidential informant who was the State's key witness and the location of the discussion was not at sidebar but in the judge's chambers. In fact, the trial court rejected the State's request to address its objection to the scope of cross-examination at sidebar. Instead, the court adjourned the bench trial proceedings, called counsel into chambers, and discussed that critically important and factually complicated issue behind closed doors. The Court of Appeals ruled that this procedure violated the right to an open courtroom and conflicted with Smith. The State sought review, and the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and reaffirmed its adherence to Smith. View "Washington v. Whitlock" on Justia Law

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Limiting the scope of that cross-examination was within the court's discretion. Donald Lee was convicted on two counts of third degree rape of a child. The trial court permitted Lee to ask J.W. if she had made a false accusation to police about another person, but it prevented Lee from specifying that the prior accusation was a rape accusation. Lee claimed this violated his confrontation clause rights. Lee also contended the four year delay between his initial arrest and the trial was unconstitutional, warranting review for the first time on appeal. Lee also challenged the trial court's imposition of legal financial obligations (LFOs ). Because the State's legitimate interests in excluding prejudicial evidence and protecting sexual assault victims outweighed Lee's need to present evidence with minimal probative value, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it prevented Lee from specifying that J.W. had falsely accused another person of rape. When the court permitted Lee to cross-examine J.W. about her prior false accusation, it provided Lee with an adequate opportunity for confrontation. Furthermore, because Lee was not actually restrained and because charges had not been filed, the four year delay between his initial arrest and the trial was not a manifest constitutional error warranting review for the first time on appeal. View "Washington v. Lee" on Justia Law

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During an investigatory stop of a vehicle, a traffic violator can be temporarily detained until the legitimate investigative purposes of the traffic stop have been completed. Michael Phelps appealed a criminal judgment entered after he conditionally pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver after the district court denied his motion to suppress evidence. Phelps argued the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence because the traffic stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion and the dog sniff unreasonably extended the traffic stop. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded: (1) the district court did not err in finding the officer had reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop; and (2) the dog sniff conducted on Phelps' vehicle did not require independent reasonable suspicion because it occurred contemporaneously to the completion of duties related to the initial traffic stop. View "Washington v. Estes" on Justia Law

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Cecil Davis was sentenced to death for brutally murdering Yoshiko Couch. Davis raped, robbed, and killed 65-year-old Couch in her home in 1997. His direct appeal was unsuccessful. He challenged his death sentence in a personal restraint petition, arguing Washington's death penalty system unconstitutionally fails to protect defendants with intellectual disabilities from execution. He also argued the death penalty system was unconstitutional because it did not require a jury to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a defendant facing the death penalty did not have an intellectual disability. He also argued he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Finding his arguments unpersuasive, the Washington Supreme Court dismissed the petition. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Davis" on Justia Law

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The issue central to this appeal was whether Michael Rhem adequately raised an ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim by including in his pro se reply brief, "Rhem would also request that this Court consider sua [s]ponte the ineffective appellate argument that the State broaches in their response. Or allow additional briefing." The Court of Appeals determined, among other things: (1) Rhem did not adequately raise an ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim; (2) he did not demonstrate actual and substantial prejudice in supporting his claim of a violation of the right to a public trial; and (3) he did not timely raise a federal public trial right violation. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court’s judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Rhem" on Justia Law

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In alternative means cases where substantial evidence supported both alternatives submitted to the jury, jury unanimity as to the means is not required. In this case, Dennis Armstrong petitioned the Washington Supreme Court to reverse his felony domestic violence conviction for violating a court order because the trial court instructed the jury that it need not be unanimous as to which of the two means it relied on, so long as it was unanimous as to the conviction. Because that is a correct statement of the law, the Supreme Court found no reversible error. However, Armstrong further contended police violated his right to due process because they did not retrieve certain video surveillance tapes. The Court found Armstrong did not show the required bad faith. Thus, the Court affirmed Armstrong’s due process claim failed. View "Washington v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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Fabian Arredondo appealed his accomplice liability convictions of one count of second degree murder and three counts of first degree assault. A jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Arredondo, a gang member, drove a vehicle from which his cousin and fellow member, Rudy Madrigal, fired gunshots into a vehicle occupied by alleged rival gang members. One shot struck the driver, Ladislado Avila, in the head, and he later died at the hospital as a result of his gunshot wound. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to address two issues: (1) the trial court allowed the State to introduce ER 404(b) evidence linking Arredondo to an uncharged 2009 drive-by shooting; and (2) the trial court barred Arredondo from cross-examining the State's key witness, Maurice Simon, about Simon's past mental health diagnoses, as well as past alcohol and drug use. Simon would later testify that Arredondo admitted his role in the shooting to him while they shared a jail cell. In neither instance did the Supreme Court find the trial court committed reversible error. View "Washington v. Arredondo" on Justia Law

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The Washington Supreme Court reaffirmed precedent that a trial court must consider whether such joinder will result in undue prejudice to the defendant. If it will, joinder is not permissible. The State charged Charles Bluford with one count of first degree robbery and one count of indecent liberties. The State later charged Bluford in a separate information with five more first degree robberies involving five new victims. Before trial, the State moved to join the two robberies accompanied by sexual offenses to the other five robberies, while Bluford moved to sever the five robberies from each other. The Court of Appeals held: (1) the trial court properly allowed joinder; (2) Bluford did not invite the trial court to erroneously deny his request for a lesser-included offense instruction on the indecent liberties charge; and (3) the State had not proved Bluford's prior New Jersey conviction for second degree robbery was factually or legally comparable to a most serious offense in Washington, so Bluford's persistent offender sentence was erroneously imposed. The Washington Supreme Court overruled certain Court of Appeals opinions that have departed from precedent, reversed Bluford's convictions, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Bluford" on Justia Law

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David Woodlyn cashed a series of blank checks written by Dora Kjellerson, an elderly woman suffering from dementia. The State charged Woodlyn with theft in the second degree, an alternative means crime. The jury's "to convict" instruction required the jury to unanimously agree on Woodlyn's guilt-but not on how he committed the crime. The jury returned a general verdict of guilty. Woodlyn appealed, arguing the general verdict violated his right to jury unanimity under article I, section 21 of the Washington constitution insofar as the evidence was insufficient to support conviction under the "wrongfully obtained" alternative. The Court of Appeals agreed that the evidence of this means was insufficient, but nonetheless affirmed, holding that any error was harmless. The court reasoned that the absence of evidence of the theft by taking alternative reasonably showed that the jury's verdict rested on the theft by deception alternative. The Washington Supreme Court rejected the Court of Appeals reasoning, finding the State failed to support one or more alternative means did not establish that the jury relied unanimously on another, supported alternative. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals in result because it concluded the evidence before the jury was sufficient to support both alternative means of second degree theft. View "Washington v. Woodlyn" on Justia Law