Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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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

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C Davis sought to recall Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Davis filed five recall charges alleging that Governor Inslee violated the separation of powers, infringed on a number of constitutional rights, and improperly exercised emergency powers when issuing proclamations in response to the COVID -19 pandemic. In order to be placed on the ballot, a recall charge must be legally and factually sufficient to demonstrate an elected official’s malfeasance, misfeasance, or violation of the oath of office. The Washington Supreme Court held that the charges put forth by Davis were not legally or factually sufficient. View "In re Recall of Inslee" on Justia Law

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The question this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the prosecution was required, under Brady v. Maryland, to turn over to the defense the jail and mental health records of the victims’ mother, who was a codefendant and a State’s witness. Additionally, this case involved whether a Petrich jury unanimity instruction was required for charges of assault of a child. At trial, a jury found Reuben Mulamba guilty of first degree assault of a child, second degree assault of a child, first degree criminal mistreatment of a child, and third degree criminal mistreatment of a child. Mulamba filed a timely personal restraint petition (PRP) arguing multiple grounds for relief, based in part on the newly obtained jail records of a trial witness. The Court of Appeals, in an unpublished, split decision, granted Mulamba’s petition with respect to his claims of a Brady violation and a Petrich jury unanimity violation. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals on both the Brady violation and the jury unanimity claims, and remanded to the Court of Appeals for further consideration of any unresolved issues. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Mulamba" on Justia Law

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The issue this appeal presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a city ordinance requiring guns be safely kept and out of unauthorized hands, was preempted by state law. After robust debate following a mass shooting at the nearby Marysville Pilchuck High School, the Edmonds City Council adopted an ordinance requiring residents to safely store their firearms when not in use. At around the same time, Washington voters enacted Initiative 1639, which, among many other things, criminalized unsafe storage of firearms but in more limited circumstances than Edmonds’ ordinance. The initiative specifically did not “mandate[] how or where a firearm must be stored.” The Supreme Court determined the local ordinance was indeed preempted by the state law. View "Bass v. City of Edmonds" on Justia Law

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Respondent Douglas Arbogast was charged with two counts of attempted child rape as a result of a Washington State Patrol sting operation. Police officers posted an advertisement online and posed as a mother seeking a person to teach her two children about sex. Arbogast answered the ad, exchanged messages with undercover officers, and was later arrested. At trial, Arbogast sought to present the affirmative defense of entrapment and his lack of criminal convictions as evidence that he was not predisposed to commit the charged crimes of attempted child rape. The trial court declined to allow evidence of his lack of criminal record or instruct the jury on entrapment. Arbogast was convicted. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. The Washington Supreme Court held that to obtain an entrapment instruction, defendants must make a prima facie showing: (1) the crime originated in the mind of the police or an informant; and (2) the defendant was induced to commit a crime that he or she was not predisposed to commit. "The measure of a prima facie showing is whether the evidence offered, considered in a light most favorable to the defendant, is sufficient to permit a reasonable juror to find entrapment by a preponderance of the evidence. Here, Arbogast offered sufficient evidence to justify an instruction. Whether he can establish the defense is ultimately a decision for the jury." Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Washington v. Arbogast" on Justia Law

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RCW 49.60.227 permitted a court to strike a racially restrictive, legally unenforceable covenant from the public records and eliminate the covenant from the title. This case concerned what under the statute, striking from the public records and eliminating from the title meant, and whether a court order declaring the covenant struck and void was all that was required or allowed. Alex May sought a declaratory action under former RCW 49.60.227 (2006) to have a racially restrictive covenant voided and physically removed from the title to his property and from the public records. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals concluded that the statute at issue did not allow the physical removal of the covenant from the title but, instead, allowed only for an order voiding the covenant to be filed with the title. In the interim, the legislature amended RCW 49.60.227, clarifying the procedure under which these covenants were struck and eliminated. The Washington Supreme Court held that the interim amendments in Laws of 2021, chapter 256, section 4 applied, and therefore the Supreme Court did not address the statute under which May initially sought to have the covenants removed. Accordingly, the case was remanded to the trial court for relief under Laws of 2021, chapter 256, section 4. View "In re That Portion of Lots 1 & 2" on Justia Law

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Daniel Watanabe and Solveig (Watanabe) Pedersen divorced in 2016. During the marriage, Pedersen inherited a large sum of money and land after her mother passed away. At their dissolution trial, the court held that various real properties were Pedersen’s separate property, despite the fact that both Watanabe’s and Pedersen’s names were on the title for the properties. Watanabe appealed, arguing the trial court erred by failing to apply the joint title gift presumption since the property was acquired in both of their names during marriage. Watanabe also argued the trial court erred by allowing extrinsic evidence of Pedersen’s intent when she quitclaimed her separate property to the community. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the gift presumption did not apply, regardless of whether the property was acquired before or during marriage. The Court of Appeals also held that extrinsic evidence was appropriately admitted to determine whether Pedersen intended to transmute separate property, not to dispute the quitclaim deed itself. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals: the joint title gift presumption did not apply regardless of whether the property was acquired before or during marriage. In addition, the Supreme Court held that extrinsic evidence could be admitted to explain the intent of the parties when signing a quitclaim deed to determine whether a party intended to convert separate property into community property. View "In re Marriage of Watanabe" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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At trial, a jury found Daviel Canela guilty of attempted first degree murder and of second degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Canela appealed his conviction on multiple grounds. The Court of Appeals vacated the conviction for attempted first degree murder, finding that premeditation was an essential element in a charge of attempted first degree murder. This was the only issue before the Washington Supreme Court: Canela challenged the sufficiency of the information charging him of first degree murder, and whether premeditation had to be alleged in the charging document. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, finding premeditation was not an essential element that had to be included in the charging document for attempted first degree murder. View "Washington v. Canela" on Justia Law

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In August 2016, R.G.M. disclosed to her mother that her father, Patrick Crossguns Sr., had sexually abused her. R.G.M. said he had been abusing her for over a year, beginning when she was 12 years old. Crossguns was charged with one count of second degree rape of a child and one count of second degree child molestation. Before trial, the State sought to admit evidence of uncharged sexual abuse of R.G.M. by Crossguns from July 2015 to August 2016. Crossguns opposed admission of the evidence, arguing that it was improper propensity evidence. The trial court concluded the probative value outweighed any risk of unfair prejudice and ruled the evidence was admissible. The court also concluded the evidence was admissible to prove the aggravators but stated “the main factor” for admitting the evidence was to prove Crossguns’s “lustful disposition toward[] [R.G.M.]” At issue before the Washington Supreme Court in this case was the term "lustful disposition," and whether the prosecutor’s statements in closing, asking the jury to decide if the witnesses were telling the truth, constituted misconduct that absent an objection, was so prejudicial that reversal was warranted. The Supreme Court concluded “lustful disposition” was archaic, reinforced outdated rape myths and misconceptions of sexual violence, and was not a proper purpose for admitting evidence. Rejection of the label “lustful disposition” did not modify the established doctrine of allowing “[e]vidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts” to be admitted as “proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident” pursuant to ER 404(b). In this case, the Supreme Court concluded evidence of Crossguns’s uncharged acts of sexual assault was properly admitted for permissible ER 404(b) purposes. Therefore, the trial court’s reference to lustful disposition in its decision admitting the evidence was harmless. Further, the Court concluded the prosecutor’s statements constituted misconduct, but the prejudice could have been corrected by an instruction. The Court of Appeals was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and remanded to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Crossguns" on Justia Law