In a unanimous decision, the Washington Supreme Court clarified Washington’s Criminal Court Rules by holding that it is within the trial court’s discretion to provide preliminary rulings on jury instructions during trial. The Court then affirmed Ronald Mendes’s second degree murder conviction after rejecting his argument that he was “compelled” to testify in his defense.
Continue Reading Discretion Prevails: Trial Courts May Rule on Jury Instructions When Asked…or Not

Under ER 404(b), evidence of prior bad acts is not admissible to show conformity with those acts.  In 2008, the Legislature carved out an exception to ER 404(b) by passing a bill that allowed evidence of prior sex crimes to be admitted in criminal sex cases.  But in 2012, the Washington Supreme Court held that this statute was unconstitutional.

Gower involves a bench trial that took place in 2009, after the Legislature’s ER 404(b) exception was in effect, but before it was held unconstitutional.  The State had charged Gower with a series of sex crimes relating to sexual contact with his minor step-daughter, SEH.  At trial, the State sought to admit the testimony of one of Gower’s other minor children, CM, and the trial court admitted CM’s testimony, stating that the evidence would have been inadmissible under ER 404(b), but was admissible under the statutory exception.  SEH also testified to her own experience at the hands of Gower.
Continue Reading State v. Gower: Anything is Reasonably Probable

In Freeman v. State, the Washington Supreme Court rejected an attempt to block the lease of the two center lanes on I-90 to Sound Transit for light rail use. In so ruling, the Court held that WSDOT may lease highways financed with MVF monies where a plan exists to reimburse the MVF. It further held that WSDOT may enter into contracts to transfer highway property based on a contingent determination that such highway property will not be needed in the future.
Continue Reading I-90 Light Rail: Washington Supreme Court Says ‘All Aboard’

In State v. Lynch, the Washington State Supreme Court confirmed that a trial court’s inclusion of an affirmative defense instruction upon an unwilling defendant violates the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights in criminal prosecutions.
Continue Reading State Supreme Court Further Clarifies Distinction Between Casting Doubt on Elements of Charged Crimes and Affirmative Defenses