In State v. Coley, the Washington Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that defendants bear the burden of proof for establishing they are incompetent to stand trial after they complete therapeutic treatment designed to restore them to competency.  While the right to be competent during a criminal trial is grounded in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Court primarily looked to Washington’s codification of that right at RCW Chapter 10.77.  The Court found that legislature intended that the burden of proof fall on the party seeking to establish incompetency at all stages of trial, even after a prior finding of incompetency.
Continue Reading You’re All Better Now: Courts Will Presume Defendants Are Competent After Treatment

In the Matter of the Personal Restraint of Gomez, the Washington Supreme Court rejected a collateral attack on a mother’s conviction for killing her child through abuse. The Court ruled that the Spanish-speaking client did not deserve a new trial even though her lawyer only spoke English and also represented the child’s father in a dependency proceeding. Perhaps lost in translation or clouded by the lawyer’s conflicting duties to the father was the fact that the mother may not have abused the child and that the child might have died because he suffered epilepsy. Finality trumped process in this case and may have kept an innocent person in prison.

Continue Reading No comprende? No problema. Washington’s Supreme Court accepts poor performance by defense lawyer who didn’t speak the same language as his client

In State v. Johnson, the Washington Supreme Court provided two rulings.  First, it unanimously held that a charging document does not need to provide legal definitions of all the concepts within it to provide constitutionally sufficient notice to the defendant. Second, it ruled 7-2 that a jury must only be given a general criminal law definition of “reckless” to convict a defendant if it is also instructed as to the particular form of recklessness charged.  Justice Gordon McCloud assumed her now customary role of dissenter to the second ruling.

Continue Reading The Court Assumes that Husbands Know It’s Illegal to Hold their Wives Captive for 3 Days

In State v. Kipp, a unanimous court reversed a defendant’s conviction because the trial court admitted a recording of a conversation that was protected by Washington’s privacy act.  A six Justice majority further ruled that Washington’s privacy act requires appellate courts to review de novo trial court decisions that a conversation was not private.  In a win for the amicus ACLU, the court emphasized that Washington’s statutory privacy protections trump law enforcement expediency.
Continue Reading Even Creeps Have a Right to Privacy: Appellate Courts Must Decide For Themselves Whether Conversations Admitted into a Criminal Trial Were Private or Not

In State v. Liu, a 5-4 majority on the Washington Suprme Court declared the the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not require that DNA tests or other hard to decipher scientific tests be presented in court by the technician who conducted the test.  These tests are not inculpatory because a juror would not understand how the data bears on the guilt or innocence of the defendant without the testimony of an expert witness.  Therefore these complicated reports are not “witness[es] against” the defendant and need not be available for confrontation by the defendant.  While the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009) might suggest otherwise, the Washington Court determined that the five Justice majority who signed that opinion was not really a majority because Justice Thomas also wrote an idiosyncratic concurrence. The Washington Court started counting five Supreme Court Justice signatures, but stopped at four.
Continue Reading Washington Court Starts to Count to Five, Stops at Four