CJE Wire: Case Law Updates — 2017 November 10


 Washington State Courts

Division I Court of Appeals

State v. Clark:  The Court published a July 31, 2017 decision upholding Michael Clark’s conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm.  Mr. Clark had argued that the domestic violence protection order to which he was subject at the time of his arrest did not explicitly prohibit physical force, as required pursuant to RCW 9.41.040(2)(a)(ii)(C)(II) to make possession of a firearm illegal.  The Court reasoned that the term “explicitly” was not defined in the statute but, given its ordinary meaning, did not require a protective order to contain the exact words of RCW 9.41.040(2)(a)(ii)(C)(II) to satisfy the requirement of explicitly prohibiting physical force.  Rather, the Court found that an order is sufficient if it “clearly prohibits the person subject to the order from using, attempting to use, or threatening to use physical force against the protected person.”  The order in this case restrained Mr. Clark from “causing physical harm, bodily injury, assault, including sexual assault, and from molesting, harassing, threatening, or stalking” The Court concluded that a rational trier of fact could conclude that the prohibition against causing physical harm or bodily injury or threatening made it clear that Mr. Clark was prohibited from using or threatening to use physical force against the protected party, thus making his possession of the subject firearm illegal. https://www.lexisnexis.com/clients/wareports/; http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/744411.PDF


Division II Court of Appeals

State v. Hotchkiss:  The Court affirmed Mr. Hotchkiss’ conviction for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.  In a search of Mr. Hotchkiss’ residence, 8.1 grams of methamphetamine and $2,150.00 in cash was found, and during questioning Mr. Hotchkiss admitted that he was selling methamphetamine to several customers.  On appeal, Mr. Hotchkiss challenged the admission of this confession into evidence, arguing that there was insufficient corroborating evidence independent of his incriminating statement that he intended to deliver methamphetamine.  The Court found that one factor in addition to mere possession of an illegal substance suggestive of intent is sufficient to satisfy corpus delicti for the charge of possession with intent to deliver.  The Court determined that the evidence need not be sufficient to convict in order to allow the statement to come in.

Concurring, Judge Worswick pointed to the third consolidated case in Brockob, the first two of which were relied upon by the majority.  Judge Worswick noted that this case, Cocabe, “clearly stands for the proposition that evidence may be sufficient to convict beyond a reasonable doubt but may still be insufficient for purposes of corpus delicti.”  The concurrence would have found that the State had not met the standard under the corpus delicti rule to enter Mr. Hotchkiss’ statement into evidence, but that there was sufficient evidence for the conviction nonetheless. http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/D2%2048963-5-II%20Published%20Opinion.pdf


 Federal Law

United States Supreme Court

Dunn v. Madison:  In a per curiam decision, the Court upheld the execution of Vernon Madison for the shooting death of a police officer some thirty years prior.  The Court found that, despite the fact that a series of strokes had left Mr. Madison incapable of remembering the crime, psychologists for both the State and the defense agreed that Mr. Madison understands that he is in prison for murder and will be put to death due to that conviction.  However, the defense expert argued that Mr. Madison does not understand the act for which he is being punished because he cannot recall “the sequence of events from the offense to his arrest to the trial or any of those details” and believes that he “never went around killing folks.”  The Court found that the State Court’s decision upholding the death penalty in this case was not unreasonable based on the evidence before it, as Mr. Madison understands the crime for which he will be put to death, and there is no case clearly establishing that a prisoner is incompetent to be executed because of a failure to remember his commission of the crime, “as distinct from a failure to rationally comprehend the concepts of crime and punishment as applied in this case.”

Concurring, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor argued that the issue of whether a State may administer the death penalty to a person whose disability leaves him without memory of his commission of a capital offense “is a substantial question not yet addressed by the Court.” But acknowledged that restraints imposed by AEDPA preclude consideration of the question. 

Also concurring, Justice Breyer wrote separately to emphasize what he termed one of the “basic problems with the administration of the death penalty.”  Justice Breyer pointed to the “unconscionably long periods of time that prisoners often spend on death row awaiting execution,” and surmised that the Court will be increasingly faced with a death row population that is unable to remember or understand the acts for which they are incarcerated and sentenced to death due to diseases of old age.  The justice noted that this significantly undermines the stated purpose of deterrence inherent in the death penalty, and concluded that rather than develop a line of cases focusing on special circumstances of aging prisoners, “I believe it would be wiser to reconsider the root cause of the problem—the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.” https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/17-193_6j37.pdf

Kernan v. Cuero:  In a per curiam opinion, the Court held that the Ninth Circuit erred in holding that the state court below had made a mistake of federal law when it sentenced Mr. Cuero to a sentence of 25 years to life rather than 14 years agreed to in the plea agreement, after the government was allowed to amend the complaint to accurately reflect Mr. Cuero’s prior convictions.  The Court found that there is no federal law mandating that a defendant is entitled to specific performance of a plea agreement, giving the defendant the sentence he would have had absent the amendment to the complaint.  https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-1468_1a72.pdf