Zuanich Law Newsletter
Episode #55: The Supreme Court Strikes Back Again … Again
March 12, 2021
If State v. Blake was the equivalent of a massive, cataclysmic tsunami for which Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck have to save the world (while bonding as quasi father and son), then In re Personal Restraint of Monschke was Viktor Drago (i.e. juvenile justice rehabilitation) pulverizing Adonis Creed (i.e. mandatory LWOP sentences for 18-20 year old young people) in the first fight of Creed 2.
If you’re wondering whether my movie analogies are perfect fits for these cases and truly capture the vicissitudes of these legal opinions, then you need to check yourself.
Of course they are. Why else would I make these references? For my own entertainment? This is a serious newsletter. If you’re here to laugh, then you’ve come to the wrong place.
But let’s move away from the Washington Supreme Court for a few minutes (i.e. a few paragraphs). There are other appellate courts and they’re probably getting a little sick of all the attention the Supremes are getting. “I mean, come on, we write opinions too. We would like to APPEAL to your senses and start reading our opinions again.”
(See what I did there? Yes, you did).
State v. Morrell
Court of Appeals, Division 3
March 9, 2021
The Pulitzer Prize for most obvious but still awesome statement in a Court opinion goes to Judge Pennell: A criminal informant is not presumed to be acting out of civic responsibility
Facts: Woman arrested on warrant. She tells officers that she bought drugs from Christopher Morrell, who goes by nickname “Duffles.” Morrell drives maroon Chevy, he had drugs on him, and would be driving to her hotel room with more drugs. One of the officers knew Morrell and his nickname from prior contacts and a prior drug investigation.
Police see Morrell later driving red Chevy near a gas station (i.e. not near a hotel). Stop him. A whole lot of stuff happens, and Morrell (shockingly) is charged with various drug crimes.
(This case feels like the basis for every single moot court or law school hypo or criminal exam question I ever had). Question: Was the informant’s tip enough?
Holding: No. No. No.
Informant’s tip was not sufficiently robust. As the Court reasoned, anyone in the local drug trade would know that Ruggles was Morrell and that he dealt drugs. Duh, the COA basically said. And the police didn’t corroborate much before the stop. They didn’t see him drive by the hotel. They didn’t see him deliver drugs. They simply saw him near a gas station and stopped him. In legal terms, the reliability of a criminal informant is presumed a lot less than a citizen informant, so it would need to be buttressed by independent corroborating details, which were lacking here.
In Personal Restraint of Monschke
Washington Supreme Court
March 111, 2021
Facts: Irrelevant for the opinion. Massively important for future cases.
Holding: It might be hard for my long-term subscribers to believe this … or acknowledge this … but yes, it’s true, my newsletter does not always capture the full sweep of legal analysis of an opinion.
I know, deep breath, that may have been a shock to some of you. We’ll get through it.
This is one of those opinions.
In essence, mandatory LWOP sentences for individuals who committed their crimes between 18-21 years are unconstitutional because mandatory LWOP statutes do not guarantee the constitutionally required individualized consideration (i.e. mitigating, aggravating factors). Therefore, the aggravated murder statute is unconstitutional as applied to youthful defendants.
As the Court reasoned, there is no bright-line distinction between a child and an adult. An 18 year old does not suddenly, magically pass through a maturity door on his / her birthday and become an adult. The process takes time and there are fits and starts, and the criminal justice system needs to respond on an individualized basis. Even 18-year olds are heavily suspectable to peer pressure and negative influences. Brain science shows that 18-20 year olds don’t have fully developed brains.
My take: The Supreme Court is on a roll. What’s next???
About Us: Zuanich Law focuses on criminal and civil appeals, DOL appeals, and post-conviction relief. Our civil practice focuses on personal injury, family law, breach of contract protection order hearings, property law, landlord-tenant law, and general civil litigation.