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Washington Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal of Criminal Charges Based on Court Mismanagement

Under Washington rules of criminal procedure, a court may dismiss a criminal prosecution due to arbitrary action or governmental misconduct if the accused rights have been prejudiced and his or her right to a fair trial has been materially affected.  CrRLJ 8.3(b) and CrR 8.3(b). Washington case law has held that mismanagement may be sufficient and the misconduct does not have to be evil or dishonest.   In a recent case, a Washington appeals court considered whether the court’s actions were within the scope of “governmental misconduct” that would support dismissal under CrRLJ 8.3(b).

The court continued the defendant’s arraignment on fourth degree assault and third degree malicious mischief charges after ordering he be provided an interpreter.  There were 14 additional pretrial hearings in the next 15 months, but the interpreter failed to appear at 10 of them. The interpreter appeared by phone “ineffectively,” according to the appeals court, twice.  Two times the interpreter actually appeared in person.  The defendant moved to dismiss the charges pursuant to CrRLJ 8.3(b).  After the interpreter failed to appear at yet another hearing, the trial court dismissed the charges with prejudice.  The trial court found the failure to provide an interpreter “seriously interfered with” the defendant’s right to representation.

The state appealed, and the superior court affirmed the dismissal.  The state then sought discretionary review by the Court of Appeals.  The appeals court granted the review to address the issue of whether CrRLJ 8.3(b) can apply to mismanagement by court administration.

The appeals court first considered the plain language of the rule. The rules of criminal procedure do not define the word “governmental.” The appeals court looked to a dictionary definition, which provided that it means “of or relating the government. . .”  The appeals court noted that, “Courts are a foundational part of Washington’s government at all levels.”  The appeals court found courts are governmental under the plain meaning of the rule. The appeals court noted the rule’s purpose is to protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial.  Therefore, a defendant has a claim of “governmental misconduct” under the rule if the court administration’s mismanagement prevents the defendant from getting reliable interpreter services and consequently effective assistance of counsel for more than a year.  The state argued the word “governmental” is ambiguous as used in the rule.  The state also argued that the history of the rule was not consistent with application to mismanagement by court administration.  The appeals court noted, however, that the rules of statutory interpretation do not look to legislative history if the term in question is unambiguous.  The appeals court found the rule was not ambiguous and therefore consideration of the history was not needed.

The state argued that even if court mismanagement could qualify as government misconduct under the rule, the district court abused its discretion in dismissing the case.  The state argued the court should have granted a new trial instead.  The state argued that a dismissal cannot be based on a judge’s legal error.  The appeals court pointed out, however, that the case was not dismissed due to a judicial error, but administrative mismanagement.

The appeals court declined to address the issue of whether a dismissal under the rule could be based on a judicial error.  The appeals court held that “governmental misconduct” under CrRLJ 8.3(b)can include mismanagement of court administration and affirmed the dismissal. Based on this case, a defendant can seek dismissal of a case if the court’s mismanagement has prejudiced his or her right to a fair trial.

If you have been criminally charged, an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney can fight for your rights and your freedom.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to set up an appointment to talk about your case.

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