In re Pers. Restraint of Coats, 83544-6

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtBarbara A. Madsen
Docket NumberNo. 83544-6,83544-6
PartiesIn re Pers. Restraint of Coats (Jeffrey A.)
Decision Date17 November 2011

MADSEN, C.J. (concurring)

This case presents an ideal opportunity to clarify the meaning of RCW 10.73.090(1). The statute's plain language, "valid on its face," and the historical meaning of those words, which I discuss below, lead to one conclusion: in order to avoid the one year bar on collateral attack, the claimed defect must be a defect in the judgment and sentence and it must appear on the face of the judgment and sentence itself.

In some recent cases, this court has relied on ad hoc determinations of what RCW 10.73.090(1) means, and in each case the meaning has been dependent on the particular facts of the case. Regrettably, the majority does nothing to resolve this problem and in fact perpetuates this ad hoc approach by expressly refusing to give any fixed meaning to the statute.

We have a duty to interpret statutes and the rules we have promulgated when their meaning is in question. Vagueness and imprecision are not helpful to those who must attempt to apply the statute, whether petitioners or respondents, whether counsel or thecourts. Explaining only how the statute has played out in prior cases, as the majority does, is of little use in providing guidance as to how the statute should be applied across a range of circumstances. This perpetuates a situation where a flood of personal restraint petitions must be considered in detail despite the heavy burden this places on the courts and the obvious purposes of the statute to restrict and manage the flow of personal restraint petitions.

The majority raises other serious concerns as well. The majority conflates the issue whether the one-year time bar of the statute applies with the issue of whether a petitioner has established requisite prejudice entitling the petitioner to relief from restraint. Equally serious, the majority seems to think that RCW 10.73.090(1) substantively governs whether a petitioner is entitled to relief. The statute is, of course, a procedural bar, not a substantive bar.

Finally, as Justice Stephens' concurrence explains, the majority fails to provide any meaningful discussion of the petitioner's main contention—that once the one-year time bar of RCW 10.73.090(1) is avoided as to one claim, it is automatically avoided as to all claims asserted by the petitioner. Fortunately, the concurrence explains why this is an improper interpretation of the statute.

Turning briefly to that concurrence, I agree with its analysis in most respects. But like the majority, the concurrence fails to adequately explain what RCW 10.73.090(1) means.

This case provides the opportunity for this court to interpret RCW 10.73.090(1), incontext, and on its face. Because neither the majority nor Justice Stephens' concurrence does this, I write separately to urge that we correct our previously mistaken ad hoc approach to determining whether a judgment and sentence is invalid on its face. Focused as it is on the meaning of RCW 10.73.090(1), this case presents a good vehicle for addressing this issue.

In language, purpose, and context, RCW 10.73.090(1) is a blanket prohibition against considering the merits of a personal restraint petition filed more than one year after a judgment is final, if the judgment and sentence is valid on its face and the petition is not based on grounds identified in RCW 10.73.100. But instead of applying this provision according to its plain language, we have frequently and mistakenly looked behind the face of a judgment and sentence in order to determine whether it is valid. A course correction is necessary.

Because it is the starting point in this case, I first turn to RCW 10.73.090(1) to explain how and why it should be applied according to its plain language.


RCW 10.73.090(1) states:

No petition or motion for collateral attack on a judgment and sentence in a criminal case may be filed more than one year after the judgment becomes final if the judgment and sentence is valid on its face and was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction.

We have historically questioned the power of the legislature to dictate the scope of our review of petitions for collateral relief in criminal cases. See Holt v. Morris, 84 Wn.2d841, 844, 529 P.2d 1081 (1974), overruled in part on other grounds by Wright v. Morris, 85 Wn.2d 899, 540 P.2d 893 (1975); In re Pers. Restraint of Stoudmire, 141 Wn.2d 342, 351-52, 5 P.3d 1240 (2000), overruled in part by In re Pers. Restraint of Turay, 153 Wn.2d 44, 101 P.3d 854 (2004). However, because we have expressly incorporated the provisions of RCW 10.73.090 and .100 into our Rules for Appellate Procedure, this issue does not arise insofar as these particular statutes are concerned. RAP 16.4(d). The question then becomes what do these statutes, and in particular, RCW 10.73.090(1), mean?

The meaning of "valid on its face" in RCW 10.73.090(1) is a matter of statutory or rule construction under familiar guidelines.1 The goal when construing a statute is to discover and carry out the legislature's intent. State v. Marohl, 170 Wn.2d 691, 698, 246 P.3d 177 (2010). If the statute's language is plain on its face, we give effect to that language as a statement of the legislative intent. State v. Hirschfelder, 170 Wn.2d 536, 543, 242 P.3d 876 (2010).2

RCW 10.73.090(1) uses plain language that has a plain meaning. "Valid on its face" means there must be invalidity in the judgment and sentence. The majority andJustice Stephens conclude that the type of invalidity with which the statute is concerned occurs when a judgment and sentence is in excess of the trial court's authority. I agree with this conclusion, which essentially is that the judgment is not one that the court had authority to render or the sentence was imposed in excess of or without authority.

The more troublesome aspect of the statute is its command that the invalidity appear "on the face" of the judgment and sentence. This is the statutory language that the majority fails to define and erroneously applies, and that Justice Stephens' concurrence ignores.

As we recently stated, RCW 10.73.090(1) is not ambiguous. In re Pers. Restraint of Skylstad, 160 Wn.2d 944, 947, 162 P.3d 413 (2007). The term "valid on its face" means that the judgment and sentence evidences invalidity without further elaboration. In re Pers. Restraint of Hemenway, 147 Wn.2d 529, 532, 55 P.3d 615 (2002); In re Pers. Restraint of Goodwin, 146 Wn.2d 861, 866, 50 P.3d 618 (2002). This means that the invalidity must appear on the face of the judgment and sentence, i.e., it must be discernable from the face of the document itself.

But having appropriately held that the meaning of the statute is plain and limits a court to looking to the judgment and sentence itself, we have ignored this holding and considered various other documents to determine whether the judgment and sentence is invalid for a reason not apparent from the face of the document. Instead of a rule of "no further elaboration," we have employed a rule of "with further elaboration." In Stoudmire, 141 Wn.2d at 354, and In re Personal Restraint of Thompson, 141 Wn.2d712, 719, 10 P.3d 380 (2000), for example, we examined documents signed as part of plea agreements to determine facial invalidity. In Hemenway, 147 Wn.2d at 532-533, we explained that such plea documents are relevant insofar as they may disclose invalidity of the judgment and sentence. Building upon the error in Stoudmire, we have ignored the plain language of the statute by expanding our inquiry beyond the face of the document.

As we accurately stated in a recent case, if a petitioner "must resort to external documents in the hope of rendering his judgment and sentence invalid, then the judgment and sentence cannot be invalid on its face." In re Pers. Restraint of Clark, 168 Wn.2d 581, 588, 230 P.3d 156 (2010).

Nonetheless, the majority is satisfied with continuing to apply RCW 10.73.090(1), not according to its plain language, but according to how it has been applied in our previous cases. The majority posits that at least since 1947 we have expanded review to include documents other than the judgment and sentence that disclose invalidity in the judgment and sentence. Majority at 17-18. The majority evidently seems to think that under RCW 10.73.090(1) consideration of sources outside the judgment and sentence is merely a continuation of this approach.

This is inaccurate. RCW 10.73.090(1), enacted in 1989, is the first time this state has implemented a time bar to consideration of personal restraint petitions. See Laws of 1989, ch. 395, §§ 1-2. Our obligation is to interpret these statutes as they are incorporated in our court rules.

Normally, when faced with a question about the meaning of a statute we go nofurther than the words of the statute when those words are plain and unambiguous. Christensen v. Ellsworth, 162 Wn.2d 365, 373, 173 P.2d 228 (2007). However, given that we have already disregarded the plain meaning rule in regard to this particular statute, I believe it is useful to consider the purpose of the statute and the history of time limits for petitions for collateral relief in criminal cases. These considerations, like the plain language of the statute, indicate that we have improperly disregarded the intent behind RCW 10.73.090(1) and the related provisions in RCW 10.73.100.

Turning to the purposes of the statute, it is unnecessary to give RCW 10.73.090(1) an interpretation any broader than suggested by its plain language in order to carry out the purposes of the statute. That is, there is no need to construe the statute to protect a petitioner's ability to challenge a judgment and sentence that suffers from some error that is not apparent on the face of the document. To the contrary, the purposes of the statute are best served if it is construed to require that a claimed defect in the judgment and sentence be apparent on the face...

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