State v. Bryant

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Citation42 P.3d 1278,146 Wash.2d 90
Decision Date04 April 2002
Docket NumberNo. 69788-4.,69788-4.
PartiesSTATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Vincent Lee BRYANT, Appellant.

David A. Trieweiler, Seattle, for Appellant.

Jim Krider, Snohomish County Prosecutor, Charles Franklin Blackman, Deputy, for Respondent.

CHAMBERS, J.

The question is whether one county prosecutor may bind another county to a use/derivative use immunity agreement without the latter's knowledge and/or consent. Specifically, we have been asked to hold that an informal immunity agreement entered into by one prosecuting attorney is binding upon a neighboring prosecuting attorney; we decline to do so. We have also been asked to hold one county is estopped from using witness evidence, which had been suppressed as impermissible fruit of a bargained for immunity agreement in another county; we decline to do so. We do hold, however, under the facts of this case, that the doctrine of fundamental fairness which attaches to all agreements for which prosecutors barter leniency for waiver of the right against self-incrimination, requires dismissal of certain charges against the Petitioner in this matter. Therefore, we reverse the Court of Appeals decision with instructions to dismiss the charges in question.

FACTS

Between October 1993 and March 1994, a series of robberies were committed along the I-5 corridor in the counties of Cowlitz, King, and Snohomish. Law enforcement suspected the same persons had committed the crimes: Vincent Bryant, Jeffrey Dorman, and Willie King. However, the police did not have any physical evidence clearly linking any of the suspects to the crimes.

The case at issue involves a Snohomish County home invasion robbery. On the morning of November 5, 1993, three armed men wearing masks and gloves forcibly entered the residence of Steven and Cindy Linari, where they and their adolescent son were bound and robbed. The case was assigned to the Everett Police Department and was closed as unsolved in April or May 1994.

Bryant was later arrested on an unrelated charge in King County and offered to provide the King County prosecutor with information about the unsolved robberies that occurred along the I-5 corridor. Bryant accepted King County's offer of use/derivative use immunity and in turn offered statements incriminating himself, Dorman, King, and David Israel.1 The immunity agreement was broad in its promises. The text of the immunity agreement provides, in relevant part:

To protect your rights and to encourage you to be completely candid and truthful, we have agreed to grant you use and derivative use immunity for purposes of a debriefing session. Use and derivative use immunity means that nothing you reveal can ever be used against you in any prosecution. Additionally, nothing you reveal can be utilized by law enforcement to find additional evidence to use against you. This promise of use immunity does not extend to self-incrimination with respect to any other possible crimes of violence such as murder, rape, or arson.
. . . .
If you abide by the terms of this letter you are assured that all the information you provide will be closely held by this office, unless, and until a formal cooperation agreement is reached. Additionally nothing you say during the interview will be used in any way against you, even should no agreement be reached.
My signature below indicates the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office's agreement to the terms of this letter.
Clerk's Papers (CP) at 71-72.

According to the record, Bryant was interviewed by the King County prosecutor's office on four separate occasions. No Snohomish County representative was a party to the informal immunity agreement between King County and Bryant, nor did any representative attend the interviews. In fact, Snohomish County contends it was not aware the King County meetings had taken place and the substance of Bryant's testimony was never shared with any Snohomish County representatives. According to Snohomish County, this nonsharing was deliberate, to avoid tainting any possible subsequent Snohomish County prosecution of Bryant with his own immunized statements. Snohomish County understood it was prohibited from obtaining and using Bryant's immunized statements.

After plea negotiations between Bryant and King County prosecutors broke down, King County prosecutors contacted Dorman. On November 21, 1996, King County prosecutors offered Dorman the same use/derivative use immunity agreement previously signed by Bryant, which Dorman executed. Over the course of approximately six months, Dorman gave immunized and incriminating statements, implicating himself, Bryant, King, and Israel.

On December 2, 1996, King County charged Bryant, Dorman, King, and Israel with 41 counts of money laundering, robbery, kidnapping and residential burglary. The Linari home invasion robbery in Snohomish County was included among the charges.

In April 1997, the King County trial court severed Bryant from being tried with his codefendants. Based upon venue objection by Bryant, the King County trial court also dismissed the Snohomish County charges without prejudice.

Five months later, a Snohomish County representative met with and entered into an informal use/derivative use immunity agreement with Dorman by adding Snohomish County to the immunity agreement between Dorman and King County. The Snohomish County prosecutor then refiled the Linari robbery and kidnapping charges against Bryant. The Snohomish County case against Bryant was based almost entirely upon the anticipated testimony of Dorman, who had now been granted immunity by the counties of King and Snohomish.

Bryant moved the trial court to suppress the testimony of Dorman and to dismiss the remaining charges filed in King County. Bryant alleged the King County case against him was based upon Dorman's testimony, which was derived from his own immunized statements and therefore was in violation of his immunity agreement with King County. The King County trial court dismissed all counts against Bryant, except four for which it found an independent evidentiary basis, and specifically declined to address the Linari case pending in Snohomish County.

Bryant then moved to suppress Dorman's statements in Snohomish County. The Snohomish County trial court determined collateral estoppel applied and suppressed all of Dorman's statements reasoning, "whether Jeff Dorman's decision to cooperate with the State in the present case is derived from Vincent Bryant's immunized cooperation in King County is at issue. This is the same issue that was presented ... in the King County case." CP at 12. Based upon this finding, Snohomish County conceded it lacked probable cause to proceed without Dorman's statements which resulted in the dismissal of all charges against Bryant related to the Linari robbery. Id. Snohomish County appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed the Snohomish County trial court's dismissal of all charges, determining although the factual issue before the Snohomish County trial court was the same as that in King County,2 the legal issue was different.

ISSUE PRESENTED

This is a case of first impression: does an informal use/derivative use immunity agreement, which purports to grant immunity for incriminating statements that "can [n]ever be used against you in any prosecution," entered into by one state prosecutor bind another state prosecutor from a sister county?

ANALYICAL APPROACHES

While no court has addressed the specific issue before us, agreements between law enforcement officials and the accused have generated a substantial body of precedent. Courts have resorted to a patchwork of statutory, contract, equitable and fifth amendment due process analytical approaches to address related issues.

Here, both parties have offered arguments grounded in traditional contract law. While useful by analogy, contract law assumes a fairly bargained for agreement and the remedies are intended to provide the parties with the benefit of their agreement or return them as nearly as practical to their preagreement position; neither the assumption nor remedies squarely fit the reality of criminal prosecutions. State v. Reed, 75 Wash.App. 742, 879 P.2d 1000 (1994). Both parties also argue cases involving plea bargains, but the only remedies available for breach of a plea agreement are specific performance or withdrawal of the plea. Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 92 S.Ct. 495, 30 L.Ed.2d 427 (1971). A violation of an agreement to induce an accused to waive the fifth amendment right against self-incrimination, if one is found, may require the crafting of a remedy consistent with the scope of the privilege against self-incrimination. Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441, 92 S.Ct. 1653, 32 L.Ed.2d 212 (1972). Thus, while useful, plea bargains differ from grants of informal immunity.

We have been urged to look at the federal system for guidance where the agreement of one federal prosecutor may bind other federal districts.3 Our state system differs from the federal system where all prosecutors must answer to the single United States attorney general. We are also referred to cases holding that one state's attorney general may not bind another state's attorney general. Louisiana v. Edmondson, 97-2456 (La.7/8/98), 714 So.2d 1233. But here we are not dealing with a question of federalism, rather a question of intra-jurisdictional authority. Yet, while not dispositive, these many explorations into the issues and principles of our criminal justice system provide us with a framework for analysis.

The type and scope of the immunity agreement is important to any analysis. Immunity agreements may be either formal or informal. Formal immunity is imposed upon an unwilling witness. The government may compel testimony from an unwilling witness who invokes the fifth amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination, by...

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  • State v. Israel, No. 44731-9-I
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • September 9, 2002
    ...pleaded guilty and agreed to testify, and Bryant provided police with information in exchange for his immunity. See State v. Bryant, 146 Wash.2d 90, 42 P.3d 1278 (2002). King and Israel moved for severance, each seeking to be tried individually. The court granted the motion in part and deni......
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