State v. Cardenas-Flores, NO. 93385-5.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtSTEPHENS, J.
Citation189 Wash.2d 243,401 P.3d 19
Parties STATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Zaida Yesenia CARDENAS-FLORES, Petitioner.
Decision Date17 August 2017
Docket NumberNO. 93385-5.

189 Wash.2d 243
401 P.3d 19

STATE of Washington, Respondent,
v.
Zaida Yesenia CARDENAS-FLORES, Petitioner.

NO. 93385-5.

Supreme Court of Washington.

Argued Feb. 21, 2017
Filed Aug. 17, 2017


Jodi R. Backlund, Manek R. Mistry, Backlund & Mistry, P.O. Box 6490, Olympia, WA, 98507-6490, for Petitioner.

Aaron Bartlett, Attorney at Law, P.O. Box 5000, 1013 Franklin St., Vancouver, WA, 98666-5000, for Respondent.

STEPHENS, J.

189 Wash.2d 247

¶1 The doctrine of corpus delicti protects against convictions based on false confessions, requiring evidence of the " ‘body of the crime.’ " State v. Aten , 130 Wash.2d 640, 655-57, 927 P.2d 210 (1996). The primary question in this case is whether, in light of State v. Dow , 168 Wash.2d 243, 227 P.3d 1278 (2010), a criminal defendant may bring a corpus delicti challenge for the first time on appeal. Zaida Yesenia Cardenas-Flores did not make a corpus delicti objection at trial, raising it for the first time on appeal. Viewing the objection as solely a challenge to the admissibility of her confession, the Court of Appeals held that Cardenas-Flores waived her evidentiary claim. We disagree and hold that a criminal defendant may raise corpus delicti for the first time on appeal as a sufficiency of the evidence challenge. On the merits of Cardenas-Flores's claims, we hold that the State presented sufficient evidence to establish the corpus delicti and all elements of the crime charged, and we reject her challenge to the jury instructions. Accordingly, we affirm her conviction.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2 On December 18, 2013, Cardenas-Flores and Carlos Austin brought their infant son, C.A., to the emergency room.

189 Wash.2d 248

They reported that earlier that night, Austin had accidentally rolled over onto C.A.'s leg while they were sleeping near each other on a bed. Both parents were concerned that C.A. had been injured as a result of the rollover. A doctor examined C.A. and ordered X-rays, noting some initial swelling and tenderness around his left leg. After reviewing the X-rays, the doctor reported that "everything looked normal." Report of Proceedings (RP) (Aug. 19, 2014) at 182-83.

¶3 A few days later, Cardenas-Flores took her son to his regular pediatrician for a wellness exam. The pediatrician manipulated C.A.'s leg and found no deformities, noting the child had full range of motion. The pediatrician and a supervising doctor reviewed C.A.'s X-rays and agreed with the emergency room doctor that everything looked normal.

¶4 On December 23, Cardenas-Flores and Austin once more rushed C.A. to the emergency room with concerns about C.A.'s leg. The hospitalist reported that C.A.'s left thigh was very swollen and tender, and that the infant was "obviously in a lot of pain whenever [the leg] was ... moved." RP (Aug. 18, 2014) at 65-66. Another X-ray was taken, this time showing a displaced femur fracture.1 The doctor concluded that the fracture occurred recently because it showed no healing in the area and a child as young as C.A. would typically begin healing within 7 to 10 days, if not sooner. Such an injury, according to the physician, would have been "immediately obvious, immediately symptomatic [and] ... caus[ing] immediate pain and swelling." Id. at 72. The only time C.A. would not feel "excruciating pain" is when his leg was stabilized. Id. at 69, 75.

¶5 When asked how C.A. was injured, both parents responded that the December 18 rollover caused the fracture and that the swelling had worsened, prompting them to bring C.A. back to the hospital. The physician concluded

189 Wash.2d 249

that the rollover incident could not have injured C.A. for three reasons: (1) displaced fractures do not typically occur in rollovers because the bed absorbs most of the energy; (2) the time frame did not support that cause because earlier X-rays clearly showed no fracture from the accident; and (3) multiple medical providers examined C.A. between the rollover and the final hospital visit and found no fracture. Fearing that C.A.'s injury was the result of nonaccidental

401 P.3d 23

trauma, the doctor contacted the police and Child Protective Services.

¶6 Law enforcement officers interviewed Cardenas-Flores, asking why she took C.A. back to the emergency room. She initially responded that C.A. was fine, though somewhat fussy after the rollover accident on December 18, and that she did not know what happened to him on December 23 that caused his leg to worsen. Upon further questioning, Cardenas-Flores altered her response and said she tried to take her son out of his car seat too fast, which could have caused the fracture. At one point in the interview, Cardenas-Flores said she believed in God and did not want to lie; she explained that she wanted to believe the car seat caused C.A.'s injury but that it was not the cause. She further confessed that she may have put "too much pressure" on C.A.'s leg when trying to get him out of the car seat faster and pushed C.A.'s "left leg out and down to straighten it ... hard enough that it actually did straighten the leg." RP (Aug. 19, 2014) at 201-02. Cardenas-Flores further admitted that after pushing his leg, C.A. began crying differently from his normal cry, and when she was told that her son's leg had been fractured, she said she knew it was because of her actions.

¶7 The State charged Cardenas-Flores with second degree child assault. At trial, she denied pushing her son's leg or pulling him from his car seat too quickly. She claimed that she lied to appease the police and that her confession was false. A jury convicted Cardenas-Flores, and the court sentenced her to 31 months in prison, the bottom of the standard sentencing range.

189 Wash.2d 250

¶8 Cardenas-Flores appealed her conviction to Division Two of the Court of Appeals. Among other things, she argued that the State did not produce independent evidence corroborating her confession to establish corpus delicti. State v. Cardenas-Flores , 194 Wash. App. 496, 501, 374 P.3d 1217 (2016). The Court of Appeals affirmed Cardenas-Flores's conviction, concluding that she had waived any corpus delicti claim by failing to raise it at trial.2 The appeals court stated that a corpus delicti challenge must be preserved because it "is a judicially created rule of evidence[,] ... not [a] constitutionally mandated" sufficiency of the evidence rule. Id. at 507-08, 374 P.3d 1217. Acting Chief Judge Bradley A. Maxa concurred in the result but argued that procedurally, Cardenas-Flores was not precluded from raising her corpus delicti challenge for the first time on appeal. Id. at 522, 374 P.3d 1217.

¶9 Cardenas-Flores filed a petition for review in this court, which we granted. State v. Cardenas-Flores , 186 Wash.2d 1017, 383 P.3d 1015 (2016).

ANALYSIS

¶10 This case presents four issues for review: (1) whether corpus delicti may be raised for the first time on appeal; (2) if so, whether the State presented sufficient evidence to establish the corpus delicti; (3) whether the State presented sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction for second degree child assault; and (4) whether jury instructions properly informed the jury that a parent who intentionally touches a child and causes harm may be convicted of assault. We address each issue in turn.

189 Wash.2d 251

I. A Criminal Defendant May Raise Corpus Delicti for the First Time on Appeal Because It Permeates Any Conclusion on the Sufficiency of the Evidence To Convict

¶11 We must first decide whether to consider Cardenas-Flores's corpus delicti challenge on appeal. Our decision turns on how we characterize corpus delicti: as concerning only the admissibility of a confession, or as affecting any review of the sufficiency of the evidence to convict. At trial, either characterization

401 P.3d 24

should yield the same result if the defendant's confession is uncorroborated. Under the admissibility characterization, the jury will not be allowed to hear the defendant's confession and without other evidence, the State cannot prove its case. Under the sufficiency characterization, the prosecution should be dismissed for want of evidence. The two characterizations, however, yield different results on appeal. Under the admissibility characterization, the defendant's corpus delicti challenge will be deemed waived if not raised at trial, as it is only an evidentiary objection. Under the sufficiency characterization, the defendant can raise corpus delicti for the first time on appeal, as it is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. See State v. McGill , 50 Kan. App. 2d 208, 257-58, 328 P.3d 554 (2014) (Atcheson, J., dissenting) (explaining consequences of two characterizations of corpus delicti).

¶12 Cardenas-Flores relies on our opinion in Dow , which described corpus delicti as a rule of both admissibility and sufficiency. Pet. for Review at 10 (citing Dow , 168 Wash.2d at 251, 227 P.3d 1278 ). She criticizes the Court of Appeals for failing to interpret her corpus delicti claim as a sufficiency of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
268 practice notes
  • State v. Sprague, No. 53370-7-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • February 9, 2021
    ...to be "consistent with guilt and inconsistent with the hypothesis of innocence." 2 VRP at 183-84 (discussing State v. Cardenas-Flores , 189 Wash.2d 243, 264, 401 P.3d 19 (2017) ; Brockob , 159 Wash.2d at 329, 150 P.3d 59 ; Aten , 130 Wash.2d at 660, 927 P.2d 210 ). The trial court declined ......
  • State v. Smith, No. 51946-1-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • May 27, 2020
    ...most favorable to the State, any rational trier of fact could have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Cardenas-Flores , 189 Wash.2d 243, 265, 401 P.3d 19 (2017). In a sufficiency of the evidence claim, the defendant admits the truth of the evidence and the court views the evide......
  • State v. Loughbom, 35668-0-III
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • June 4, 2019
    ...to the weight of the evidence. It is not a cognizable ground for a sufficiency challenge. State v. Cardenas-Flores, 189 Wn.2d 243, 266, 401 P.3d 19 (2017). CONCLUSION The judgment and sentence is affirmed. A majority of the panel has determined this opinion will not be printed in the Washin......
  • State v. Loughbom, No. 35668-0-III
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • June 4, 2019
    ...to the weight of the evidence. It is not a cognizable ground for a sufficiency challenge. State v. Cardenas-Flores, 189 Wn.2d 243, 266, 401 P.3d 19 (2017).CONCLUSION The judgment and sentence is affirmed. A majority of the panel has determined this opinion will not be printed in the Washing......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
266 cases
  • State v. Sprague, No. 53370-7-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • February 9, 2021
    ...to be "consistent with guilt and inconsistent with the hypothesis of innocence." 2 VRP at 183-84 (discussing State v. Cardenas-Flores , 189 Wash.2d 243, 264, 401 P.3d 19 (2017) ; Brockob , 159 Wash.2d at 329, 150 P.3d 59 ; Aten , 130 Wash.2d at 660, 927 P.2d 210 ). The trial court declined ......
  • State v. Smith, No. 51946-1-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • May 27, 2020
    ...most favorable to the State, any rational trier of fact could have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Cardenas-Flores , 189 Wash.2d 243, 265, 401 P.3d 19 (2017). In a sufficiency of the evidence claim, the defendant admits the truth of the evidence and the court views the evide......
  • State v. Loughbom, 35668-0-III
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • June 4, 2019
    ...to the weight of the evidence. It is not a cognizable ground for a sufficiency challenge. State v. Cardenas-Flores, 189 Wn.2d 243, 266, 401 P.3d 19 (2017). CONCLUSION The judgment and sentence is affirmed. A majority of the panel has determined this opinion will not be printed in the Washin......
  • State v. Loughbom, No. 35668-0-III
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • June 4, 2019
    ...to the weight of the evidence. It is not a cognizable ground for a sufficiency challenge. State v. Cardenas-Flores, 189 Wn.2d 243, 266, 401 P.3d 19 (2017).CONCLUSION The judgment and sentence is affirmed. A majority of the panel has determined this opinion will not be printed in the Washing......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT