State v. Goins

Decision Date10 June 2004
Docket NumberNo. 73177-2.,73177-2.
Citation151 Wash.2d 728,92 P.3d 181
CourtWashington Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Matthew Glen GOINS, Petitioner.

Eric J. Nielsen, Seattle, for Petitioner.

James Morrissey Whisman, Ian Michael Goodhew, King Co. Pros. Aty./Appellate Unit, Seattle, for Respondent.


In this case we must decide if a criminal conviction will be overturned when a jury's conviction on a general charge is apparently inconsistent with its answer to a subsequent special verdict. The petitioner, Matthew Glen Goins, was tried by a jury and convicted of second degree assault with the intent to commit indecent liberties. RCW 9A.36.021(1)(e). However, the jury also found by subsequent special verdict that Goins had not acted with sexual motivation. Former RCW 9.94A.127 (1999), recodified as RCW 9.94A.835. Defense counsel did not challenge the apparently contradictory verdicts, and Goins was sentenced according to his conviction. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Goins claims that the apparent inconsistency of the verdicts requires that his conviction be vacated. In the alternative, he argues that former RCW 4.44.440, amended by Laws of 2003, ch. 406, § 24, can be applied to criminal cases as well as civil, thereby voiding his assault conviction.

We have previously established that verdict inconsistency does not require that we vacate a guilty verdict. We should not second-guess the jury or its lenity since the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to sustain the jury's conviction on second degree assault. Furthermore, former RCW 4.44.440 was a civil procedure statute, not a criminal one. We have previously held that former RCW 4.44.440 cannot apply to criminal cases, so it provides no basis for dismissal of Goins' conviction. We therefore affirm the ruling of the Court of Appeals and uphold Goins' conviction of second degree assault with intent to commit indecent liberties.


Goins was convicted as the result of a May 18, 2000, altercation in the bedroom of his victim, Angela Z. On the evening of May 17, 2000, Goins went out drinking with his friend Steve Haworth. In the early morning of May 18, Goins gave Haworth a ride to the apartment of Haworth's friend, Z, where they arrived at approximately 4:00 a.m. Z testified that Goins had been drinking and that Haworth was drunk.

Haworth went to the restroom, leaving Goins and Z alone in the living room. At this time Goins tried to kiss Z. Z testified that she rebuffed Goins and pushed him away. Z then ignored Goins and she dozed off. When Z woke up she found Goins in her bedroom, so she went into the bedroom to investigate. In the bedroom, Goins tried to kiss Z a second time, and did not give up after Z pushed him away again. Goins grabbed Z by her arms and forced her onto the bed. Z fought with Goins and kicked him in an attempt to get away. But Goins overpowered her, pinned her arms and legs, and tried to lift up her shirt. During their fight Z struck Goins in the face and repeatedly pleaded with Goins to stop.

Haworth then entered the bedroom to investigate the commotion. This allowed Z to flee the bedroom and bang on her neighbor's door for help. Z's neighbor, Shari Platt, let Z call the police. Meanwhile, Goins fled the scene.

During the trial, Platt's and Haworth's testimony was consistent with Z's version of the incident. Platt testified that Z had marks on her wrist, neck, foot, and face from the altercation. Haworth also testified that Z looked "roughed up." Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) (Nov. 27, 2000) at 39.

At trial, Goins testified in his own defense. He admitted that he had tried to kiss Z, and that she had rebuffed his advances. He testified that he had followed Z into the bedroom and tried to kiss her a second time, but that this time she "flipped out" and punched him in the face. VRP (Nov. 28, 2000) at 123. Goins claimed that he grabbed Z to keep her from hitting him. Goins was charged with second degree assault with intent to commit indecent liberties. RCW 9A.36.021(1)(e). The court also submitted a special verdict to the jury to determine if Goins acted with sexual motivation. RCW 9.94A.835. After convicting Goins on the second degree assault charge, the jury was then allowed to consider the special verdict and answered that Goins did not act with sexual motivation. Defense counsel made no objection to the apparently inconsistent verdicts, and Goins was subsequently sentenced. The Court of Appeals affirmed in State v. Goins, 113 Wash.App. 723, 54 P.3d 723 (2002).


(1) Must Goins' conviction be vacated because the jury's general conviction for assault with intent to commit indecent liberties is apparently inconsistent with the jury's special verdict answer that Goins did not act with sexual motivation?

(2) Can former RCW 4.44.440, a civil procedure statute, be applied in criminal cases?


Goins assigned error to the apparently irreconcilably inconsistent nature of the general and special verdicts. Goins argues that the inconsistent verdicts violated his rights to due process and therefore his second degree assault conviction should be reversed. In the alternative, Goins argues that former RCW 4.44.440 can be applied in criminal cases, so that the finding of his special verdict should control, thereby dismissing his general conviction for second degree assault. The appellate court may refuse to review any claim of error that was not raised in the trial court. RAP 2.5(a); State v. Scott, 110 Wash.2d 682, 686, 757 P.2d 492 (1988). However, a claim may be raised for the first time on appeal if it amounts to a manifest error affecting a constitutional right. Id. at 687-88, 757 P.2d 492.

As an initial matter, Goins either committed the assault for the purposes of sexual gratification or he did not; the verdicts are irreconcilably inconsistent. Defense counsel did not raise the issue of inconsistent verdicts at trial. Goins, 113 Wash.App. at 725, 54 P.3d 723. This may have been a legitimate strategic decision, so as not to reopen the possibility of Goins' registration as a sex offender. Id. at 744, 54 P.3d 723. Still, this court can address a newly raised error if it is manifest and it affects a constitutional right. State v. McNeal, 145 Wash.2d 352, 357, 37 P.3d 280 (2002). But "an appellant does not establish manifest error merely by showing that jury verdicts appear to be inconsistent." Id. The defendant "has the burden to demonstrate that the alleged error actually affected his ... rights." Id. It is important to note that while truly inconsistent verdicts reveal that the jury somehow erred in applying the jury instructions, that error does not necessarily render the guilty verdict void, nor does it automatically establish prejudice. Id.; see also United States v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57, 65, 105 S.Ct. 471, 83 L.Ed.2d 461 (1984)


Juries return inconsistent verdicts for various reasons, including mistake, compromise, and lenity. Dunn v. United States, 284 U.S. 390, 393-94, 52 S.Ct. 189, 76 L.Ed. 356 (1932); Powell, 469 U.S. at 65,105 S.Ct. 471. Despite the inherent discomfort surrounding inconsistent verdicts, the United States Supreme Court, in the context of federal crimes, has recognized that a guilty verdict can stand, even where the defendant was inconsistently acquitted of a predicate crime. Powell, 469 U.S. at 68-69,105 S.Ct. 471; Dunn, 284 U.S. at 392-93,52 S.Ct. 189. The Powell Court reasoned that an inconsistent guilty verdict "should not necessarily be interpreted as a windfall to the Government at the defendant's expense." Powell, 469 U.S. at 65,105 S.Ct. 471. It is equally possible that the jury was convinced of the defendant's guilt on the compound offense, and then "through mistake, compromise, or lenity, arrived at an inconsistent [acquittal on the predicate offense.]" Id. (affirming Dunn, 284 U.S. 390,52 S.Ct. 189). Because one could not be sure which was the verdict that the jury "really meant," an acquittal on a predicate offense did not necessarily require the Court to vacate the conviction. Id. at 68, 105 S.Ct. 471. Even so, the trial and appellate courts provide a safeguard from jury error by independently evaluating whether the guilty verdict rested on sufficient evidence. Id. at 67, 105 S.Ct. 471.

This court adopted the Powell rule in State v. Ng, 110 Wash.2d 32, 46, 48, 750 P.2d 632 (1988). Ng was charged with 13 counts of felony murder for his role in a robbery and shoot out that left 13 people dead. Id. at 34-35, 750 P.2d 632. The jury convicted Ng of 13 counts of the lesser included offense of first degree robbery. Id. at 36, 750 P.2d 632. Ng argued that his robbery convictions were inconsistent with the felony murder acquittals because he did not dispute that the murders occurred. Id. at 45, 750 P.2d 632. Considering the important role of "jury lenity," and problems inherent in second-guessing the jury's reasoning, this court upheld the "`power of a jury to return a verdict of not guilty for impermissible reasons.'" Id. at 48, 750 P.2d 632 (quoting Powell, 469 U.S. at 63, 105 S.Ct. 471). So long as the jury's guilty verdict was supported by sufficient evidence, the court concluded that it would not reverse the guilty verdict simply because it was inconsistent with an acquittal on another count. Id.

Similarly, in 2002 this court upheld a guilty verdict even though it was inconsistent with a special finding that the jury returned on another charge. McNeal, 145 Wash.2d at 359, 37 P.3d 280. In McNeal, the jury convicted the defendant of vehicular assault, a conviction that "implied that [he] was operating his motor vehicle while `under the influence of drugs' at the time he committed the offense." Id. at 356, 37 P.3d 280 (quoting Clerk's Papers). However, in finding that McNeal was also guilty of the vehicular homicide of another victim, the jury made a special finding "that he was not `operating the motor vehicle []...

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