State v. Houston-Sconiers

Decision Date24 November 2015
Docket Number47085–3–II.,45414–9–II,Nos. 45374–6–II,s. 45374–6–II
Citation191 Wash.App. 436,365 P.3d 177
Parties STATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Zyion HOUSTON–SCONIERS, Appellant. State of Washington, Respondent, v. Treson Lee Roberts, Appellant. In re the Personal Restraint Petition of: Zyion Houston–Sconiers, Petitioner.
CourtWashington Court of Appeals

Stephanie C. Cunningham, Attorney at Law, Kathryn A. Russell Selk, Russell Selk Law Office, Seattle, WA, for Appellant.

Zyion Houston–Sconiers (Appearing Pro Se), Clallam Bay, WA, for Petitioner.

Brian Neal Wasankari, Pierce County Prosecuting Atty., Tacoma, WA, for Respondent.

PUBLISHED IN PART OPINION

MELNICK, J.

¶ 1 Zyion Houston–Sconiers and Treson Roberts were jointly prosecuted for a series of robberies and other crimes committed on Halloween when they were both under the age of 18. They appeal their convictions, arguing that the "automatic decline" statute, RCW 13.04.030, which mandated that they be tried as adults and not juveniles, is unconstitutional under recent federal Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. In the published portion of this opinion, we hold that RCW 13.04.030 does not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

¶ 2 In the unpublished portion of this opinion, we address Houston–Sconiers's and Roberts's additional arguments, including that (1) the trial court violated their right to confront witnesses against them by admitting an out-of-court statement made by a witness who did not testify at trial; (2) insufficient evidence supported their assault in the second degree convictions and all of their firearm sentence enhancements; (3) prosecutorial misconduct deprived them of a fair trial; and (4) the trial court erred by imposing discretionary legal financial obligations (LFOs) without considering their individual ability to pay.

¶ 3 Additionally, Houston–Sconiers asserts in a personal restraint petition (PRP) that the trial court erred by refusing to grant him an evidentiary hearing on his motion to suppress evidence, by depriving him of his right to be present at every critical stage of the trial, and by denying his proposed missing witness instruction. He also makes additional allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

¶ 4 We hold that admittance of the challenged out-of-court statement did not violate Houston–Sconiers's and Roberts's right to confront witnesses against them because the statement was nontestimonial; sufficient evidence supports their assault convictions and all of their firearm sentence enhancements; prosecutorial misconduct did not deprive them of a fair trial; and, the trial court did not err by imposing discretionary LFOs because it engaged in the required individualized inquiry about Houston–Sconiers's and Roberts's ability to pay. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court. We also deny Houston–Sconiers's PRP.

FACTS
RCW 13.04.030" AUTOMATIC DECLINE" STATUTE

¶ 5 Houston–Sconiers and Roberts were charged with and ultimately convicted of numerous crimes, including multiple robberies in the first degree. At the time they committed the crimes, Houston–Sconiers and Roberts were 17– and 16–years–old respectively; however, they were tried in adult court because of the nature of the offenses with which they were charged.See RCW 13.04.030(1)(e)(v)(C).1 Adult court had exclusive jurisdiction over them.

¶ 6 Houston–Sconiers was convicted of six counts of robbery in the first degree, one count of assault in the second degree, one count of conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm. The jury specially found that Houston–Sconiers was armed with a firearm during five of the six robberies, the assault, and the conspiracy. Roberts was convicted of four counts of robbery in the first degree, one count of assault in the second degree, and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree. The jury specially found that Roberts was armed with a firearm during those crimes.

¶ 7 The trial court followed the State's recommendation and sentenced Houston–Sconiers to an exceptional sentence of zero months' confinement for each count. It imposed the mandatory 372 months' confinement for the seven firearm sentence enhancements. The trial court also followed the State's recommendation with respect to Roberts. It sentenced him to an exceptional sentence of zero months' confinement for each count. It imposed the mandatory 312 months' confinement for the six firearm sentence enhancements.

ANALYSIS

¶ 8 Houston–Sconiers and Roberts argue that the automatic decline statute in combination with statutorily-mandated sentencing enhancements violate both the due process clause2 and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. They specifically argue that juveniles are treated like adults without an individualized inquiry into the nature of the offenses and the maturity of the juveniles.

¶ 9 Houston–Sconiers and Roberts acknowledge that our Supreme Court has previously upheld the automatic decline statute's constitutionality in In re Boot, 130 Wash.2d 553, 925 P.2d 964 (1996), but they argue that the reasoning on which the court relied has been rejected. They rely primarily on a series of United States Supreme Court cases that address how the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment applies to sentencing juveniles: Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 568, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 161 L.Ed.2d 1 (2005) ; Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 76, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010) ; Miller v. Alabama, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012).

¶ 10 In Roper, the Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits courts from imposing the death penalty for crimes committed while a juvenile. 543 U.S. at 568, 125 S.Ct. 1183. Then in Graham, the Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a court from imposing a sentence of life without parole on a juvenile offender for a crime that is not a homicide. 560 U.S. at 82, 130 S.Ct. 2011. Two years later, in Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2460, the Court held that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders also violates the Eighth Amendment. Miller requires courts to engage in "individualized consideration" of juvenile offenders facing life in prison without the possibility of parole. 132 S.Ct. at 2469–70. According to the Court, "[b]y making youth (and all that accompanies it) irrelevant to imposition of that harshest prison sentence, such a scheme poses too great a risk of disproportionate punishment." Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2469. The Supreme Court recognized three general differences between juveniles and adults. First, juveniles lack maturity and have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, which leads to "recklessness, impulsivity, and heedless risk-taking." Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2464. Second, juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure; they have limited control over their own environment and lack the ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings. Third, the character of a juvenile is not as well formed as that of an adult; a juvenile's actions are less likely to be evidence of irretrievable depravity. Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2464.

¶ 11 Houston–Sconiers and Roberts contend that these cases undermine Boot's Eighth Amendment analysis. In Boot, our Supreme Court held that the automatic decline statute did not violate the Eighth Amendment, or either procedural or substantive due process under the federal constitution. 130 Wash.2d at 568–72, 925 P.2d 964. Because the defendants had neither been tried nor sentenced, the court concluded it could not scrutinize the case under the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Boot, 130 Wash.2d at 569, 925 P.2d 964. The court proceeded to state that the only possible Eighth Amendment issue before it related to the claim that adult court jurisdiction in and of itself constitutes punishment. Boot, 130 Wash.2d at 569, 925 P.2d 964. Our Supreme Court noted that although the parties advanced no support for such an assertion, if they did, they would have to contend with the contrary holding of State v. Massey, 60 Wash.App. 131, 803 P.2d 340 (1990). Boot, 130 Wash.2d at 569, 925 P.2d 964. In Massey, we rejected an Eighth Amendment challenge to a life imprisonment without parole sentence for a 13 year old. 60 Wash.App. at 145–46, 803 P.2d 340. We reasoned that the test for whether a sentence is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment balances the crime committed and the sentence imposed but does not consider the defendant's age. Massey, 60 Wash.App. at 145, 803 P.2d 340.

¶ 12 Eighth Amendment jurisprudence has evolved since Boot and Massey. It is now clear that age may be considered in an Eighth Amendment challenge. Graham, 560 U.S. at 76, 130 S.Ct. 2011. Although we recognize the referenced portion of Massey is no longer good law, the remainder of the court's analysis in Boot is still valid. In other words, a successful Eighth Amendment challenge to the automatic decline statute still requires a defendant to show that this method of asserting adult court jurisdiction, in and of itself, is punishment; however, Houston–Sconiers and Roberts do not make this showing.

¶ 13 Boot also held that application of the automatic decline statute does not violate the substantive due process rights of defendants. 130 Wash.2d at 571–72, 925 P.2d 964. Houston–Sconiers and Roberts argue that Roper, Graham, and Miller undercut Boot's holding that the automatic decline statute does not violate substantive due process. Neither Roper, Graham, nor Miller considered due process arguments; therefore, they do not undermine Boot's holding on substantive due process.3

¶ 14 Houston–Sconiers and Roberts's entire argument is that Boot is undermined. Even if Boot's rationale is undermined to a degree that Boot no longer controls, Houston–Sconiers and Roberts would still need to demonstrate that their sentences...

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3 cases
  • State v. Houston-Sconiers
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • March 2, 2017
    ...either.¶4 As a result, Houston-Sconiers faced a sentencing range of 501-543 months (41.75-45.25 years) in prison. Clerk's Papers (Houston-Sconiers) (CPHS) at 227. Of that, 372 months (31 years) was attributable to the firearm sentence enhancements and would be served as " ‘flat time,’ " mea......
  • State v. Saloy
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • February 27, 2017
    ...is unconstitutional. Saloy relies on the reasoning in Miller v. Alabama and the dissent in Division Two's recent decision in State v. Houston-Sconiers, to argue the juvenile court must hold a hearing to consider the age and vulnerability of the juvenile before it can transfer the case to a ......
  • In re Wolf
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • October 25, 2016
    ...RCW 13.04.030(1)(e)(v)... does not violate the Eighth Amendment under the dictates of Roper, Graham, and Miller.” Houston–Sconiers , 191 Wash.App. 436, 446, 365 P.3d 177 (2015), review granted , 185 Wash.2d 1032, 377 P.3d 737 (2016). Wolf urges us to disregard this decision. However, we nee......

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