State v. Kitchen

Decision Date15 December 1986
Docket NumberNo. 7627-6-II,7627-6-II
Citation46 Wn.App. 232,730 P.2d 103
PartiesThe STATE of Washington, Respondent, v. James A. KITCHEN, Appellant.
CourtWashington Court of Appeals

Frederick G. Enslow, Griffin & Enslow, P.S., Tacoma, for appellant.

John S. Bumford, Deputy Pros. Atty., Olympia, for respondent.


James Kitchen appeals from his conviction of statutory rape in the second degree. Among other claims of error he argues that, although the jury was instructed on the necessity of a unanimous agreement on guilt or innocence, it was not instructed that it must unanimously agree on the specific criminal act, of several acts testified to, that was proved beyond a reasonable doubt. He claims that the lack of such an instruction, or an election by the State of the specific act to be considered, denied him his right to a unanimous verdict. We reverse.

Kitchen was charged with one count of statutory rape in the second degree alleged to have occurred during the year 1981. The victim, Jane Doe, 1 born August of 1969, testified to a number of incidents of sexual intercourse with Kitchen that occurred between the fall of 1980 and Christmas 1981. A nurse-practitioner testified, over defense objection, that she discovered in a 1983 physical examination that Jane's hymen was broken. The jury convicted Kitchen on the one count.

In his reply brief, Kitchen raises for the first time the issue of jury unanimity presented in State v. Petrich, 101 Wash.2d 566, 683 P.2d 173 (1984). Generally, issues raised for the first time in a reply brief will not be considered on appeal. Johnson v. Phoenix Assurance Co. of N.Y., 70 Wash.2d 726, 729, 425 P.2d 1 (1967); Automobile Club of Wash. v. Department of Revenue, 27 Wash.App. 781, 784 n. 2, 621 P.2d 760 (1980). However, manifest error affecting a constitutional right may be properly raised as late as a motion for reconsideration from a Court of Appeals decision. Conner v. Universal Utilities, 105 Wash.2d 168, 171, 712 P.2d 849 (1986).

Our Supreme Court, in ruling that an appellant may raise for the first time on appeal the issue of failure to instruct on the need for a unanimous verdict on the underlying crimes of rape and kidnapping supporting aggravated murder, said:

An appellate court will consider error raised for the first time on appeal when the giving or failure to give an instruction invades a fundamental constitutional right of the accused, such as the right to a jury trial.

(Citations omitted.) State v. Green, 94 Wash.2d 216, 231, 616 P.2d 628 (1980). See also State v. Russell, 101 Wash.2d 349, 354, 678 P.2d 332 (1984). In the case before us, we are not dealing with the need for unanimity in the verdict on an underlying crime to support the degree of the charged offense but with the verdict on the offense of which the defendant stands accused. Because the Petrich holding rests on the constitutional right to a jury trial, the issue is properly before this court. 2

In order to protect the right to a unanimous verdict, the jury must be instructed that all jurors must agree that the same criminal act has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt when the evidence indicates that several distinct criminal acts have been committed, but the defendant is charged with only one count of criminal conduct. State v. Petrich, 101 Wash.2d at 572, 683 P.2d 173. Alternatively, the State may elect the act upon which it will rely for conviction. The failure to elect or give a clarifying instruction generally has required a reversal and remand because the error was not harmless. See, e.g., State v. Fitzgerald, 39 Wash.App. 652, 656, 694 P.2d 1117 (1985); State v. Gitchel, 41 Wash.App. 820, 822-23, 706 P.2d 1091, review denied, 105 Wash.2d 1003 (1985); State v. Handyside, 42 Wash.App. 412, 416, 711 P.2d 379 (1985).

In this case, the State did not elect which act of criminal intercourse it was relying on, nor did the court give a clarifying instruction to assure jury unanimity as to any one of the several criminal events presented to them. The court's instruction on the general requirement of unanimity provides no assurance that the jury agreed on any particular act or acts. Cf. State v. Stephens, 93 Wash.2d 186, 190, 607 P.2d 304 (1980) (Instructions on general requirement of unanimity does not obviate the potential of a nonunanimous verdict when the jury is instructed in the disjunctive as to two possible victims in a single count of assault). Under the Petrich holding, the lack of an election or clarifying instruction amounts to constitutional error. The remaining question is whether the error was harmless.

A violation of a defendant's constitutional rights is presumed to be prejudicial. State v. Burri, 87 Wash.2d 175, 181, 550 P.2d 507 (1976). In a context similar to the one before us, our Supreme Court held that the lack of assurance of jury unanimity could be considered harmless only if the court is able to say that beyond all reasonable doubt the error was harmless. State v. Stephens, supra. The later case of State v. Petrich, without any reference to State v. Stephens, seemingly announced a new standard of harmless error in these kinds of cases in holding that "the error is harmless only if a rational trier of fact could have found each incident proved beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Petrich, 101 Wash.2d at 573, 683 P.2d 173. State v. Franco, 96 Wash.2d 816, 639 P.2d 1320 (1982), was cited as authority for this proposition. However, Franco was announcing a sufficiency of the evidence standard to support alternate means of committing the offense of drunk driving, not a constitutional error standard. The Petrich holding in this regard has been characterized as dictum. State v. Loehner, 42 Wash.App. 408, 411, 711 P.2d 377 (1985) (Scholfield, J., concurring.) In any event, Petrich held that lack of a unanimity instruction or election did not satisfy even the less rigid test of sufficiency of the evidence to measure harmlessness.

Even if the Petrich holding is not dictum and is meant to apply to a determination of harmlessness when unanimity of the jury is not assured as required by the Constitution, such a standard is inappropriate. The right to a jury trial guaranteed by the Federal Constitution is implicated here. The Sixth Amendment guarantee of a jury trial in criminal cases applies to state proceedings as an extension of the Fourteenth Amendment. Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 88 S.Ct. 1444, 20 L.Ed.2d 491 (1968). 3

When a state has failed to accord rights guaranteed by the Federal Constitution, a federal question is involved. In the event of a federal question, the harmlessness of a constitutional error is measured by the rule proclaimed by the United States Supreme Court and not by the states. Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967). The rule established by Chapman was the one followed in State v. Stephens, supra, and in numerous other cases by our Supreme Court and this Court. The Washington Supreme Court has chosen the overwhelming untainted evidence test over the contribution test as the measure of applying this constitutional harmless error standard where evidence was either admitted or excluded in violation of a constitutional right. State v. Guloy, 104 Wash.2d 412, 705 P.2d 1182 (1985). This methodology seems ill-suited to the task of determining whether denial of a right to a jury trial can be harmless.

Division I of this Court has adopted a test of harmlessness for cases involving several acts, each of which could have been found to constitute the commission of the charged offense. The test seems to be that the error is harmless if no rational trier of fact could have a reasonable doubt as to whether each incident established the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Fitzgerald, supra; State v. Gitchel, supra; State v. Loehner, supra; State v. Handyside, supra.

Such a rule implicitly requires the reviewing court to rule as a matter of law that the defendant is guilty of the charged offense in order to find the error harmless. In a jury trial the determination of guilt or innocence is solely within the province of the jury under proper instructions. In State v. Holmes, 68 Wash. 7, 122 Pac. 345 (1912), the court reversed the trial court's directed verdict of guilty even where there was no controversy on the stipulated facts. The court held that such a conviction was the act of the trial judge and not the verdict of the jury, so the accused was deprived of his right to a jury trial. Similarly, an instruction to the jury that it could find only two verdicts, guilty of first degree assault or guilty of second degree assault, was held to be a denial of a right to a jury trial because the jury was deprived of the right to acquit the defendant. State v. Christiansen, 161 Wash. 530, 297 Pac. 151 (1931).

In the cases considered by Division I, the trial courts were not ordered to direct verdicts. The effect is the same, however. In determining that no rational trier of fact could have had a reasonable doubt as to whether each incident satisfied the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the appellate court removes the jury's authority to make the final determination of guilt in the same way that a directed verdict does. We conclude that the usurption of the jury's authority implicit in this harmless error test is improper for the same reasons that a directed verdict is improper. We decline to adopt such a rule of harmless error.

In light of the holding in Chapman v. California, supra, we are obliged to apply the rule of harmless error announced in State v. Stephens, supra, to these types of cases. A harmless error is an error which is trivial, formal, or merely academic, was not prejudicial to the substantial rights of the defendant, and in no way affected the final outcome of the case. Moreover, an error of constitutional proportions will not be held harmless unless we are able to declare a...

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