State v. Ritchie

Decision Date05 December 2022
Docket Number82920-3-I
Citation520 P.3d 1105
Parties STATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Cornelius Red RITCHIE, Appellant.
CourtWashington Court of Appeals

Prosecuting Attorney Snohomish, Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney, 3000 Rockefeller Ave. M/s 504, Everett, WA, 98201, Amanda Fern Esq. Campbell, Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett, WA, 98201, for Respondent.

PUBLISHED OPINION

Dwyer, J.

¶1 Cornelius Ritchie appeals from the judgment entered on a jury's verdict finding him guilty of three counts of assault in the second degree, one count of felony harassment, and one count of assault in the fourth degree. Ritchie contends that the trial court committed an error of constitutional magnitude by excluding evidence that two testifying witnesses had been illegally occupying property when encountered by law enforcement four months after the incident leading to Ritchie's arrest. Ritchie further contends that the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument, that his persistent offender sentence is cruel and unusual, and that the trial court violated his right to a jury determination of his prior convictions. Finding no error, we affirm.

I

¶2 Ritchie resided in a trailer in the parking lot behind the Lochsloy store, located on Highway 92 between Lake Stevens and Granite Falls in Snohomish County. In the afternoon of December 18, 2019, Ritchie was involved in an altercation with Deborah Garibay, the owner of the trailer in which he resided. According to Garibay, while outside of the trailer, Ritchie hit her in the head once with a baseball bat, knocking her to the ground. Ritchie then tossed the baseball bat and struck Garibay several more times with his fists. Garibay attempted to run, but Ritchie pursued her, still attempting to hit her.

¶3 Amanda Duran and Cody Chapin were sitting in their car in the Lochsloy store parking lot. Duran and Chapin saw Ritchie pursuing Garibay and decided to intervene. Chapin got out of the car and confronted Ritchie. In response, Ritchie threatened to kill both Chapin and Duran. Duran remained in the car but shouted at Ritchie that she had mace that she would use if Ritchie did not stop his pursuit of Garibay. Ritchie responded that he did not care and would "eat" the mace. Duran then told Ritchie that if he was a man, he would walk away. Ritchie stopped at that point and walked back to the trailer.

¶4 Garibay got into the back seat of Chapin's vehicle. According to Duran and Chapin, Garibay asked Chapin to drive her to her truck, which was parked in another part of the lot. Chapin attempted to oblige. However, Ritchie reached the truck first, took the keys that Garibay had left inside the vehicle, and started the vehicle.

¶5 Chapin drove out of the parking lot and onto Highway 92, heading toward Granite Falls. Ritchie followed in Garibay's truck. According to Chapin, Duran, and Garibay, the vehicles were traveling well in excess of the 55 miles-per-hour speed limit. Ritchie used the truck to ram the back of Chapin's vehicle. Chapin asserted that this caused him to cross the center line and force a semi-truck off the road. However, Chapin claimed that his car was not seriously damaged during this chase. Law enforcement could neither confirm nor rule out that the vehicles had contacted one another because they were never able to inspect Chapin's vehicle.

¶6 Ritchie stopped following Chapin's vehicle after Chapin turned onto Crooked Mile Road. Once on Crooked Mile Road, Chapin pulled into the driveway of a friend's house. Chapin, Duran, and Garibay then got out of the vehicle and entered the house. Soon thereafter, Chapin's friend escorted Garibay to the nearby Granite Falls Fire Department in order to seek medical attention. Duran and Chapin later followed on foot.

¶7 Garibay arrived at the fire station at approximately 5:00 p.m. Fire department personnel contacted the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office; Deputies William Kleckley and Joseph Dunn responded. Upon arrival, Deputy Kleckley observed Garibay secured in an ambulance cot and appearing "very distraught." Deputy Kleckley spoke with Garibay briefly, before he and Deputy Dunn obtained a joint statement from Chapin and Duran. Garibay was taken to the hospital via ambulance; Deputy Kleckley followed in order to further speak with her. Deputy Dunn remained at the fire station while waiting for Duran and Chapin to complete their written statement.

¶8 Garibay was seen at the emergency room by forensic nurse examiner Sherri Weyker. Initially, Weyker asked Garibay to provide her with a narrative of the events that led to her hospital visit. Weyker recorded this information in her report before conducting a medical examination. Garibay reported that she felt some tenderness on her head and some pain on her left flank. Weyker observed some slight bumps on Garibay's head, but did not make note of or photograph them as they were not visibly a sign of injury. Weyker did not observe any bruises aside from a small unrelated bruise on Garibay's right breast. Deputy Kleckley obtained a written statement from Garibay at the hospital.

¶9 The State charged Ritchie with three counts of assault in the second degree based on the use of a deadly weapon for ramming Chapin's vehicle, one count of felony harassment for threatening to kill Chapin, and one count of assault in the fourth degree for his altercation with Garibay.1 Ritchie was originally tried in March 2021. The jury in that trial could not reach a verdict, and the trial court declared a deadlock and discharged them. Ritchie was tried a second time in May 2021.

¶10 At trial, defense counsel's theory of the case was that the events described by Garibay, Duran, and Chapin had never occurred. To support his theory, defense counsel sought to introduce testimony from Deputy Kleckley about an occasion in April 2020, four months after the events for which Ritchie was charged, when he witnessed Chapin, Duran, and Garibay together. On that occasion, Deputy Kleckley was dispatched to a property in Granite Falls to serve a trespass notice on two individuals – Chapin and Duran. When he arrived, Deputy Kleckley encountered Garibay, who told him that she was there to relay information from the prosecutor about upcoming court dates.

¶11 In ruling on the admissibility of defense counsel's proffered evidence, the trial court found that the encounter itself was relevant to the credibility of Garibay, Chapin, and Duran, who had previously reported that they were not acquainted before the events in December 2019. However, the trial court questioned the relevance of the reason for Deputy Kleckley's presence, i.e., that Deputy Kleckley was there to conduct an eviction of trespassers. Defense counsel asserted that the evidence was relevant, but admitted that he thought "the value [of the evidence] is marginal" and was "not crucial to the defense case." The trial court ruled that "any probative value" regarding Chapin's and Duran's unlawful occupation of the property was "grossly outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." The trial court did, however, permit defense counsel "to go into the fact that Ms. Garibay was contacted in the presence of these individuals."

¶12 During the second trial, Deputy Kleckley, Duran, Chapin, and Garibay all testified about the April 2020 encounter. Deputy Kleckley testified that when he encountered Garibay in April 2020, Garibay reported that she was there to tell Chapin and Duran to contact the prosecutor regarding upcoming court dates. In her own testimony, Garibay insisted that she did not say this and, to the contrary, had informed Deputy Kleckley that she was there to help Chapin and Duran move. Chapin and Duran similarly testified that Garibay was there to help them move and that they had asked for Garibay's help that morning.

¶13 The jury convicted Ritchie on all counts. Because he had previously been convicted of at least two most serious offenses, Ritchie was sentenced under the Persistent Offender Accountability Act of the Sentencing Reform Act of 19812 (POAA). Ritchie was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on the three counts of assault in the second degree, 60 months imprisonment on the count of harassment, and 364 days imprisonment on the count of assault in the fourth degree, to be served concurrently.

II

¶14 Ritchie asserts that the trial court erred by excluding evidence that Duran and Chapin were trespassing on the day that Deputy Kleckley saw them with Garibay. He contends that this purported error violated his right to confront the witnesses against him (phrased as the right to present a defense) and, thus, reversal is required. Because the fact that Duran and Chapin were trespassing in April 2020 had only the most minimal, tangential relevance to the charges against Ritchie, we disagree.

¶15 When a criminal defendant asserts that an evidentiary ruling has violated his constitutional right "to present a defense," we engage in a two-part analysis. First, we review the trial court's ruling for an abuse of discretion, applying the evidentiary rule or evidentiary statute at issue. State v. Arndt, 194 Wash.2d 784, 797, 453 P.3d 696 (2019). Second, we consider de novo whether there has been a violation of the defendant's Sixth Amendment rights. Arndt, 194 Wash.2d at 797, 453 P.3d 696.

A

¶16 For evidence to be admitted at trial, it must be relevant. ER 402. Evidence is relevant if it tends to prove or disprove the existence of a fact of consequence to the outcome of the case. State v. Weaville, 162 Wash. App. 801, 818, 256 P.3d 426 (2011). Relevant evidence "may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative...

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5 cases
  • State v. Bartch
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • October 30, 2023
    ...of the analysis should not be "merely a repetition of the analysis undertaken at step one," State v. Ritchie, 24 Wn.App. 2d 618, 629, 520 P.3d 1105(2022) (citing State Lizarraga, 191 Wn.App. 530, 553, 364, P.3d 810 (2015)), which is what effectively Bartch does. --------- ...
  • State v. Morris
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • January 22, 2024
    ...proffered evidence is not a violation of their constitutional right to present a defense. State v. Ritchie, 24 Wn.App. 2d 618, 635, 520 P.3d 1105 (2022), review denied, 1 Wn.3d 526 P.3d 851 (2023). Here, Morris contends that he was "forbidden from eliciting any corroborating testimony about......
  • State v. Alexander
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • January 30, 2023
    ...Amendment right than that possessed by citizens in other jurisdictions or persons charged with a different crime in the same jurisdiction." Id. When the rule being applied is a well-established, used rule that has often been applied without detriment to defendant's right to a fair trial, we......
  • State v. Alexander
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • April 3, 2023
    ...Amendment right than that possessed by citizens in other jurisdictions or persons charged with a different crime in the same jurisdiction." Id. When the rule being applied is a well-established, used rule that has often been applied without detriment to defendant's right to a fair trial, we......
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