State v. Teas

Decision Date20 August 2019
Docket NumberNo. 51098-7-II,51098-7-II
Citation447 P.3d 606
CourtWashington Court of Appeals
Parties STATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Jeremiah Allen TEAS, Appellant.

Sara Sofia Taboada, Washington Appellate Project, 1511 3rd Ave. Ste. 610, Seattle, WA, 98101-3647, for Appellant(s)

Rachael Rogers, Clark County Prosecuting Attorney's Offi., P.O. Box 5000, Vancouver, WA, 98666-5000, for Respondent(s)

PUBLISHED OPINION

Lee, J.

¶ 1 Jeremiah A. Teas appeals his conviction for first degree rape by forcible compulsion, arguing that (1) the prosecutor engaged in numerous instances of misconduct, (2) the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to give his requested consent instruction, and (3) his sentence under Washington's Persistent Offender Accountability Act (POAA) constitutes cruel punishment under article I, section 14 of the Washington Constitution. We disagree and affirm.

FACTS
A. THE RAPE AND INVESTIGATION

¶ 2 R.C.1 posted an advertisement offering massage services under the "Escorts" category of an online forum. 3 Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) (Sept. 12, 2017) at 287. Teas, who was 39 years old at the time, responded to the advertisement and arranged for R.C. to give him a massage at R.C.'s apartment. When Teas arrived at R.C.'s apartment, she led him into her bedroom and closed the door behind them. R.C. bent over to place her cellphone on the bedside table, at which point, Teas jumped on her back, held a pocketknife blade to her throat, and said he was going to rape her.

¶ 3 R.C. told Teas that she would "do whatever he wanted" if he put the blade away. 3 VRP (Sept. 12, 2017) at 297. Teas put the blade away and had sexual intercourse with R.C. for a couple of minutes. Teas had difficulty maintaining an erection, so R.C. suggested that she get lubricant to help. Teas agreed, and R.C. walked toward the bedroom door. Teas intercepted R.C. at the bedroom door and instructed her not to leave the bedroom. R.C. struggled with Teas at the door, pushed the door open, and ran screaming toward her roommate's bedroom. R.C. hid in her roommate's bedroom until R.C. looked out the window and saw Teas exiting the front of her apartment building. R.C. contacted law enforcement.

¶ 4 Teas left his knife and hat in R.C.'s bedroom. The knife handle later tested positive for both R.C.'s and Teas's deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) profiles. A sample swab of the hat also matched Teas's DNA profile. And samples taken from stains found on R.C.'s bedsheets matched Teas's DNA profile. The samples taken from R.C.'s bedsheets tested negative for the presence of blood. Law enforcement later detained Teas, and he claimed that he was nowhere near R.C.'s apartment but was only in the area visiting a friend.

B. RELEVANT PORTIONS OF TRIAL
1. Witness Testimony

¶ 5 The State charged Teas with one count of first degree rape by forcible compulsion. At trial, R.C., law enforcement, including Deputy Richard Osborne of the Clark County Sheriff's Office, and a forensic scientist with the Washington State crime laboratory testified to the facts discussed above.

¶ 6 R.C. testified that after Teas put his knife away, he asked her to kiss him and perform oral sex on him. R.C. said no to both requests. On cross-examination, R.C. admitted that she was not a licensed massage therapist.

¶ 7 The sexual assault examination nurse who examined R.C. testified that R.C. told her the same facts detailed above, except R.C. told her that Teas suggested the lubricant, not R.C.

¶ 8 Teas also testified and denied having sexual intercourse with R.C. According to Teas, he only expected to receive a "happy ending" massage from R.C. 5 VRP (Sept. 13, 2017) at 673. Teas stated that R.C. had asked him to take off his pants, and that he pulled them down to his mid-thigh. R.C. then "proceeded to take off her pants that she was wearing." 5 VRP (Sept. 13, 2017) at 657. Teas asked R.C. if she would kiss him or perform oral sex on him. R.C. said no to both requests. Teas "was trying—having some problems trying to become erect and she had said, ‘Well, we need to have a condom on because I am not on any birth control.’ " 5 VRP (Sept. 13, 2017) at 658. R.C. then gave Teas a condom that she had stored in the desk next to her bed. Teas still had difficulty maintaining an erection, and R.C. "proceeded to ask if she could get some lube, hence, ask for a penis pump to help [him] become erect because [he] was having trouble[ ] with it." 5 VRP (Sept. 13, 2017) at 658. At this point, he reached into his pocket to give R.C. money and accidentally displayed the knife he had kept in his pocket. R.C. ran away screaming at the sight of the knife, and Teas quickly left the apartment.

¶ 9 On cross-examination, Teas repeatedly denied that he expected to receive any service other than a massage from R.C. He also claimed that the two never had sexual intercourse because he was unable to maintain an erection.

2. Request for Consent Instruction

¶ 10 At the close of evidence, Teas proposed a jury instruction on consent. The trial court found that the evidence at trial did not support the instruction because Teas claimed that sexual intercourse never occurred, not that it was consensual and denied Teas's request to include a consent instruction.

3. Opening Statement and Closing Argument

¶ 11 During opening statement, the prosecutor stated, "The DNA from the blood stain on [R.C.]'s bed matched the defendant's DNA." 2 VRP (Sept. 11, 2017) at 196. In closing, the State argued that R.C.'s version of what happened between her and Teas had "been consistent from the very beginning" in what she told police, the sexual assault examination nurse, and defense counsel. 6 VRP (Sept. 14, 2017) at 724. And the State argued that the jury could conclude from this consistency that R.C. did not fabricate the details of what happened.

¶ 12 Later, in discussing Teas's knife, the prosecutor argued:

Now, it is not a gun. It's not a firearm. It's not a pistol, a revolver, because those are, per se, deadly weapons. Okay? But the manner in which this instrument, this implement was used, with either blade, and the proximity to a person's neck, constitutes a deadly weapon.
And we know that something like this has been used in the past. Okay? I'm not saying—what I'm about to say, and I will preface this by saying this is not a terrorist act. This is not even close to 9/11. Okay? But we all know what was reported about the people who meant to harm on—on those planes that crashed into the—the twin towers. What did they have? Box cutters.
This, ladies and gentleman, with this blade exposed, the manner in which it was used, is a deadly weapon.

6 VRP (Sept. 14, 2017) at 735-36.

¶ 13 The State also argued that all of the DNA evidenced placed Teas in R.C.'s bedroom. The State then argued that Teas's testimony "defie[d] logic" and "ma[de] no sense" because Teas told the police he was nowhere near R.C.'s apartment. 6 VRP (Sept. 14, 2017) at 733.

So that's another reason why, ladies and gentlemen, the defendant decided to testify. He saw the overwhelming evidence against him. Couldn't deny the DNA. Could not deny the DNA.
....
... Again, the estimated probability of selecting an unrelated individual at random in the U.S. population with a matching profile is 1 in 130 quintillion. These are things that the defendant cannot dispute, cannot rebut. And so that's why he got on the stand yesterday and came—came up with a story to try and explain away what happened. And he wrapped up some of the things that have been proved to be true. For example, his presence there, because he can't deny that he wasn't there because he was. But he had to explain why and how and then deny that he was able to engage in sexual intercourse.

6 VRP (Sept. 14, 2017) at 747-48.

¶ 14 Teas did not object to any portion of the State's closing argument. The jury found Teas guilty as charged.

C. SENTENCING

¶ 15 Teas had a prior conviction for first degree child molestation. The record shows that this crime was committed sometime between July 1994 and September 1996, when Teas was between the ages of 17 and 19. Based on his prior conviction of first degree child molestation, the court sentenced Teas to life in prison without the possibility of release under Washington's Persistent Offender Accountability Act (POAA).2

¶ 16 Teas appeals.

ANALYSIS
A. PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

¶ 17 Teas argues that his conviction must be reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. Teas asserts that the prosecutor committed misconduct by (1) directly commenting on Teas's exercise of his constitutional right to testify, (2) comparing Teas's knife to the weapon used in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, (3) referencing facts not in evidence, and (4) and vouching for R.C.'s credibility. We disagree that the prosecutor's conduct requires reversal.

1. Legal Principles

¶ 18 To prevail on a claim of prosecutorial misconduct, a defendant must show that the prosecutor's conduct was both improper and prejudicial. State v. Emery , 174 Wash.2d 741, 756, 278 P.3d 653 (2012). The effect of a prosecutor's conduct is viewed in " ‘the context of the total argument, the issues in the case, the evidence addressed in the argument, and the instructions given to the jury.’ " State v. Monday , 171 Wash.2d 667, 675, 257 P.3d 551 (2011) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting State v. McKenzie , 157 Wash.2d 44, 52, 134 P.3d 221 (2006) ).

¶ 19 We first determine whether the prosecutor's conduct was improper. Emery , 174 Wash.2d at 759, 278 P.3d 653. If the prosecutor's conduct was improper, then the question turns to whether the prosecutor's improper conducted resulted in prejudice. Id. at 760, 278 P.3d 653. Prejudice is established by showing a substantial likelihood that the prosecutor's misconduct affected the verdict. Id.

¶ 20 If the defendant fails to object to the prosecutor's remarks at trial, he or she "is deemed to have waived any error, unless the prosecutor's misconduct was so flagrant and ill intentioned that an...

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