State v. Williams, 63339-8

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Citation937 P.2d 1052,132 Wn.2d 248
Decision Date05 June 1997
Docket NumberNo. 63339-8,63339-8
PartiesThe STATE of Washington, Petitioner, v. Michele E. WILLIAMS, Respondent.

Page 248

132 Wn.2d 248
937 P.2d 1052
The STATE of Washington, Petitioner,
v.
Michele E. WILLIAMS, Respondent.
No. 63339-8.
Supreme Court of Washington,
En Banc.
Argued May 14, 1996.
Decided June 5, 1997.

[937 P.2d 1054]

Page 250

Jim Krider, Snohomish County Prosecutor, Edward Stemler, Deputy, Everett, for petitioner.

Nielsen & Acosta, Eric Nielsen, Eric Broman, Seattle, for respondent.

DURHAM, Chief Justice.

Michele Williams was convicted of welfare fraud (first degree theft) for failing to advise the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) of an increase in household income. On appeal, she argued that the doctrine of collateral estoppel barred her prosecution since a prior civil proceeding determined she acted unintentionally. The Court of Appeals agreed and dismissed the charge against her. State v. Williams, 78 Wash.App. 584, 898 P.2d 340 (1995). We reverse and hold that the doctrine of collateral estoppel does not prevent prosecution of Williams. We further hold that the trial court erred in refusing to submit a proposed jury instruction on duress.

FACTS

Page 251

In June 1985, Williams and her two children moved into the home of William Wellen. At the time, she was receiving public assistance in the form of monthly cash grants, food stamps, and medical benefits. Because Wellen wanted her to continue receiving these benefits, he directed Williams to refrain from giving DSHS any information about him. As a result, Williams never reported Wellen's income or their joint bank account. She waited two years to notify DSHS of his presence in the home.

Wellen worked as a merchant seaman and returned home about every two weeks when his ship was in port. He closely controlled the household finances, carefully reviewing the joint account upon each return. Wellen required Williams to record every purchase and became furious if she failed to do so. Wellen verbally and physically abused Williams throughout their relationship, and police responded to reports of domestic violence at least twice.

Williams finally left Wellen in March 1991. That same month, Wellen reported her to DSHS. In response, the State brought an administrative action against Williams to recoup public assistance overpayments. An administrative hearing was held on November 14, 1991, to determine whether Williams received an overissuance of food stamps and financial and medical assistance. Williams represented herself at the hearing and a fair hearing coordinator represented DSHS.

Williams did not dispute receiving an overissuance of $5,411 in food stamps and the State conceded that the overissuance was due to inadvertent household error. Where food stamp overissuance is the result of inadvertent household error, DSHS deducts 10 percent from the recipient's monthly allowance to recoup its losses. By contrast, an intentionally sought overissuance results in a 20 percent deduction. WAC 388-49-640(14). In the findings of fact, the administrative law judge (ALJ) stated:

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[Williams] has established by testimony and supporting documentary evidence that during the period of the overissuance claim, she and her children were subject to severe abuse from Mr. Wellen. As a result of this abuse, [she] was unable to manage her financial affairs, and did not disclose her income and resources to [937 P.2d 1055] DSHS as she ordinarily would to maintain her eligibility.

Clerk's Papers at 42. The ALJ concluded "the evidence shows ... that the overissuance was an inadvertent household error," and thus ordered repayment at the 10 percent level. Clerk's Papers at 42.

The ALJ next addressed the contention of DSHS that Williams improperly received $12,634.86 in financial assistance and $7,459.52 in medical assistance. Williams did not dispute this allegation, and a central question became whether Williams acted intentionally in receiving the overpayment. If she acted intentionally, DSHS would deduct 10 percent from her monthly benefits to recoup its losses; otherwise, it would deduct only 5 percent. Former WAC 388-44-145(3). The ALJ found Williams "was subject to severe abuse from Mr. Wellen during the period for which overpayment is alleged" and concluded that "[n]one of the overpayments alleged are intentional overpayments because they were not the result of willful or knowing intent on the part of [Williams]." Clerk's Papers at 47, 49. Thus, Williams was subject to only a 5 percent grant deduction.

Just over a year later, on January 24, 1992, the Snohomish County prosecutor charged Williams with welfare fraud (first degree theft), alleging she obtained more than $1,500 in public assistance by means of willfully false statements or willfully concealing information. In a motion to dismiss, Williams argued the doctrine of collateral estoppel barred her prosecution since the administrative hearing had determined her actions not willful. The trial court denied the motion, holding that public policy did not allow the administrative hearing to bar the criminal action. Report of Proceedings (Apr. 1, 1993) at 1.

Page 253

At trial it was undisputed that Williams received excess benefits. The only disputed issue was whether Williams acted willfully. Williams' sole defense was that she acted under duress. Williams testified that she believed she and her children would suffer severe abuse, or even death, if she disobeyed Wellen. A defense expert testified that Williams suffered from battered women's syndrome and that her failure to report Wellen's income was not volitional. She also testified that a batterer need not be present to exert control over his victim.

To convict Williams of theft under the court's instructions, the jury had to find that she willfully made false statements or willfully failed to reveal material facts. The defense proposed a jury instruction on duress. The court declined to give the instruction, declaring the threats to Williams not sufficiently immediate. The jury found Williams guilty of first degree theft and the trial court sentenced her within the standard range.

On appeal, Williams argued that the doctrine of collateral estoppel barred the State's prosecution. She also claimed the trial court erred in failing to give an instruction on duress. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and dismissed the charge against Williams, holding the doctrine of collateral estoppel barred the State's prosecution since a prior civil proceeding had determined Williams' actions not willful. Given this outcome, it did not have to address Williams' duress argument. We granted the State's petition for review.

COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL

The doctrine of collateral estoppel is embodied in the Fifth Amendment guaranty against double jeopardy. Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 445-446, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 1195, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970).

"Collateral estoppel" is an awkward phrase, but it stands for an extremely important principle in our adversary system of justice. It means simply that when an issue of ultimate

Page 254

fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit.

Ashe, 397 U.S. at 443, 90 S.Ct. at 1194. Under this doctrine, a civil proceeding may bar a criminal action if it resolved similar issues. Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298, 334-336, 77 S.Ct. 1064, 1085, 1 L.Ed.2d 1356 (1957), overruled on other grounds by Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1, 18, 98 S.Ct. 2141, 2151, 57 L.Ed.2d 1 (1978).

The party asserting collateral estoppel bears the burden of proof, McDaniels [937 P.2d 1056] v. Carlson, 108 Wash.2d 299, 303, 738 P.2d 254 (1987), and four requirements must be met:

(1) the issue decided in the prior adjudication must be identical with the one presented in the second; (2) the prior adjudication must have ended in a final judgment on the merits; (3) the party against whom the plea of collateral estoppel is asserted must have been a party or in privity with a party to the prior litigation; and (4) application of the doctrine must not work an injustice.

State v. Cleveland, 58 Wash.App. 634, 639, 794 P.2d 546 (1990) (quoting Beagles v. Seattle-First Nat'l Bank, 25 Wash.App. 925, 929, 610 P.2d 962 (1980)); accord Rains v. State, 100 Wash.2d 660, 665, 674 P.2d 165 (1983). Our courts have yet to apply the doctrine of collateral estoppel to bar a criminal prosecution.

In State v. Dupard, 93 Wash.2d 268, 609 P.2d 961 (1980), we held that the State was not collaterally estopped from prosecuting a defendant even after a parole board declared him "not guilty." Dupard was arrested for possession of controlled substances while on parole. At his parole revocation hearing, the board ruled he was "not guilty" of a parole violation, and at least one board member questioned whether there "was good enough evidence" against Dupard. Dupard, 93 Wash.2d at 270, 609 P.2d 961.

Following the parole board hearing, Dupard was prosecuted. In pretrial motions, Dupard argued the State was

Page 255

collaterally estopped from prosecuting him because of the "not guilty" finding at the parole revocation hearing. Dupard, 93 Wash.2d at 270-71, 609 P.2d 961. The State claimed the identity of the parties differed at the two proceedings: an assistant attorney general represented the State at the parole board hearing while a prosecutor represented the State at the criminal trial. Dupard flatly rejected finding a distinction between the assistant attorney general and the prosecutor since both represented the State. Dupard, 93 Wash.2d at 273, 609 P.2d 961.

Nonetheless, Dupard refused to bar the State's prosecution, citing public policy, specifically the different roles a parole board hearing and a criminal trial play. While a parole board hearing is to determine if a parole violation occurred, the "question to be answered [in a criminal prosecution] is whether the parolee in fact committed a new crime." Dupard, 93 Wash.2d at 276, 609 P.2d 961. We concluded that "this...

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160 practice notes
  • State v. Arbogast, 99452-8
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • March 31, 2022
    ...if there [was] evidence to support that theory.'" Fisher, 185 Wn.2d at 848-49 (second alteration in original) (quoting State v. Williams, 132 Wn.2d 248, 259-60, 937 P.2d 1052 (1997); State v. Janes, 121 Wn.2d 220, 237, 850 P.2d 495 (1993)). However, affirmative defense cases have at times u......
  • State v. Tili, 71681-1.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • January 9, 2003
    ...has been applied in several criminal cases, both by this court and the Court of Appeals. See State v. Williams, 132 Wash.2d 248, 254, 937 P.2d 1052 (1997); State v. Bryant, 146 Wash.2d 90, 98-99, 42 P.3d 1278 (2002); State v. Cleveland, 58 Wash.App. 634, 639, 794 P.2d 546 (1990); State v. V......
  • Nw. Wholesale, Inc. v. PAC Organic Fruit, LLC, 31491–0–III.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • September 4, 2014
    ...that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit. State v. Williams, 132 Wash.2d 248, 253–54, 937 P.2d 1052 (1997) ; Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 443, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 1195, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970). Collateral estoppel has four requirements: (1) the issue de......
  • Malloy v. State, S13A0188.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • July 11, 2013
    ...disciplinary proceedings, driver's license revocation proceedings, and welfare fraud proceedings); State v. Williams, 132 Wash.2d 248, 937 P.2d 1052 (1997). Noting that nearly every state which has considered this question with respect to driver's license suspension hearings has determined ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
158 cases
  • State v. Arbogast, 99452-8
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • March 31, 2022
    ...if there [was] evidence to support that theory.'" Fisher, 185 Wn.2d at 848-49 (second alteration in original) (quoting State v. Williams, 132 Wn.2d 248, 259-60, 937 P.2d 1052 (1997); State v. Janes, 121 Wn.2d 220, 237, 850 P.2d 495 (1993)). However, affirmative defense cases have at times u......
  • State v. Tili, 71681-1.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • January 9, 2003
    ...has been applied in several criminal cases, both by this court and the Court of Appeals. See State v. Williams, 132 Wash.2d 248, 254, 937 P.2d 1052 (1997); State v. Bryant, 146 Wash.2d 90, 98-99, 42 P.3d 1278 (2002); State v. Cleveland, 58 Wash.App. 634, 639, 794 P.2d 546 (1990); State v. V......
  • Nw. Wholesale, Inc. v. PAC Organic Fruit, LLC, 31491–0–III.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • September 4, 2014
    ...that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit. State v. Williams, 132 Wash.2d 248, 253–54, 937 P.2d 1052 (1997) ; Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 443, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 1195, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970). Collateral estoppel has four requirements: (1) the issue de......
  • Malloy v. State, S13A0188.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • July 11, 2013
    ...disciplinary proceedings, driver's license revocation proceedings, and welfare fraud proceedings); State v. Williams, 132 Wash.2d 248, 937 P.2d 1052 (1997). Noting that nearly every state which has considered this question with respect to driver's license suspension hearings has determined ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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