State v. Williams

Decision Date10 January 2011
Docket NumberNo. 63213-2-I.,63213-2-I.
Citation159 Wash.App. 298,244 P.3d 1018
CourtWashington Court of Appeals
PartiesSTATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Taliferro B. WILLIAMS, Appellant.

Vanessa Mi-jo Lee, Washington Appellate Project, Seattle, WA, Taliferro B. Williams, Monroe, WA, for Appellant.

Brian Martin McDonald, King County Prosecuting Attorney, Seattle, WA, for Respondent.

DWYER, C.J.

¶ 1 Where the jury finds that a defendant committed a crime under aggravating circumstances, thisfactual finding authorizesthe trial court to exercise its discretion in imposing any sentence between the statutorily-authorized minimum sentence and the statutorily-authorized maximum sentence. Here, the jury made such a determination. Thus, Taliferro Williams's constitutional rights were not violated by the imposition of an exceptional sentence that did not exceed the statutory maximum. Moreover, Williams's additional claims of error are unavailing. Accordingly, we affirm.

I

¶ 2 On September 13, 2008, around 9:00 a.m., Taliferro Williams was released from the King County jail. He had been incarcerated as a result of an earlier conviction for assault in the third degree. Later that same night, two Seattle Police officers, James Shearer and Kerry Zieger, were on duty as uniformed mountain bike officers. They observed Williams walking along a street in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle, following two people, and yelling out threatening statements and obscenities. The officers were across the street from where Williams was yelling. Williams made comments to the effect of, "hey asshole, I can kick your ass, fuck you" and "yeah, I can kick your ass." 2 Report of Proceedings (RP) (Jan. 14, 2009) at 17.

¶ 3 The police officers, on their bicycles, approached Williams from behind. Officer Zieger perceived that Williams was carrying a small bottle of liquor. Officer Zieger grabbed Williams's left wrist, in order to make Williams release the bottle. Almost simultaneously, Officer Shearer grabbed Williams's upper right arm. Williams's arm moved downward and he cut Officer Shearer with a hemostat.1 Williams had been holding the hemostat in his right fist, with the point aimed downwards. Williams jabbed at Officer Shearer several times. Ultimately, Officer Shearersuffered three cuts to his right leg, just above the knee. After arresting Williams, Officer Shearer was treated at Swedish Medical Center.

¶ 4 The State charged Williams with assault in the third degree, alleging that he had intentionally assaulted a law enforcement officer who was performing official duties at the time of the assault. The State subsequently amended the information to allege the aggravating circumstance that Williams had committed the assault "shortly after being released from incarceration." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 8. Williams's trial was bifurcated in order to prevent the jury from hearing evidence related to the aggravating factor unless it first determined that Williams had committed the assault.

¶ 5 During the first phase of trial, Officer Shearer testified that Williams looked back as the officers were approaching him. Officer Shearer also testified that as he was getting off of his bike and was moving toward Williams, Officer Zieger yelled, "Seattle Police." 2 RP (Jan. 14, 2009) at 20. Officer Shearer then explained that Williams "was trying to conceal the hemostat in his hand." 2 RP (Jan. 14, 2009) at 22. He also testified, "I felt I was deliberately being struck by him. I think he was deliberat[ely] trying to injure me when it occurred." 2 RP (Jan. 14, 2009) at 24. Officer Zieger testified that, right before he contacted Williams, Williams looked back, to the left, and to the right with a quick glance over his shoulder. Officer Zieger also explained that after Williams had been placed under arrest, Williams stated, "You fucking punks. Take these handcuffs off and I will kick your ass." RP (Jan. 15, 2009) at 44.

¶ 6 At the conclusion of the evidence, the jury was instructed. The jury instructions included an instruction that "[a] defendant is presumed innocent. This presumption continues throughout the entire trial unless during your deliberations you find it has been overcome by the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt." CP at 16. The jury found Williams guilty of assault in the third degree.

¶ 7 During the second phase of the bifurcated trial, a King County jail captain testified that Williams had been released at 8:58 a.m. on September 13, 2008, and hadthen been booked back into the jail later that same night. The defense did not present any evidence. The trial court read to the jury two supplemental instructions and provided the jury with copies of the supplemental instructions and all of the original instructions. The jury was given a special verdict form that asked: "Did the defendant commit the crime of assault third degree shortly after being released from incarceration?" CP at 26. The jury answered affirmatively on the special verdict form.

¶ 8 Before the jury returned with a verdict on the aggravating charge, the trial court and the parties were informed that on the morning that the second phase of the trial began, people had approached the jurors outside of the courtroom and had made comments to the jurors. The comments were, "I am really mad," and, "You put my son in jail." RP (Jan. 16, 2009) at 16. Williams moved for a mistrial as to the aggravating charge. The trial court denied the motion. After the jury rendered its verdict, the trial judge asked the jury if the earlier spectator comments had "affect[ed] any juror's ability to be fair and impartial." RP (Jan. 16, 2009) at 22-23. No juror answered affirmatively.

¶ 9 Based on Williams's offender score of 3, the standard sentencing range applicable to his assault in the third degree conviction was 9 to 12 months in jail. The statutory maximum for a conviction of assault in the third degree is 5 years of incarceration. The trial court imposed an exceptional sentence of 36 months in custody. The trial court entered written findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of the exceptional sentence.

¶ 10 Williams appeals.

II

¶ 11 Williams first contends that there is insufficient evidence to support his conviction of assault in the third degree. We disagree.

¶ 12 We review an allegation of insufficient evidence in the light most favorable to the State to determine whether "any rational trier of fact could have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Salinas, 119 Wash.2d 192, 201, 829 P.2d 1068 (1992) (citing State v. Green, 94 Wash.2d 216, 220-22, 616 P.2d 628 (1980)). "When the sufficiency of the evidence is challenged in a criminal case, all reasonable inferences from the evidence must be drawn in favor of the State and interpreted most strongly against the defendant." Salinas, 119 Wash.2d at 201, 829 P.2d 1068. "A claim of insufficiency admits the truth of the State's evidence and all inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom." Salinas, 119 Wash.2d at 201, 829 P.2d 1068. We consider circumstantial evidence to be as reliable as direct evidence. State v. Myers, 133 Wash.2d 26, 38, 941 P.2d 1102 (1997). Credibility determinations are for the trier of fact and cannot be reviewed on appeal. State v. Camarillo, 115 Wash.2d 60, 71, 794 P.2d 850 (1990).

¶ 13 RCW 9A.36.031(1)(g) provides, in relevant part, that

[a] person is guilty of assault in the third degree if he or she, under circumstances not amounting to assault in the first or second degree:
....
(g) Assaults a law enforcement officer or other employee of a law enforcement agency who was performing his or her official duties at the time of the assault.

In order to commit assault, a person must have specific intent to cause bodily harm or to create an apprehension of bodily harm. State v. Byrd, 125 Wash.2d 707, 713, 887 P.2d 396 (1995).

¶ 14 Here, both officers testified that Williams looked toward them as the officers approached him from behind. There was evidence that Williams was holding the hemostat in his fist, with the point aimed downward. In addition, Williams repeatedly stabbed Officer Shearer's leg, causing the officer to sustain three wounds. Furthermore, testimonyrevealed that Williams attempted to conceal the weapon after hurting Officer Shearer and that Williams was aggressive even after being arrested. A jury could reasonably infer from this evidence that Williams was aware that two men were approaching him, that he was holding the hemostat as a weapon, and that the stabbingswere intentional. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, sufficient evidence was admitted from which a rational trier of fact could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams intentionally stabbed Officer Shearer, a law enforcement officer, while Officer Shearer was performing his official duties. Sufficient evidence was presented to support the jury's verdict finding Williams guilty of assault in the third degree.2

III

¶ 15 Williams next contends that the jury instructions on the aggravating factor were constitutionally inadequate because they did not articulate particular considerations that Williams believes are elements of the aggravator. We disagree.

¶ 16 In 2005, our legislature amended the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981, chapter 9.94A RCW, to include numerous aggravating factors that, if found, allow the trial court to impose an exceptional sentence. RCW 9.94A.535. Most of these circumstances must be found by a jury. RCW 9.94A.535(3); RCW 9.94A.537(3) ("The facts supporting aggravating circumstances shall be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury's verdict on the aggravatingfactor must be unanimous, and by special interrogatory."). Each of the aggravating factors that must be found by the jury is based on something more than just the fact of prior conviction, which can be found by the trial court without a violation of a defendant's Sixth Amendment rights. Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 301, 124...

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