State v. Zillyette

Decision Date16 February 2012
Docket NumberNo. 86415–2.,86415–2.
Citation173 Wash.2d 784,270 P.3d 589
CourtWashington Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Brenda J. ZILLYETTE, Petitioner.


John A. Hays, Attorney at Law, Longview, WA, for Petitioner.

Gerald R. Fuller, Gordon Lyle Wright, Grays Harbor County Prosecutor's Office, Montesano, WA, for Respondent.


[173 Wash.2d 785] ¶ 1 The superior court found Brenda Zillyette guilty of controlled substance homicide. Zillyette challenged the sufficiency of the information for the first time on direct appeal. Because the Court of Appeals failed to first determine the adequacy of the information and went directly to an evaluation of prejudice, we grant Zillyette's petition for review in part and remand to the Court of Appeals to properly evaluate the information under State v. Kjorsvik, 117 Wash.2d 93, 812 P.2d 86 (1991).

¶ 2 In April 2009, Rick Green found his son, Austin Burrows, lying lifeless in his bedroom. He had died from an overdose of alprazolam, also known as Xanax, and methadone. From Burrows's cell phone, officers discovered that he had sent a picture to some friends the day before he died of a hand holding some blue oval pills, white rectangular pills, and a white prescription bottle cap. The last person Burrows had called was Zillyette.

¶ 3 Zillyette told a police detective that she had refilled her prescriptions for methadone and Xanax and met Burrows later in the day. She said that Burrows took a picture of the pills in his hand and that they ingested some of the pills that afternoon and more later that night before Burrows died. The State charged Zillyette with controlled substance homicide. She waived a jury trial, and the superior court found her guilty.

¶ 4 Zillyette appealed, arguing that her statement to the police detective was not admissible under the corpus delicti rule and that the information failed to allege all of the necessary elements of the crime. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, and Zillyette sought this court's review. We grant the petition for review on the issue of the adequacy of the information.

¶ 5 A charging document must include all of the essential elements of the crime so that the defendant may have notice of the nature of the charge. Kjorsvik, 117 Wash.2d at 97, 812 P.2d 86. But where, as here, an information is challenged for the first time on appeal, it is liberally construed in favor of validity. Id. at 105, 812 P.2d 86. Under this construction, the court first asks whether the necessary facts appear, or can be found by fair construction, in the information. If so, the court then inquires whether the defendant was nonetheless prejudiced by the unartful language used in the information. Id. at 105–06, 812 P.2d 86. When the necessary elements cannot be found or fairly implied, prejudice is presumed and reversal is necessary. State v. McCarty, 140 Wash.2d...

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13 cases
  • State v. Derri
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • June 23, 2022 found by a liberal construction of the charging document, "prejudice is presumed and reversal is necessary." State v. Zillyette , 173 Wash.2d 784, 786, 270 P.3d 589 (2012) (citing State v. McCarty , 140 Wash.2d 420, 425, 998 P.2d 296 (2000) ; Kjorsvik , 117 Wash.2d at 105-06, 812 P.2d 86......
  • State v. Witherspoon
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • October 16, 2012
    ...during the course of an offense. State v. Zillyette, 163 Wash.App. 124, 131 n. 5, 256 P.3d 1288 (2011), rev'd on other grounds,173 Wash.2d 784, 270 P.3d 589 (2012). And both Divisions One and Three of this court have explicitly refused to apply the corpus delicti rule to exclude statements ......
  • Anthis v. Copland
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • February 16, 2012
    ... ... John C. Dempsey, Margaret A. McCann, AFCSME, Washington, DC, for amicus counsel American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.Paul Anthony Neal, Attorney at Law, Olympia, WA, for amicus counsel Washington State Patrol Troopers Association ... ...
  • State v. Sullivan, 33142–3–III
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • October 13, 2016
    ...or she was actually prejudiced by the unartful language. Kjorsvik , 117 Wash.2d at 105–06, 812 P.2d 86 ; see also State v. Zillyette , 173 Wash.2d 784, 786, 270 P.3d 589 (2012) (clarifying the rule, but adding “nonetheless” to the second step). If the necessary elements are not found or fai......
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