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Washington v. Thompson

as amended.: March 13, 1991.

THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
JAMES L. THOMPSON, JR., APPELLANT



Reed, J.*fn* Worswick, C.j., and Alexander, J., concur.

Author: Reed

James Thompson appeals his conviction for aggravated murder in the first degree, contending that (1) he was denied his right to counsel; (2) the trial court erred in (a) rejecting his guilty plea to felony murder, (b) denying his motion for a change of venue, and (c) instructing the jury not to deliberate on the felony murder charges unless it first found him not guilty of aggravated first degree murder.

On the evening of January 21, 1988, the bodies of Frank and Elenore Shye were discovered in their home. Frank Shye had been shot once through the right shoulder and upper arm and once across the back of his head. Elenore had been shot once in the head.

The defendant was charged with two counts of aggravated murder in the first degree (counts 1 and 3) and two counts of felony murder (counts 2 and 4). At arraignment, he entered a plea of not guilty to each count. Later, the State filed a notice of special sentencing proceeding and amended the felony murder informations to include accomplice language.

When defendant was arraigned on the amended informations, he offered to plead guilty to the two felony murder counts, seeking the trial court's assurance that he could thus escape a sentence of death on the aggravated first degree murder counts.

In response the State argued that he could not plead guilty because the notice of special sentencing already had been filed on the aggravated first degree murder charges and that the jury must be permitted to deliberate on that matter. The court ruled that the decision to charge both crimes was within the prosecutor's discretion, and refused

to accept guilty pleas to the felony murder charges unless the prosecutor was willing to dismiss the other charges. The prosecutor declined, and the court entered pleas of not guilty to those counts; Thompson pleaded not guilty to the aggravated first degree murder counts. A trial date was set.

Prior to trial and again following jury selection, defendant's motions for a change of venue were denied. At the conclusion of testimony, the court instructed the jury to deliberate on the felony murder counts only if they first found defendant not guilty of premeditated first degree murder. The jury returned verdicts of guilty on both counts of aggravated first degree murder. Appeal followed.

[1] Defendant contends that he had the unconditional right to plead guilty to whichever counts he chose and that the trial court had no authority to refuse the tendered pleas. Although a defendant does not have a constitutional right to plead guilty, the right has been conferred by court rule in this state. CrR 4.2(a). State v. Martin, 94 Wash. 2d 1, 4, 614 P.2d 164 (1980). For the reasons hereafter set forth, the rule of Martin does not apply in this case.

In State v. James, 108 Wash. 2d 483, 739 P.2d 699 (1987), James pleaded not guilty to second degree murder, after which the State sought to amend the information to charge first degree murder. James objected to the motion, attempted to withdraw his prior plea and offered a guilty plea to the original charge. The court granted the motion to amend, ruling that the amendment would not prejudice any substantial right, and refused to accept the guilty plea to second degree murder.

[2] The James court held that, once the defendant enters a legally sufficient not guilty plea at arraignment, the unconditional right to plead guilty recognized in Martin does not apply. Following the reasoning in James, we hold that because Thompson entered a legally sufficient not guilty plea at his original arraignment, Martin does not ...


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