Superior Court County: King. Superior Court Cause No: 93-1-06967-3.SEA. Date filed in Superior Court: February 17, 1994. Superior Court Judge Signing: Judge John Darrah.
Written by: Hon. William W. Baker. Concurred by: Hon. C. Kenneth Grosse; Hon. Susan R. Agid
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baker
BAKER, C.J. -- Michael Byrd appeals a conviction for the delivery of cocaine, arguing that the court's failure to enter his findings and Conclusions after his suppression hearing is reversible error. Because the court has since filed its findings and Conclusions and Byrd alleges no further prejudice, we affirm the conviction. On cross appeal, the State challenges the trial court's dismissal of a school zone enhancement for failure to prove the legal boundaries of the school property, arguing that proof of ownership is not required to establish the location of school grounds under RCW 69.50.435. Although we disagree with the State's characterization of the trial court's rationale, we agree that proof of legal property boundaries is not necessary to establish the location of school grounds, and therefore reverse and remand for resentencing.
Police arrested Byrd for delivery of cocaine during a buy/bust operation. During his trial, the State attempted to prove that the crime occurred within 1,000 feet of school grounds, thus requiring a sentence enhancement under RCW 69.50.435(a). The State did not offer the type of map approved by RCW 69.50.435(e) to establish the location of the school grounds, instead relying upon two other maps and the testimony of an engineer and a school administrator.
The engineer transposed the boundaries of the school as displayed on a commercial (Kroll) map to an engineering map showing more accurate distance measurements. He also transposed the location of the drug transaction as it was marked on the Kroll map by the purchasing police officer. Comparing the two locations, the engineer testified that the transaction occurred 860 feet from school grounds, or within 900 feet when taking into account the highest margin of error. On cross examination, he testified that he had no personal knowledge of the location of the school grounds or whether their location as depicted on the Kroll map was accurate. He concluded that he could not verify their location without a legal description of the property.
A school administrator described the location of the school grounds as he knew them to be from performing his duties. The administrator's duties included controlling the movements of students and visitors to the campus. He stated that the school operated a closed campus, and that the perimeter of the areas used for student activities was fenced and marked with signs identifying them as school property. The administrator concluded that the boundaries portrayed on the Kroll map and transposed to the engineering map accurately corresponded to the physical boundaries he knew. He also stated on cross examination that although he knew the physical boundaries of the school grounds based on the use thereof, he had no knowledge of the legal property boundaries.
After the jury returned a verdict of guilty and found that the offense occurred within a school zone, the trial court granted a previous defense motion to dismiss the school zone allegation for insufficient evidence.
Byrd urges the reversal of his conviction for the trial court's failure to enter CrR 3.6 findings and Conclusions, arguing that the oral ruling is insufficient for effective appellate review. While we agree with Byrd that the failure of prosecutors and courts to enter timely findings and Conclusions has become a serious problem, we will not reverse a conviction on this basis where the delay causes no prejudice to the defendant. Even where the court fails to enter CrR 3.6 findings and Conclusions until after the appellant's opening brief is filed, we will reverse only if the appellant can establish that he or she was prejudiced by delay, or that the findings and Conclusions were tailored to meet the issues presented in the brief. *fn1 Because Byrd does not appeal the denial of the suppression motion, he cannot demonstrate prejudice. He submits no brief in reply, and does not allege tailoring. We therefore affirm his conviction.
In its cross appeal, the State argues that the court erred when it interpreted the school zone enhancement statute *fn2 to require proof of the ownership of school grounds. Actually, the court ruled that the State "failed to establish the right of the school to assert its jurisdiction or its control over a certain area and that the location of the ground or perimeter may be different from what is shown on the map." Accordingly, we focus on whether the State must prove legal "jurisdiction or control" over property, not whether it must prove that the school itself owned the property.
The trial court correctly noted that the record does not include proof of the legal right of the school to "assert its jurisdiction or its control" over the areas alleged to be school grounds. The evidence did establish, however, that the school authorized its students to regularly use the area described on the maps for school purposes. Accordingly, the issue is whether the State can define the boundaries of "school grounds" by school sanctioned student use of property for school activities or whether it must show legal entitlement to use the property for those purposes. The governing statutes, including RCW 69.50.435 and the definitions of "school" at RCW 28A.150.010-.020, do not explicitly define "school grounds."
While this court recently held that "school grounds" can include a school building with no appurtenant property, *fn3 we have not addressed whether a school must be able to legally exercise dominion and control over the area it occupies in order for the property to constitute its "grounds". *fn4 A plain reading of the school zone enhancement statute reveals that it need not. The statute describes the types of maps that will constitute prima facie evidence of the "location and boundaries of the area on or within one thousand feet of any property used for a ...