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State v. Ray

November 27, 1996

THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
ERIC STEVEN RAY, PETITIONER.



Appeal from Superior Court, King County. 92-1-07238-2. Honorable Robinson, Judge.

Authored by James M. Dolliver. Concurring: Barbara Durham, Charles Z. Smith, Richard P. Guy, Charles W. Johnson, Barbara A. Madsen, Gerry L. Alexander, Richard B. Sanders, Philip A. Talmadge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dolliver

En Banc

DOLLIVER, J.--The trial court dismissed a molestation charge against Defendant when it found the State did not introduce sufficient evidence to establish the corpus delicti of the crime, independent of Defendant's confession. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and reinstated the charge. We find the corpus delicti was not established, so we reverse the Court of Appeals.

On August 25, 1992, at around 1:00 a.m., Defendant and his wife were asleep in their bedroom when their three-year-old daughter, L.R., came into the room and asked for a glass of water. The Defendant, who normally slept in the nude, got out of bed and left the room with L.R. to get her the water. Sometime thereafter, Defendant returned to the bedroom and awoke his wife. He was upset and crying. He had a Discussion with his wife, who immediately became upset and ran to L.R.'s bedroom to check on the child. The wife found L.R. asleep in her bed. Defendant's wife returned to their bedroom, and after further Discussion, Defendant placed an emergency call to his sexual deviancy therapist.

Based on Defendant's statements to his wife and his therapist, the police were contacted and an investigation began. Approximately two weeks after the incident, police interviewed Defendant, who confessed the alleged crime to the investigating officers. Defendant's confession to the police was consistent with the admissions he had made to his wife and his therapist. L.R. was also interviewed as part of the investigation. Two months after the incident, Defendant was charged with first degree child molestation. The trial Judge determined L.R. was incompetent to testify at trial. L.R. had made out-of-court statements to investigators during a poorly conducted interview, but those hearsay statements were inconclusive and unreliable, thus inadmissible. The only information regarding the alleged crime, other than that given in the previous paragraph, comes from Defendant's confessions.

In his confession to the police, Defendant said he gave L.R. a glass of water and took her back to her bedroom. After she crawled into bed, he took her hand and placed it on his penis. After a few seconds, his daughter pulled her hand away, saying something to the effect of "don't like to touch you." Clerk's Papers at 12. Defendant stopped and returned to his bedroom where he admitted the act to his wife.

Defendant stipulated to the facts in the police report and waived his right to trial, but he argued the State had failed to establish the corpus delicti independent of Defendant's confession and admissions. The trial Judge initially found the State had established the corpus delicti, and Defendant was found guilty on March 22, 1993.

Defendant filed a motion for reconsideration on the corpus delicti finding. After hearing additional oral argument, the trial Judge retracted the earlier decision and found an insufficient showing of the corpus delicti. Because the State failed to establish the corpus delicti of the crime independent of Defendant's confession, the trial court excluded the confession and found insufficient evidence to support the charge. The trial court dismissed the molestation charge against Defendant with prejudice. The State appealed the decision.

In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court and held the extremely slight facts supported a reasonable and logical deduction that touching for the purpose of sexual gratification occurred. The court ruled Defendant's confession could be considered, and it reinstated the molestation charge. State v. Ray, No. 33582-1-I (Wash. App. Nov. 6, 1995). This court granted Defendant's petition for review. State v. Ray, 129 Wash. 2d 1003, 913 P.2d 66 (1996).

Before considering whether the State established the corpus delicti of the alleged crime, we first address a separate issue raised by the State. Although the State defends the Court of Appeals' decision, the State urges this court to reject the traditional corpus delicti doctrine and adopt in its place the "trustworthiness" standard used by the federal courts. See, e.g., Opper v. United States, 348 U.S. 84, 93, 75 S. Ct. 158, 99 L. Ed. 101 (1954). The State claims the "trustworthiness" standard is more workable.

If this court abandoned the corpus delicti rule, it would have to overrule nearly 100 years of well-settled case law. See State v. Marselle, 43 Wash. 273, 276, 86 P. 586 (1906). This court has infrequently discussed under what conditions it should disregard the doctrine of stare decisis and overturn an established rule of law. An eloquent opinion on the matter was given by Justice Hale in State ex rel. State Fin. Comm. v. Martin, 62 Wash. 2d 645, 665-66, 384 P.2d 833 (1963):

Through stare decisis, the law has become a disciplined art--perhaps even a science--deriving balance, form and symmetry from this force which holds the components together. It makes for stability and permanence, and these, in turn, imply that a rule once declared is and shall be the law. Stare decisis likewise holds the courts of the land together, making them a system of Justice, giving them unity and purpose, so that the decisions of the courts of last resort are held to be binding on all others.

Without stare decisis, the law ceases to be a system; it becomes instead a formless mass of unrelated rules, policies, declarations and assertions--a kind of amorphous creed yielding to and wielded by them who administer it. Take away stare decisis, and what is left may have force, but it will not be law.

To be uniformly applied, and equally administered, the rules of law should be both just and adaptable to the society they govern. A

bad law uniformly administered is equally unjust and uniformly bad.

If a rule laid down by the courts proves in time to be a bad one, applying the bad rule evenly does not ...


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