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State v. Howland

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

March 24, 2014

The State of Washington, Respondent,
v.
Donna L. Howland, Appellant

Reconsideration denied June 16, 2014.

Superior Court County: King. Superior Court Cause No: 88-1-05554-4 SEA. Date filed in Superior Court: April 10, 2012. Superior Court Judge Signing: Regina S. Cahan.

Maureen M. Cyr (of Washington Appellate Project ), for appellant.

Daniel T. Satterberg, Prosecuting Attorney, and Alison M. Bogar, Deputy, for respondent.

AUTHOR: Spearman, A.C.J. WE CONCUR: Dwyer, J., Schindler, J.

OPINION

Page 304

Spearman, A.C.J.

[180 Wn.App. 198] ¶ 1 More than two decades after Donna Howland was found not guilty of first-degree murder by reason of insanity and confined to Western State Hospital (WSH), she petitioned for conditional release under RCW 10.77.150. The trial court dismissed the petition without a hearing, concluding it was frivolous because it was unsupported by expert testimony. Howland appeals, contending the trial court erred by requiring her to provide expert testimony in support of her petition. We conclude that the trial court's order is not appealable as of right under RAP 2.2 and that discretionary review under RAP 2.3 is not warranted. Accordingly, we dismiss Howland's appeal.

FACTS

¶ 2 In 1988 Donna Howland was charged with first-degree murder in the death of her boyfriend. At that time, Howland had a three-year history of repeated hospitalization for suicidal gestures and psychotic ideation. Prior to trial, she was diagnosed with chronic paranoid schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. Howland pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was acquitted of the murder charge. The trial court found that Howland presented [180 Wn.App. 199] a substantial danger to the public and a substantial likelihood of committing felonious acts if not confined to a state mental hospital. It ordered Howland committed to WSH.

¶ 3 After nearly two decades of treatment, during which Howland made significant progress, WSH recommended that she be conditionally released. In May 2005, Howland was transferred to a group home in West Seattle. After struggling with delusions, depression, and diabetes, she returned voluntarily to WSH for stabilization from June to July 2009. In February 2010, after refusing to take her medication and becoming increasingly agitated, Howland was involuntarily readmitted to WSH. The court revoked her conditional release on May 28, 2010, and she has since remained at WSH.

¶ 4 On February 7, 2012, Howland filed a one page petition requesting a hearing on the issue of her conditional release but included no supporting declarations.[1] The State moved to dismiss the petition as frivolous because Howland could not " present any evidence whatsoever that supports a conditional release at this time." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 65.

Page 305

¶ 5 In support of its motion, the State submitted a letter, dated October 12, 2011, in which Howland's primary therapist and attending psychologist opposed her conditional release. The State also presented a letter from the WSH Risk Review Board (RRB) dated March 15, 2012, which noted ongoing symptoms of mental illness, including paranoia, fixed delusions, and an unwillingness to fully engage in recommended treatment. This letter also expressed the RRB's determination that " Howland is considered a substantial danger to other persons, and she DOES present a substantial likelihood of committing criminal acts jeopardizing public safety or security, unless kept under further control by the court or other persons or institutions." CP at [180 Wn.App. 200] 83. The only witness Howland intended to call at an evidentiary hearing was her then current primary therapist, Clyde Travis, a member of the RRB and signer of the March 15, 2012 letter.

¶ 6 The trial court observed that:

The Risk Review Board found that given her fixed delusions, her acute psychotic symptoms and trouble managing emotional liability, Ms. Howland is a substantial danger to other persons and presents a substantial likelihood of committing criminal acts jeopardizing public safety or security. There has been no declaration provided by defense to the contrary ... .

CP at 108. It then concluded that " [w]ithout expert testimony to support defendant's position, the court has no basis to conditionally release the defendant. Without any such evidence, her petition ...


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