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State v. Agustin

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3

January 4, 2018

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
RAFAELITO AGUSTIN, Appellant.

          SIDDOWAY, J.

         Following a suppression decision by the juvenile court, the prosecutor decided there was insufficient admissible evidence to proceed with the prosecution of 16-year-old Rafaelito Agustin. She notified the defense and forwarded to the court an ex parte motion to dismiss the charges. But on the date set for the factfinding hearing, the court announced that it viewed the admissible evidence as sufficient to proceed to trial, directed the State to call its witnesses, and at the conclusion of the evidence found Mr. Agustin guilty of one of two charges.

         Addressing a question of first impression in Washington, we hold that the judicial branch's discretion to deny a government motion to dismiss criminal charges exists as a check on abuse of prosecutorial discretion, not to usurp or interfere with the good faith exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Nothing suggests that the State's decision to dismiss charges against Mr. Agustin was anything other than a good faith exercise of its charging authority. We reverse the disposition order and remand with directions to dismiss the charges against Mr. Agustin.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On a morning in June 2016, Othello police officers responded to a report of juveniles smoking marijuana in an alley and encountered 16-year-old Rafaelito Agustin and several others. An officer saw Mr. Agustin drop a soda can to the ground; the can appeared to have been fashioned into a smoking device and smelled of marijuana. The officer also noticed ashes near Mr. Agustin's feet. During a search of Mr. Agustin, officers found a dried green leafy substance in his front left shirt pocket that looked and smelled like marijuana. A can of malt liquor was found in the trash nearby.

         The arresting officer observed that Mr. Agustin's eyes were watery, bloodshot, and glassed over, and that he smelled of alcohol. A portable breath test administered to Mr. Agustin returned a blood alcohol level of .065. After being arrested, Mr. Agustin admitted to drinking malt liquor and smoking marijuana that morning. He was charged with minor in possession and/or consumption of alcohol and unlawful (underage) possession of marijuana.

         Mr. Agustin successfully moved to suppress much of the State's evidence against him. Following a CrR 3.5 hearing, the trial court suppressed evidence of the marijuana found in his shirt pocket, the results of the breathalyzer test, and Mr. Agustin's incriminating statements. It found that the soda can smoking device and malt liquor can had been abandoned, however, and ruled them admissible.

         On the morning set for the fact-finding hearing, lawyers for the parties did not expect the case to go forward because the State had decided, and reported to the defense, that it viewed the remaining evidence as insufficient to convict and would dismiss the charges. It had forwarded an ex parte motion to dismiss to the court.

         The juvenile court opened proceedings by asking to see the findings and conclusions prepared following the suppression hearing, and this exchange followed:

[PROSECUTOR] . . .: I presented [the findings and conclusions] to defense counsel. But based on my prior motion to dismiss that I submitted, defense counsel was under the impression that we were dismissing (inaudible) that I filed the motion. It's-it's the state's belief that there's insufficient evidence (inaudible) hearing to proceed with his respondent on this matter.
THE COURT: For the record I did receive ex parte a motion by the state to dismiss this case, which I did not sign.
The reason I did not sign is that I did not suppress the-the soda can which was fashioned into a smoking device with the burnt residue which smelled like marijuana. I figured there is enough information still in this case to prosecute the defendant.
I'm looking for the suppression findings and I'm ...

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