WA Legal Roundup: Division II
Ford appeals his convictions of third degree child rape and second degree child rape. Ford had two sexual encounters with a minor- once while the minor was 13 and the other while the minor was 14 (hence the different degrees).
After jury deliberation, the jurors returned their verdict forms. The trial judge began to read that the jury found the defendant guilty of third degree rape but paused after noting that the second verdict form for first degree rape was blank. The Judge sent the jurors back to deliberate and gave an oral instruction that they must reach a verdict. Ford failed to object to this oral instruction at trial but the appeals court allowed Ford to raise the appeal for the first time on appeal because a constitutional violation was alleged- prejudice. The trial court’s decision was reviewed on a abuse of discretion standard.
Ford argued that this abuse of discretion reveals a substantial likelihood that the trial irregularity affected the jury verdict. He argues that the court forced the jury to return a verdict on first degree child rape contrary to case law and CrR 6.15 when the judge instructed the jury to return to deliberations because the verdict form for first degree rape was blank and “it must be filled in.'” The appeals court held that it is “substantially likely that the court’s instruction affected the outcome of Ford’s trial.” The appeals court found this to violate Ford’s constitution right to a fair trial.
The court also reversed the lifetime no-contact order with the minor because they reversed count I (first degree child rape).
In regards to second degree rape, Ford argues that the cumulative affect of multiple trial court errors including ineffective assistance of counsel, the trial court’s error in allowing the State to amend the information, and that jurors stricken for comments relating to personal rape stories and their inability to be partial affected his right to an impartial jury trial. The appellate court did not find a cumulative effect of these nonreversible errors to have materially affected the outcome of the trial. Thus the appellate court affirmed Ford’s second degree child rape conviction and remanded for sentencing.