WA Legal Roundup - WA State Supreme Court: Per curium defining substantial bodily harm; withdrawal of plea ok given misunderstanding of offender score
Two new opinions out of the court. One was a per curiam decision. What does that mean? The law in the thing is so basic, that the court doesn't really feel the need to have a "majority" author, because the court is speaking with one united voice. Here, in State v. McKague, the court used the opportunity to correct the court of appeals definition of substantially bodily harm:
The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions in a split decision. Judge Armstrong dissented on the issue of the sufficiency of the evidence of "substantial bodily harm." He specifically disagreed with the lead opinion's citation to a dictionarydefinition of the term "substantial" as including "something having substance or actual existence." State v. McKague, 159 Wn. App. 489, 520-21, 246 P.3d 558 (2011) (Armstrong, J., dissenting in part and concurring in part). Judge Armstrong opined that under this definition, any cognizable injury would necessarily be "substantial." He would have held that the term "substantial" requires the harm to be considerable and that the State's evidence was insufficient to meet that standard.
We agree with Judge Armstrong that the majority applied an erroneous definition of "substantial," but we nonetheless affirm McKague's conviction because the evidence was sufficient to show that Chang's injuries were "substantial" under a proper definition.
The court takes no side on whether it was appropriate to define substantial in a jury instruction, only that the definition by the court of appeals was wrong. So what is the proper definition?
We hold instead that the term "substantial," as used in RCW 9A.36.021(1)(a), signifies a degree of harm that is considerable and necessarily requires a showing greater than an injury merely having some existence. While we do not limit the meaning of "substantial" to any particular dictionary definition, we approve of the definition cited by the dissent below: "considerable in amount, value, or worth." Webster's, supra, at 2280.
The next case on the block is State v. Robinson. Robinson was given a plea deal after being explained the implications. He thought his juvenile offenses had washed out. Not true. So basically he hadn't made a knowing and voluntary waiver, and the trial court allowed him to withdraw the plea. The Supremes agreed, holding that it was not an abuse of discretion to do so.