WA Supreme Court: Stipulation to Element of a Crime Needs Consent of Defendant
Here’s the important bits. Humphries was going to trial on some sort of thing. His attorney didn’t want all the bad stuff about a prior conviction coming in, so they entered a stipulation to it. The only problem? Humphries didn’t want to stipulate to it. The stipulation, by the way, was conviction of a serious offense and that Humphries had received notice he could not possess a firearm.
So in this case, after the fact, Humphries did end up signing the stipulation. The effect? Well, it doesn’t amount to much, because the Court erroneously told him it didn’t matter whether or not he signed the thing. The supreme court thinks that it really matters:
Instead of examining the validity of the stipulation, the Court of Appeals held that Humphries's subsequent decision to sign the stipulation waived his objection or, alternatively, abandoned his challenge to the stipulation on appeal. The Court of Appeals' reasoning is not sustainable.
Waiver of a constitutional right must be knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. State v. Thomas, 128 Wn.2d 553, 558, 910 P.2d 475 (1996). Here, the trial court and counsel erroneously told Humphries that his consent to the stipulation was not required. The stipulation was then read to the jury as part of the State's case. It was not until the State rested and the defense had presented its case that Humphries signed the stipulation. At that point, the damage was done, and nothing suggests that Humphries's signature was anything other than forced acquiescence to what had already occurred. Without something in the record suggesting that he voluntarily changed his mind, the signature cannot be considered a knowing, 'intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his constitutional rights.
The error was not harmless. While the State says it could have put on a good case, this isn’t in the record, and they didn’t put on the case.