Division I: Evidently Collateral Estoppel Can Never Apply in Between Civil and Criminal Cases Because Cities are Totally Different than The State
So this case has to do with the interplay of state court findings in different proceedings. Here, you have a state court determination that evidence was obtained without a proper warrant in a civil forfeiture proceeding involving the city. Then you have a later attempt by the State on the criminal charges, involving the same evidence.
So where’s the issue here? Well, those of you in the know or that have some recollection of civil procedure know that for collateral estoppel to be applied, there has to be parity in the parties that its being used against. Here, you have the City in one Proceeding, and the State in another. The only difference is, the prosecution will happen at the County level, and the officers for the warrant were city of Bellingham. My guess is this is where the rubber is going to meet the road.
Now here, the State Superior Court sided with Longo and held that collateral estoppel applied, and that the invalid warrant in one proceeding could not be valid in another proceeding. This makes sense, because essentially you are talking about the actions of one department, regardless of who is prosecuting the case. That and cities are political subdivisions of the State.
So what do the cases say on privity? Well in Barlindal v. City of Bonny Lake, 84 Wn. App. 135, 925 P.2d 1289 (1996), they said there was privity between a city civil seizure and a county prosecution. Same with State v. Barnes, 85 Wn. App. 638, 932 P.2d 669 (1997). So why the departure here?
Here, however, there was no joint operation between the two entities. Only the City obtained and executed the search warrant. By statute and on these facts, the City, but not the State, was a seizing agency with the authority to commence forfeiture proceedings. See RCW 69.50.505(3). Therefore, the prosecutor was not entitled to be involved in—let alone have control over—the forfeiture proceeding. The only interest the State had in the forfeiture was its statutory recovery of ten percent of the net proceedsNo. 70523-7-1/5 from forfeited property. See RCW 69.50.505(9)(a). This is insufficient to constitute a mutuality of interests. The privity prong is not satisfied here.
That and Barnes, though there was privity, they denied the collateral estoppel based on a difference in the criminal code purpose and the civil purpose. However, that doesn’t make a lick of difference for the collateral estoppel doctrine.
See, in the civil justice system, if there’s not a preponderance of evidence that criminal conduct happened, the forfeiture goes away. Now, in Barnes, that’s what happened. So if you’re not even to the halfway point, how could you ever get to the reasonable doubt point? It makes no sense in application of the doctrine.
Perhaps its because I’m shy in caffeine, but I think this opinion by Division I is hooey! The warrant that is the basis of this was defended by the City Prosecutor, who adequately represented the County’s interest in the validity of the warrant. It seems a stretch to say that the County Prosecutor gets a second bite at this apple because there’s no privity, despite one being a subset of the other. I don’t like it.