Court of Appeals rules that man's criminal case return to Bothell court for retrial
July 1, 2010 · Updated 5:09 PM
"There was nothing overly remarkable about the case," said Bothell City Attorney Joe Beck.
Still, the criminal case of James K. Barnhart could end up in the Washington Supreme Court.
In 2007, Barnhart was convicted in Bothell Municipal Court of misdemeanor stalking and sentenced to 30 days in a King County jail.
During the course of the trial, Barnhart's lawyer objected to the presence on the jury of four persons from the Snohomish County portion of Bothell.
According to the Washington Constitution, juries must consist of persons who live in the county where the defendant's alleged crime took place, in this instance, King County. As most know, Bothell straddles King and Snohomish counties.
"The city court pulls from the city limits," Beck said regarding Bothell's jury pools. He admitted that officials previously paid no attention to what county a resident lived in.
In Barnhart's case, the jury consisted of six people, only two from the King County portion of Bothell. Beck said the presiding Bothell judge at the time overruled any objection regarding the make-up of the jury. He also stated Barnhart's lawyer did not exercise his right to preempt, or remove, certain persons from the jury pool.
Still, on the basis that the jury in his case violated the state constitution, Barnhart appealed the Bothell ruling to King County Superior Court. That court upheld the city's decision, but Barnhart pressed the issue to the next judicial level, the state Court of Appeals.
On June 28, the appeals court ruled in Barnhart's favor, remanding his conviction back to Bothell Municipal Court for a retrial. Instead of retrying Barnhart, Beck said he intends to file an appeal to the state Supreme Court, arguing the Court of Appeals decision has significant ramifications for both Bothell and several other multi-county cities in the state.
Beck has 30 days from the date of the appeals ruling to file a motion with the Supreme Court, but the court has the ultimate authority to decide whether or not it will hear the appeal. In the meantime, Barnhart remains a free man.
"He got off on a technicality," Beck said, though he quickly added the legal system operates on technicalities. "I admit that. In this instance, the spirit of the framers of the (state) constitution has been met... I think he was tried by a jury of his peers."
Barnhart's attorney could not be reached for comment.
Beck said to the best of his knowledge, no one has ever challenged a decision in Bothell or any other Washington city based on the residency of jury members. He added a belief the issue needs to be settled, one way or the other.
If the Court of Appeals decision ultimately stands, what does that mean for Bothell? To start with, the municipal court has had to redesign how it selects juries, paying a lot more attention to the county where prospective jurors live. While changing the system could ultimately make local jury selection more expensive and time consuming, there could be a second issue facing both Bothell and other cities affected by the Court of Appeals ruling.
For now, Beck said he does not believe the ruling endangers previous criminal or civil cases decided by juries whose members came from both King and Snohomish counties. For now, Beck does not believe the parities to those cases have been handed a grounds for appeal.
But he also added he has not yet fully researched that question.
"Let's say I hope not, but I can't say for sure," Beck said.