Facts: Petitioner John Coleman was convicted of two counts of child molestation arising from his alleged molestation of two children over a period of three years. Coleman subsequently appealed his convictions, asserting that the trial court erred in failing to include a unanimity instruction in its instructions to the jury. The Washington Court of Appeals reversed one of Coleman’s convictions but affirmed the other, holding that as the state of Washington had not emphasized specific incidents of molestation involving one of the alleged victims, a unanimous verdict on a specific criminal act was not required to convict Coleman of molesting her. Coleman appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Washington.
Question(s): Did the trial court err in failing to instruct the jury that it needed to reach a unanimous verdict on a specific criminal act in order to convict Coleman?
If so, was the error harmless?
Conclusion: Justice Charles W. Johnson’s opinion for the Court reversed the Washington Court of Appeals, concluding that as the state introduced evidence of multiple distinguishable incidents of molestation, the trial court was required to instruct that jury that it needed to reach a unanimous verdict on a specific criminal act in order to convict Coleman to avoid the risk of jurors improperly aggregating evidence. The Court also held that this error was not harmless and therefore vacated Coleman’s conviction and remanded the case to the trial court.
Petitioner: John Coleman
(Counsel: Oliver R. Davis)
Respondent: State of Washington
(Counsel: Brian M. McDonald)
Argument: Tuesday, October 17, 2006 10:00am
[Source: TVW, http://tvw.org]
Audio: Washington Supreme Court
Decided: Thursday, January 25th, 2007
Prevailing Party: John Coleman (Petitioner)
Court: Alexander3 Court (2005-2007)
Note: We post only slip opinion(s) as published at the time of the decision. Please consult Washington Reports printed volumes for the opinion(s) in their final form.