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Washington State Supreme Court upholds conviction of Jennifer Leigh Rice

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on June 28, 2012 at 8:31 am |
June 28, 2012 10:28 am

A unanimous state Supreme Court rejected an appeal by former school teacher Jennifer Leigh Rice and upheld her conviction for child molestation and kidnapping.

Rice, a fourth grade teacher in Tacoma, had argued that the so-called special allegations against her – that she was predatory in her molestation and later kidnapping with sexual motivations a 10-year-old student and deserved a longer sentence – was a violation of the separation of powers. That’s because the legislature was mandating that prosecutors charge those crimes with special allegations, removing the discretion allowed the executive branch.

Jennifer Rice

The court reject the argument. Writing for the majority, Justice Steven Gonzalez said the legislation is actually discretionary because there are no consequences for prosecutors who refuse to charge as the law states.

“We find that the challenged statutes are directory rather than mandatory. Although the statutes authorize special allegations and direct prosecuting attorneys to file them, the statutes do not attach any legal consequences to a prosecutor’s noncompliance, and the legislature elsewhere in the same chapter has acknowledged that prosecuting attorneys retain broad charging discretion notwithstanding statutory language directing them to file particular charges,” Gonzalez wrote.

The court adds that had the charging decisions been mandatory, they would be unconstitutional.

” The charging discretion of prosecuting attorneys is an integral part of the constitutional checks and balances that make up our criminal justice system.”

Rice’s crimes occurred between Dec. 1, 2006 and Feb. 28, 2007. During that time she had sexual contact with one of her 10-year-old students and later abducted the same student from his home and drove him to a rest stop and molested him.

Also, on two separate occasions, Rice had sex with a 15-year-old boy.

She was sentenced on July 24, 2009 to a term of 25 years to life.

Here is link to the decision.

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