Legal quirk lets Bothell man avoid jail
A Bothell man who in 2007 was found guilty of stalking, a misdemeanor, has appealed his case all the way to the state Court of Appeals and won. He says the jury that convicted him was illegal because it was made up of residents from two counties. The city of Bothell intends to appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Dual-county citiesin Washington stateBothell: Snohomish and King counties
Coulee Dam: Douglas and Okanogan counties
Auburn: King and Pierce counties
Pacific: King and Pierce counties
Milton: King and Pierce counties
Woodland: Clark and Cowlitz counties
In the late-1800s, who could've imagined a place like Bothell — a city that exists in two counties?
Probably not the drafters of Washington's Constitution, said Joe Beck, Bothell's city attorney.
Bothell — partly in King County and partly in Snohomish County — is one of six Washington cities that straddle county lines.
That quirk has allowed a Bothell man, who was found guilty of stalking a neighbor's friend, to avoid a 30-day jail sentence for nearly three years.
James K. Barnhart took his case all the way to the state Court of Appeals, and on Monday his conviction was reversed. The grounds? Jurors were from both King and Snohomish counties. But his alleged crime occurred in the latter, and Barnhart believes it is his constitutional right to have a jury made up exclusively of Snohomish County residents.
The state appeals court agreed. In its decision, the court ruled a defendant's jury must be composed of people who live in the county where the crime allegedly was committed.
Beck plans to appeal that decision to the Washington State Supreme Court and has 30 days from Monday to do so. After he files his appeal, the court will decide whether to hear the case.
For Barnhart, Beck's appeal could mean at least another year of freedom.
"If this were just a matter of Mr. Barnhart's case, we would probably just retry him," Beck said. "But it involves a greater issue that bears onto other cities in the state."
Barnhart was convicted of stalking, a misdemeanor, in Bothell Municipal Court on Nov. 7, 2007. He appealed to King County Superior Court because King County residents were on the jury.
The Superior Court held that his trial had been legal, citing a statute that says jurors may be selected "from the population of the area served by the court."
Barnhart challenged that decision in the appeals court, which found his trial to be unconstitutional.
Beck said Monday's ruling could negatively affect residents in dual-county cities. Selecting a jury could be more costly and require participation from more citizens because cities might have to call two jury pools or call twice as many jurors to fulfill the requirement.
Michelle Gehlsen, Bothell's municipal court judge, agreed that the ruling will likely be more expensive but said she is confident she can make the system cost-effective. She added that the court has been complying with the ruling for the last few weeks, having anticipated the appeals court's decision.
Beck believes justice was served when Barnhart was originally convicted.
Barnhart's municipal court jury of six was made up of Bothell residents, two from the King County side of the city, four from the Snohomish County side.
That technicality "did not in our mind deprive Mr. Barnhart of a fair trial," Beck said. "We believed and still believe that the jury was representative of the community."
Barnhart's attorney, Mark R. Stephens, said his client's original trial was unfair because it was unconstitutional. If the city had won the case, Stephens said, it "could've pulled any juror from the state and considered it constitutional."
Bothell used to be entirely in King County, but in 1992, under the Canyon Park Annexation, it included some of Snohomish County in its boundaries. Since then, jurors in Bothell Municipal Court have been from both counties. Barnhart's appeal was the first time that practice was challenged, Beck said.
Now, a third court, Washington's Supreme Court, may be called upon to decide Barnhart's future, as well as that of a half-dozen dual-county cities.
"With all due respect to the appeals court," Beck said, "we want to make sure that the law is being interpreted correctly."
Carly Flandro: 206-464-2108 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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