Washington v. Johnson (Majority)Annotate this Case
Petitioner John Johnson challenged the sufficiency of the evidence in an appeal of conviction for second-degree theft of an access device. The outcome turned on the Washington Supreme Court’s determination of whether Musacchio v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 709 (2016) superseded its decision in Washington v. Hickman, 954 P.2d 900 (1998). Under Hickman, the State must establish all elements it agrees to include in the to-convict instruction, even if not required by statute, because unchallenged instructions become the "law of the case." In Musacchio, the Supreme Court rejected a "law of the case" argument and held that due process requires only that evidentiary sufficiency claims "be assessed against the elements of the charged crime, not against the erroneously heightened command in the jury instruction." Here, the jury was instructed that an element of the theft charge included Johnson's intent "to deprive the [victim] of the access device." The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, holding Musacchio superseded Washington’s “law of the case” doctrine. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed, finding the State did not demonstrate that the "law of the case" doctrine was incorrect and harmful, or that its legal underpinnings have been eroded. Accordingly, the Court held the State was required to prove Johnson specifically intended to steal an access device. Because sufficient evidence supports this element, the Court affirmed Johnson's conviction.