A unanimous state Supreme Court has upheld the child molestation and kidnapping convictions of former Tacoma teacher Jennifer L. Rice.
Rice, who taught fourth grade, had argued the so-called special allegations against her – that she deserved a longer sentence because she was predatory when she molested a 10-year-old student, later kidnapping him – are a violation of the separation of powers.
Her lawyers said the Legislature does not have the authority to tell prosecutors what charges they have to file in specific cases.
In a decision released Thursday, the court, while generally agreeing that the Legislature can’t tell prosecutors how to charge crimes, rejected Rice’s argument.
Writing for the majority, Justice Steven Gonzalez said the law in question is not mandatory because there are no consequences for prosecutors who refuse to charge as the law requires.
“We find that the challenged statutes are directory rather than mandatory,” Gonzalez wrote. “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.”
The court added 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,” Gonzalez wrote.
Rice was convicted of molesting a 10-year-old boy and his 15-year-old brother between Dec. 1, 2006 and Feb. 28, 2007. At one point, she took the 10-year-old from his home and drove him to a rest stop near Ellensburg where she molested him.
She’s serving a prison term of 25 years to life.