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State of Washington v. Mark Gelinas, November 16, 2020.

State v. Gelina is an appeal about whether the District Court had the authority to issue a warrant for a defendant at a trial readiness hearing.  The defendant did not personally appear for a trial readiness hearing in Mason County District Court, the court issued a bench warrant for his arrest. His attorney did appear on his behalf.  The defendant appealed the matter to the superior court, arguing the district court rules did not require his personal presence at the readiness hearing and there was no lawful basis for the warrant. The superior court agreed, concluding the criminal rules do not mandate a defendant’s personal presence where that presence is not necessary for the case to proceed. 

The State appealed, arguing district courts have the authority to order a defendant to personally appear for any and all pretrial hearings and to issue arrest warrants for failing to appear at any such hearings. The Court of Appeals disagreed.

The parties agreed that the matter was moot by the time it reached the appellant court.  However, the Appellate court decided to hear it under the public interest exception. The standard of review was de nova.  A De novo review occurs when a court decides an issue without deference to a previous court’s decision. 

CrRLJ 3.4(c) allows a district court to issue an arrest warrant “in any case the defendant is not present when his or her personal attendance is necessary.” The issue is whether the defendant’s presence was necessary at a readiness hearing.

CrRLJ 3.4(a) defines “necessary” hearings at which a defendant’s presence is required as including the arraignment, every stage of the trial, including the empaneling of the jury and the return of the verdict, and the imposition of sentence. Although the rule identifies some “necessary” hearings, its list has been deemed non-exclusive. Branstetter, 85 Wn. App. at 128 n.1

Finally, although courts have the inherent authority to manage the parties and proceedings, State v. Gassman, 175 Wn.2d 208, 209, 283 P.3d 1113 (2012), that authority is not unlimited. And district courts, unlike superior courts, are creatures of the legislature and their authority is limited by statute and Supreme Court rules. The district court may not issue an arrest warrant when not authorized to do so by such rules.

Initially, this was an unpublished opinion but the Court of Appeals granted a motion to publish the opinion. District Court’s have started making a finding on the record that the defendant’s presence is necessary for future hearings.