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Waddington v. Sarausad

United States Supreme Court
555 U.S. 179 (2009)


Facts

Gang member Cesar Sarausad (defendant) drove the car in a drive-by shooting at a Seattle high school that left one student dead. Sarausad claimed he anticipated only a fight, but his passenger tied a bandanna over his face, pulled out a gun, and asked, “Are you ready?” just beforehand. Sarausad slowed down as he drove past the school while the shooter fired into a group of students. The prosecutor repeatedly said an accomplice is “in for a dime, in for a dollar,” a catchphrase meaning that an accomplice willing to help someone commit one crime is responsible for any crime that person winds up committing. In closing, the prosecutor hypothesized that holding someone’s arms so another can hit them means responsibility as a murder accomplice if the victim is killed. The jury instructions quoted Washington’s accomplice-liability statute, requiring an accomplice “in the commission of the crime” act “with knowledge that it will promote or facilitate the commission of the crime.” During deliberations, the jury asked three times about accomplice intent. Each time, the judge directed rereading the accomplice instructions. The jury convicted Sarausad as an accomplice to murder, and he appealed, arguing that the dime/dollar catchphrase and problematic hypotheticals allowed conviction without finding Sarausad knew his passenger intended to shoot someone. The appellate court affirmed, reasoning the catchphrase accurately represented Washington law. But in another case, the state supreme court ruled that the dime/dollar catchphrase inaccurately described accomplice liability. On reconsideration, both state appellate courts found the judge nonetheless correctly instructed the jury. The federal court granted habeas review, finding the state courts misapplied federal law, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted review.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Thomas, J.)

Dissent (Souter, J.)

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