Certainly, it is only by disregarding the "victim's rights" that one can begin to fathom the Washington Supreme Court's decision in State v. Jackson. This decision reversed the conviction of a man who raped his four-year-old niece on Christmas Eve in 1979, causing her to contract gonorrhea. Following his arraignment, Jackson fled and failed to appear at his trial. After attempts to locate Jackson failed, a trial was held in absentia' and he was found guilty of rape, with sentencing suspended pending his return to custody. Jackson evaded the law for nearly thirteen years.'0 Shortly after his eventual capture and incarceration, the Washington Supreme Court reversed his conviction. The court did so not because Jackson was innocent or because his constitutional rights had been violated. Rather, the majority found that during Jackson's long evasion of authorities, the Washington Supreme Court had interpreted the state court rule pertaining to trials in absentia in such a manner that it dictated the reversal of Jackson's conviction. In State v. Hammond, decided one year before Jackson, the Washington Supreme Court interpreted the state court rule pertaining to trials in absentia as prohibiting the commencement of a trial in the absence of a defendant. The Hammond court disregarded earlier appellate court decisions allowing the commencement of such trials in certain circumstances. The Jackson court applied Hammond's interpretation of the state court rule to Jackson, stating that procedural changes to criminal court rules apply retroactively to all cases not final when the rule is adopted. The Washington Supreme Court reasoned it was duty-bound to retroactively apply Hammond's rule for trial in absentia and set Jackson free. The reversal of Jackson's conviction is tantamount to an acquittal, given the practical impossibility of re-trying Jackson with presently available evidence. This Note will argue the woes of the Jackson decision, with minimal resort to the much disavowed notion of victims' rights. However, it is submitted that a visceral disagreement with this decision springs from the hollow echo of justice for the victim.
Christopher T. Igielski, Washington Defendants' New Right of Pre-Trial Flight, 19 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 633 (1996).