State v. Romero-Ochoa

/rrcTEv X IN CLINKS OPIICI V This opinion was filed for record at S'xMon Mti!(,, lolf S COUNT.8TWI or WmiOTOM DATE MAY 1 6 2019 Pe^Ju Susan L. 6ar<s(>n Supreme Court Clerk chi&=jusnce IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON STATE OF WASHINGTON, Petitioner, NO. 95905-6 EN BANC LEONEL ROMERO-OCHOA, Filed MAY 1 6 2019 Respondent. STEPHENS, J.—A jury convicted Leonel Romero-Ochoa of burglary, unlawful imprisonment, assault, and multiple counts ofrape, arising from an incident in which he broke into a woman's home, beat her, and raped her twice. At trial, Romero-Ochoa sought to admit evidence that the victim had applied for a U visa in connection with these crimes. A U visa grants temporary legal resident status to a person who is the victim of a qualifying crime and who helps law enforcement investigate or prosecute that crime. The trial court excluded the U visa evidence. State V. Romero-Ochoa (Leonel), 95905-6 Romero-Ochoa appealed his convictions on the ground that exclusion of the U visa evidence violated his state and federal constitutional rights to present a defense and to confront witnesses. Wash. Const, art. I, § 22; U.S. Const, amend. VI. Division Two of the Court of Appeals agreed. It reversed all but the unlawful imprisonment conviction, holding the constitutional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt as to that conviction but not as to the others, because "[ajlthough the State's evidence against [Romero-]Ochoa was strong, its strength depended entirely on the jury finding [the victim]'s testimony credible." State v. Romero- Ochoa, No. 48454-4-II, slip op. at 1, 8, 15 (Wash. Ct. App. Dec. 28, 2017) (unpublished), published%20Opinion.PDF. We granted the State's petition for review, which raised only the harmless error issue. State v. Romero-Ochoa, 191 Wn.2d 1005(2018). On that issue, we now reverse the Court ofAppeals and hold that any error in excluding the U visa evidence was harmless as to all of Romero-Ochoa's convictions. We therefore reinstate the convictions for rape, burglary, and assault and remand for the Court of Appeals to consider the claim of sentencing error it did not reach before.^ ^ See Romero-Ochoa, No. 48454-4-II, slip op. at 1-2. -2- State V. Romero-Ochoa (Leonel), 95905-6 FACTS The State charged Romero-Ochoa with burglary, kidnapping, and multiple counts of rape, arising from an incident in which he climbed through the victim's bedroom window and repeatedly beat and raped her. Before trial, the State moved to exclude any reference to the immigration status ofthe victim, any witness, or the defendant. The defense sought to introduce evidence that the victim had twice applied for a U visa, once relating to an assault by her ex-husband and once relating to the events giving rise to this case. According to defense counsel, the prior U visa application had not been approved. The second application was on hold, pending certification from local law enforcement that the victim "ha[d] been cooperative with authorities." 3 Verbatim Report ofProceedings (VRP)(Oct. 14, 2015) at 94. According to the deputy prosecutor, this certification could ...

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