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Washington Defendant Improperly Denied Transcript at State Expense

The Washington State Supreme Court held in a November 8, 2012 en banc ruling that an indigent defendant was improperly denied a jury voir dire transcript.

When appealing his convictions for first-degree murder, second-degree murder and two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, Merle William Harvey requested a jury voir dire transcript at public expense. He needed the transcript to prove his claim that the public was improperly excluded from the courtroom during jury selection. The trial court refused and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Relying on a relative’s sworn declaration that she had been turned away from the courtroom during voir dire, Harvey briefed the issue in the absence of the transcript. The appellate court rejected his argument, however, finding that it “was not supported by the record provided.” Harvey sought discretionary review, which was granted.

The Washington Supreme Court reversed, stating, “Harvey contends that the trial court erred by closing the courtroom during jury selection. Without a transcript of voir dire, the reviewing court cannot properly consider this claim.” As such, the trial court had “erroneously refused to order that portion of the record transcribed at public expense.”

The Court noted that “It is well established that ‘[t]he State must provide indigent criminal defendants with means of presenting their contentions on appeal which are as good as those available to nonindigent defendants with similar contentions,’” pursuant to Draper v. Washington, 372 U.S. 487, 496 (1963).

“Harvey need not make a particularized factual showing to be entitled to transcripts but need only demonstrate a colorable need,” the Supreme Court explained. “He has done so. He is therefore entitled to transcription of the jury voir dire at public expense.” Harvey represented himself pro se. See: Washington v. Harvey, 175 Wn.2d 919, 288 P.3d 1111 (Wash. 2012) (en banc).

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