If a criminal defendant dies while appealing a conviction, the case should be dismissed, right? Wrong, says the Washington State Supreme Court. Overturning a precedent nearly a century old, the court unanimously reinstated the attempted murder conviction of Jules Devin, who shot his daughter-in-law in the face and later died behind bars, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. An appeals court had voided Devin’s conviction after his death, leaving victim Jacquie Galan, feeling as if the justice system decided that the shooting never happened. “He tried to kill me, and that’s part of history that I don’t think anyone has the right to change,” said Galan, 44. “Having him convicted brings a sense of closure to me.”
Prosecutor Brian McDonald called the ruling “an important step in recognizing crime victims’ rights” and noted that “the crime still happened regardless of whether he later died.” A 1914 ruling calling for case dismissals when a defendant died was based on the idea that the criminal should be punished — not the criminal’s heirs, who might end up having to pay court-ordered fines still owed after the person dies. Yesterday, the high court decided the rule was outdated and didn’t reflect one purpose of the criminal-justice system that has evolved in more recent years: helping crime victims.