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Criminal Law

Solicitation of Crime and "Things of Value" (Plus a Mother-of-the-Year Candidate)


State v. Valdiglesias Lavalle, decided Thursday by the Washington Supreme Court (in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud), involved Washington's criminal solicitation law, which makes it a crime to,

with intent to promote or facilitate the commission of a crime, … offer[] to give or give[] money or other thing of value to another to engage in specific conduct which would constitute such crime."

(Many states don't require the offer or giving of a thing of value.) Here's the court's summary, and account of the facts:

A jury convicted Vanessa Valdiglesias LaValle of two counts of criminal solicitation after she told her minor son, S.G., that he could be with her "forever" if he poisoned his father.

Valdiglesias LaValle moved from Peru to Skagit County in 2008 to marry Timothy Grady, whom she met online. The couple has two children, S.G. and J.G. The relationship was volatile and marked by domestic violence.

After the separation, Valdiglesias LaValle maintained custody of the children. By 2019, however, Grady had gained full custody of the children. Valdiglesias LaValle paid child support to Grady and had four-hour unsupervised weekly visits with the children.

In June 2020, while at Valdiglesias LaValle's house for visitation, 10-year-old S.G. heard her and J.G. talking in another room. He decided to enter the room and secretly record the conversation because he heard Valdiglesias LaValle talking about "bad stuff" and "rat poison." In the recording, Valdiglesias LaValle told the children that she loved them and that they could decide when they were older whether they wanted to live with her. S.G. asked what Valdiglesias LaValle would do if she "gave food to dad." Valdiglesias LaValle responded that she would not put anything in Grady's food, but that she would teach S.G. what to do. She told S.G. he could put rat poison in Grady's wine, wait for Grady to drink it and collapse, "wait a long, long time," then call the police. Valdiglesias LaValle said that if S.G. did this, "we are forever (inaudible) live together (inaudible)."

S.G. sent the recording to his friend, and his friend's mother contacted Child Protection Services and the police….

S.G. testified that he did not like going to visit his mom because it was "just horrible" and "sad." When he was there, his mom didn't let him go outside, and she talked to him mostly about his dad and about court. S.G.'s friend had given him the idea to record his mom. S.G. felt "so offended" when his mom talked about praying for his dad to die. He took his mom's request to poison his dad seriously. But he testified that he never heard his mom offer to give him something if he poisoned his dad.

J.G. testified that he heard Valdiglesias LaValle tell S.G. "[t]o put rat poison in my dad's drink or food." He said he was worried about his dad dying. Neither party asked J.G. if he heard his mom offer to give S.G. anything in return for poisoning Grady. The jury convicted Valdiglesias LaValle of solicitation to commit first degree murder and solicitation to commit first degree assault.

Valdiglesias LaValle argued for a mitigated sentence based on her lack of criminal history and her status as a domestic violence survivor.

The court denied that request and sentenced Valdiglesias LaValle to 180 months of confinement on count one, solicitation to commit first degree murder. The court vacated the conviction of solicitation to commit assault to prevent double jeopardy.

The Washington Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, concluding that Valdiglesias LaValle didn't offer a "thing of value," but the Washington Supreme Court disagreed:

Based on established principles of statutory interpretation, the answer to that question is no. The plain meaning of "money or other thing of value" includes things that do not have economic value in the traditional sense but that nevertheless possess some other kind of worth, utility, or importance. The legislature did not limit "other thing of value" to other things with "economic value"; in other words, the statute does not require the State to prove marketability of the thing offered…. [I]n the context of the phrase "money or other thing of value," an "other" thing of "value" is most naturally understood as something that is different from money but that possesses either "market value" or other "worth, utility, or importance."

That natural reading makes sense when considering the nature of the crime of solicitation. We have explained that "[t]he evil the solicitation statute criminalizes is the enticement to commit a criminal act." As the State notes, "one can think of any number of things without monetary value that may be extremely valuable to a number of people: marriage, companionship, love, acceptance or entr[y] into a particular social group, the prevention of physical or mental harm to oneself or another, opportunity, a promise to refrain from revealing or publicizing a secret." Any of those intangible, nonmonetary things could entice someone to commit a criminal act.

Indeed, in other, analogous contexts, courts have frequently held that things lacking traditional market exchange value can nonetheless be "things of value." For example, a federal statute criminalizes extortion of "'any money or other thing of value.'" The defendant, while facing sex trafficking charges, threatened one of his victims that he would distribute pornographic photos of her to her friends and family if she testified against him. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the defendant was attempting to extort the victim's silence and that her silence was a "thing of value." The court explained, "The mere fact that the value could not easily be translated into a monetary figure does not affect its character" for purposes of interpreting the statute at issue. See also … United States v. Girard (2d Cir. 1979) (holding that intangible information was a "thing of value" and collecting cases interpreting "thing of value" in various criminal statutes to cover "amusement," "sexual intercourse," "a promise to reinstate an employee," and "an agreement not to run in a primary election")….

Read in the context of the statute, "other thing of value" is not ambiguous—it reasonably includes things that share with money the qualities of value, desirability, or utility but that are not money. Depending on the facts of the case, those "thing[s]" could include community, protection, companionship, or silence. Just like money, the prospect of gaining any of these intangibles might readily induce someone to commit a crime….