During a Washington criminal sentencing proceeding, an offender generally cannot challenge the constitutional validity of a previous conviction. If, however, a conviction that is “constitutionally invalid on its face,” the court cannot consider it during sentencing. A Washington appeals court recently considered whether a defendant’s prior conviction was facially invalid under the merger doctrine.
The merger doctrine applies when the state has to prove the occurrence of an act that is defined as a separate crime to prove a particular degree of the charged crime. In such circumstances, the crimes “merge.” The merger doctrine does not apply if the legislature intended to allow multiple punishments.
If the legislature did not clearly intend to allow multiple punishment for the same act under different laws, the court determines its intent through application of the same evidence test, merger, and the independent purpose test.