Pursuant to RCW 43.43.754, individuals convicted of certain crimes and juvenile offenses in Washington must give a DNA sample. Two juveniles recently challenged separate court orders requiring them to give DNA samples after they were granted deferred disposition. Each of the juveniles was charged with theft of a motor vehicle arising from separate incidents, with one of the juveniles having several additional charges. They each appealed and their cases were consolidated before the Washington Supreme Court.
In the lead opinion, the Washington Supreme Court noted that RCW 43.43.754 fails to define the meaning of “conviction.” The court also pointed out that the meaning of “conviction” is not clear in statutes involving juveniles. In such circumstances, the court must consider the context and purposes of the statute in interpreting what is meant by “conviction.”
The court first considered other relevant statutes. The court noted that juvenile adjudications finding guilt are considered convictions under the Sentencing Reform Act. RCW 9.94A.030(9). The court also concluded that standard and law dictionary definitions supported the definition in the Sentencing Reform Act.
The court then had to determine if a deferred disposition was a finding of guilt. The court concluded that the language in the deferred disposition statute shows that the juvenile court finds the juvenile guilty during a deferred disposition. The deferred disposition statute also refers to the “conviction” of juvenile offenders. RCW 13.40.127
The juveniles argued a deferred disposition could not be considered a conviction until the final disposition was entered, pointing to RCW 13.04.240. That statute states that an adjudication under Chapter 13.04 shall not “be deemed a conviction of crime.” The court concluded this language distinguished between juvenile offenses and crimes, but did not address whether a juvenile was convicted of an offense. Juveniles are convicted of offenses instead of crimes in juvenile court.
The DNA sample collection statute requires a DNA sample from juveniles convicted of juvenile offenses equivalent to the crimes listed in RCW 43.43.754(1)(a). The court determined that RCW 13.04.240 does not prevent a juvenile adjudication from being treated as a conviction of an offense nor does it prevent laws from creating consequences for such convictions. The court therefore held that a juvenile is convicted for purposes of the DNA collection statute when they have entered into a deferred disposition and the court finds them guilty.
Nevertheless, the court found the juveniles in these cases were not required to give a DNA sample because the offenses they committed were not listed in the DNA collection statute. The statute provides that a DNA sample must be collected from every adult or juvenile convicted of a felony or of any of the listed crimes or the equivalent juvenile offenses. RCW 43.43.754(1)(a). Juveniles therefore must give a DNA sample if they are convicted of a felony criminal offense in superior court or if they are convicted of a juvenile offense equivalent to one of the listed crimes. Juveniles are not required to submit a DNA sample if convicted of a juvenile offense equivalent to a felony crime that is not listed in the statute.
The court noted that the crimes listed were all either sexual or violent crimes. The offenses by the juveniles in this case were not the equivalent to any of those listed crimes, so the court determined they were not required to submit DNA samples and vacated the orders from each of their respective cases requiring them to do so. The Washington Supreme Court was split in this case, however, with three justices concurring in part and dissenting in result and three other justices concurring in part and dissenting in part.
This case indicates that lower courts have not been correctly applying the DNA collection statute in juvenile cases. This case limits the circumstances under which juveniles are required to provide a DNA sample. If your child is facing charges, a knowledgeable Washington juvenile defense lawyer can fight to protect their rights. Schedule a consultation with Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562.