Washington Appeals Court Overturns Juvenile Offender’s Sentence

In some ways, Washington juvenile offenders may be treated differently than they would be if they were adult offenders.  Both the Washington Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have acknowledged that “children are different.”

In a recent case, a juvenile defendant challenged her sentence.  She was a first-time offender.  She did not meet the conditions of her deferred disposition, so it was revoked.  The juvenile court found the standard sentencing range would be insufficient and entered a manifest injustice disposition and imposed 24 to 32 weeks total incarceration.

The defendant appealed and the appeals court granted expedited status.  However, according to the appeals court’s opinion, its review was “compromised by the transgressions of the prosecutor.” The appeals court noted the prosecutor had not timely obtained findings of fact and conclusions of law. When the prosecutor did obtain the findings and conclusions after being ordered to do so by the clerk of court, they did so in an ex parte proceeding without giving notice to the defendant or her attorney.  The defendant raised the issue and included it in her brief.  The prosecutor did not directly address the issue in its brief, but instead referenced a different pleading.

The appeals court stated it could either remand to the juvenile court for proper entry of findings and conclusions or decide the case without consideration of the findings and conclusions. Because remanding would further delay the defendant’s appeal and would result in the juvenile being deprived the benefit of expedited review because the prosecution had violated the rules of procedure, the appeals court chose to decide the case.  The appeals court then reversed because the manifest injustice disposition was not supported by valid findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Juvenile courts must follow the standard range disposition unless it would result in a manifest injustice by either imposing an excessive penalty on the juvenile or by imposing a serious, clear danger to society.  A court must enter its reasons for concluding a manifest injustice disposition is appropriate and reduce them to formal written findings of fact and conclusions of law if the case is appealed.  The findings and conclusions must be submitted by the prosecutor within 21 days of receipt of the notice of appeal.

The appeals court noted that, in an adult case subject to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981, the appeals court should remand the matter for findings and conclusions if they were not properly entered in support of a sentence beyond the standard range.  The appeals court distinguished such cases, however, because an exceptional sentence upward in those cases would involve a long incarceration term allowing sufficient time to obtain the findings and conclusions for review. The juvenile defendant was serving a term measured in weeks.  If the case was remanded, she would complete the full term before the case came back to the appeals court for review.

The appeals court also noted that it had previously remanded the case for the entry of proper findings and conclusions, and did not get them.

The appeals court therefore decided not to remand again, but to review as though there were no findings and conclusions. With no findings of fact and conclusions of law explaining the reasoning for the upward disposition, there was no support for the disposition and the appeals court remanded with instructions to the juvenile court to vacate the manifest injustice disposition and impose a disposition within the standard range.

This case shows an appeals court stepping in to protect the rights of a juvenile defendant.  This was possible because the defendant timely appealed, requested expedited status, and complained about the ex parte findings and conclusions.  If your child is facing criminal charges, an experienced Washington juvenile criminal defense attorney will fight for your child’s rights.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to schedule an appointment.