Washington Court Does Not Have to Restore Firearm Rights Upon Vacating Juvenile Deferred Disposition

Washington law prohibits possession of a firearm by a person, including a juvenile, who has been convicted of a serious offense.  Washington law allows a person to petition the court for restoration of the right to possess a firearm in certain circumstances.  It is not uncommon for a Washington criminal defendant to challenge the loss of firearms rights or the denial of restoration of those rights.  In a recent case, a defendant challenged a court’s denial of his restoration petition.

The seventeen-year-old defendant admitted to second degree malicious mischief based on intentional damage to a vehicle.  The juvenile court found him solely responsible for the damage and he pleaded guilty in exchange for deferred disposition.  As part of the terms of the deferred disposition, he lost the right to possess a firearm.

The juvenile court ultimately ordered the defendant to pay the estimated cost of repair in restitution as a condition of disposition.  The court subsequently dismissed the deferred disposition and vacated the conviction, but indicated it would not seal the case until restitution was made.

The defendant then moved to restore his firearm rights.  He argued a juvenile deferred disposition was not a “conviction” under the firearms statute.  The trial court disagreed and denied the motion.  The defendant appealed.

He argued that juvenile deferred dispositions were not specifically included in the definition of conviction under the firearms statute, RCW 9.41.040, so they were excluded.  He argued the statute expressly included deferred sentences, but did not include juvenile deferred disposition.

Pursuant to the statute, a person is convicted when an adult or juvenile court accepts his guilty plea.  The statute provides that “conviction” includes dismissal after deferral of sentence.  The appeals court noted that the use of the word “includes” indicates the list is not exhaustive.  The appeals court compared a deferred sentence for adults with a deferred disposition for juveniles and found them comparable.  Because a deferred disposition is comparable to a deferred sentence, which is expressly included in the statute, the appeals court found a deferred disposition also qualifies as a conviction under the statute.

The defendant also argued, alternatively, that, once the court vacated his conviction, it stopped being a conviction for purposes of the firearm statute.  The appeals court found, however, that the statute only excludes convictions vacated due to a finding of rehabilitation or innocence.  The appeals court also rejected the argument that a conviction ceases to exist if it has been vacated.  It noted that a juvenile disposition only ceases to exist under the Juvenile Justice Act if it has been both vacated and sealed.  The defendant’s file was not sealed because he had not completed paying restitution.

The appeals court also noted that the statute provides a procedure for petitioning the court for restoration of firearms rights.  The appeals court found no reason that procedure would not apply when there was a vacated conviction.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s finding that the defendant was not automatically entitled to restored firearms rights because his deferred disposition had been vacated.

If your child is charged with a crime, call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation with an experienced Washington juvenile criminal defense attorney.