Category Archives: Exceptional Sentencing

Youth as Mitigating Factor

In State v. Solis-Diaz, the WA Court of Appeals Division II held that a juvenile defendant who was tried as an adult for numerous violent felony crimes involving firearms is entitled to a sentencing at which the judge must conduct a meaningful, individualized inquiry into whether the defendant’s youth should mitigate his sentence.

Solis-Diaz was 16 years old in 2007, when he participated in a gang related drive-by shooting in Centralia. He was charged with six counts of Assault in the First Degree, each with a firearm sentencing enhancement; one count of Drive-by Shooting; and one count of Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the Second Degree. He was tried as an adult. The jury found him guilty on all counts, and the trial court imposed a sentence of 1,111 months in prison.

Solis-Diaz requested an exceptional downward sentence on grounds that the multiple offense policy of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981 (SRA) operated to impose a clearly excessive sentence and that Solis-Diaz’s age indicated diminished capacity to understand the wrongfulness and consequences of his actions. The judge denied the request and again imposed a standard-range sentence of 1,111 months in prison. Solis Diaz appealed.

The Court of Appeals held that under the SRA, a sentencing court must generally sentence a defendant within the standard range. Pursuant to the SRA’s multiple offense policy, standard range sentences for multiple serious violent offenses are to be served consecutively and not concurrently.

This is important. For those who don’t know, a consecutive sentence is when a defendant has been convicted of more than one crime, usually at the same trial, and the sentences for each crime are “tacked” together, so that sentences are served one after the other. In contrast, a concurrent sentence is when sentences on more than one crime “run” or are served at the same time, rather than one after the other. For instance, if a defendant’s three crimes carry sentences of five, three, and two years, the maximum time he’ll spend in jail is five years.

The Court of Appeals further reasoned that a court may impose an exceptional sentence below the standard range if it finds that mitigating circumstances are established by a preponderance of the evidence. One such mitigating circumstance exists if the operation of the multiple offense policy results in a presumptive sentence that is clearly excessive.  When the resulting set of consecutive sentences is so clearly excessive under the circumstances that it provides “‘substantial and compelling reasons’” for an exceptional sentence below the standard range, the sentencing court may grant that exceptional downward sentence.

Additionally, the Court of Appeals relied on the WA Supreme Court’s recent decision in State v. O’Dell. In that decision, and similar to the defendant here, O’Dell was a juvenile who was also tried and sentenced as an adult to a very serious felony crime (rape, in O’Dell’s case). At O’Dell’s sentencing, the trial court ruled that it could not consider O’Dell’s age as a mitigating circumstance and imposed a standard range sentence of 95 months.  The Supreme Court disagreed with O’Dell’s trial court: “[I]n light of what we know today about adolescents’ cognitive and emotional development, we conclude that youth may, in fact, “relate to a defendant’s crime.”

The Court of Appeals followed O’Dell and said the following:

“The same logic and policy that led the Supreme Court to require the consideration of the youth of a young adult offender would apply with magnified force to require the same of Solis-Diaz, who committed his crimes while a juvenile. As did the trial court in O’Dell, the trial court here decided that under Ha’mim it could not consider the defendant’s youth as a mitigating factor in sentencing. As did the trial court in O’Dell, the trial court here abused its discretion in refusing that consideration. Our Supreme Court’s analysis in O’Dell compels the same result: reversal of Solis-Diaz’s sentence and remand for a new sentencing hearing to meaningfully consider whether youth diminished his culpability.”

The WA Court of Appeals even offered a litmus test in making these determinations:

“In short, a sentencing court must take into account the observations underlying Miller, Graham, Roper, and O’Dell that generally show among juveniles a reduced sense of responsibility, increased impetuousness, increased susceptibility to outside pressures, including peer pressure, and a greater claim to forgiveness and time for amendment of life. Against this background, the sentencing court must consider whether youth diminished Soliz-Diaz’s culpability and make an individualized determination whether his “capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform that conduct to the requirements of the law” was meaningfully impaired.”

The WA Court of Appeals concluded that the sentencing court erred in failing to consider whether the operation of the SRA and Solis-Diaz’s youth at the time he committed the crimes should mitigate his standard range sentence and warrant an exceptional downward sentence.

Consequently, the Court of Appeals vacated Solis-Diaz’s sentence and remanded for re-sentencing back to the trial court. The Court of Appeals also noted that Solis-Diaz may move to disqualify the prior sentencing judge.

My opinion? I’m very pleased Division II is embracing O’Dell, an opinion which I’ve discussed in my blog titled, “State v. O’Dell: Court May Consider Defendant’s Youth at Sentencing.” Furthermore, I’m pleased that Division II also offered a workable litmus test in determining these issues juvenile sentencing for adult crimes. Very good. It not only shows the Courts are following O’Dell, they are also supporting it and offering guidelines for future decisions involving juvenile justice.

State v. O’Dell: Court May Consider Defendant’s Youth at Sentencing

In State v. O’Dell,  the Washington Supreme Court held that a defendant’s youthfulness can support a lower prison sentence.

About 10 days after his 18th birthday, O’Dell had sex with 12-year-old A.N. The two met up on Sunday afternoon, along with a mutual friend, to drink wine and smoke cigars in the woods. Apparently, she, the friend, and O’Dell made plans to meet up again later that night but that the friend did not join them as planned. She and O’Dell sat in the woods to wait for their friend and, after a few minutes of talking, O’Dell forcibly raped her.

Sean O’Dell was convicted of Rape of a Child Second Degree. At O’Dell’s sentencing hearing, the defense requested a lighter sentence because, as he said it,  “The defendant’s capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct, or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law, was significantly impaired by youth.”

The defense also argued that when O’Dell committed his offense, he “was still in high school, associating with school age persons” and “was not some mid-twenties man hanging out at the local high school or trolling the internet for young people.”

Finally, the defense quoted portions of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roper v. Simmons, which held that it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on a juvenile. Roper relied on research, by various medical and psychiatric associations, indicating that juveniles are more susceptible to negative influences and impulsive behavior and therefore less morally culpable for their crimes relative to adults.

Despite Defense Counsel’s arguments, the trial court sentenced O’Dell to 95 months of prison and said that it could not consider age as a mitigating circumstance.

O’Dell committed this offense 10 days after his 18th birthday. As stated by his defense attorney, “had the incident happened two weeks prior, and assuming the State could not convince the Court to prosecute O’Dell as an adult, he would be facing 15-36 weeks in a well-guarded juvenile detention facility … rather than 78-102 months in an adult prison.”

On appeal, O’Dell challenged his 95-month sentence. He argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to consider O’Dell’s own relative youth as a basis to depart from the standard sentence range.

The WA Supreme Court ruled that the trial court erred when it refused to consider O’Dell’s youth as a mitigating factor justifying a lower sentence. First, it reasoned that all defendants 18 and over are, in general, equally culpable for equivalent crimes. But it could not have considered the particular vulnerabilities – for example, impulsivity, poor judgment, and susceptibility to outside influences – of specific individuals. The trial court is in the best position to consider those factors.

Second, the WA Legislature defining an adult felony offender as “18 and over” did not have the benefit of psychological and neurological studies showing that the parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to develop well into a person’s 20’s:

These studies reveal fundamental differences between adolescent and mature brains in the areas of risk and consequence assessment, impulse control, tendency toward antisocial behaviors, and susceptibility to peer pressure. Until full neurological maturity, young people in general have less ability to control their emotions, clearly identify consequences, and make reasoned decisions than they will when they enter their late twenties and beyond.

Finally, the Court concluded, in light of what we know today about adolescents’ cognitive and emotional development, the defendant’s youth may, in fact, relate to a defendant’s crime that it is far more likely to diminish a defendant’s culpability; and that youth can, therefore, amount to a substantial and compelling factor justifying a lighter sentence. “For these reasons, a trial court must be allowed to consider youth as a mitigating factor when imposing a sentence on an offender like O’Dell, who committed his offense just a few days after he turned 18.”

The WA Supreme Court remanded O’Dell’s case for re-sentencing.

My opinion? Good decision. The defense attorney was very intelligent to provide the court with studies showing that young offenders have less ability to control their emotions and impulses. This is very true. Indeed, this reasoning is exactly why the Washington Legislature adopted the Juvenile Justice Act in 1977 and treats young offenders differently than adult offenders.

Here, although the Defendant was categorically denied Juvenile Court because he was 18 years old, he was barely 18 years old when he committed the offense. He’s much closer to being a child than an adult. And until a young person turns 25, their brains haven’t fully developed. Good decision.

State v. Manlove: “Deliberate Cruelty” Enhancements Apply to Property Crimes.

In State v. Manlove, the Division III Court of Appeals held that a upward sentencing enhancement applies to Residential Burglary and other property crimes if a jury finds the defendant’s conduct during the commission of crime manifested deliberate cruelty to the victim.

In 2005, Paula Parker and her then-husband purchased a remote cabin on forty acres in Stevens County, Washington. The couple became acquainted with their neighbor, David Manlove, whose home lay a half mile from Parker’s cabin.

Paula Parker divorced in 2011, and she retained sole custody of the cabin. Parker and Manlove occasionally joined one another at each other’s homes for dinner. The two enjoyed a pastoral, idyllic, and platonic relationship, until . . .

Paula Parker went on vacation from June 19 to July 2, 2013 and returned to her cabin the morning of July 3. Once inside her home, Parker discovered her cabin was ransacked. Property was destroyed. The intruder left a hand-rolled cigarette. Paula realized her neighbor, David Manlove, smoked similar cigarettes.

Parker contacted police and informed them she believed the culprit was Manlove. She avoided her home for a few days.

On July 7, she returned home. Again, her house was ransacked. The damage was even more extensive this time. The intruder shredded Paula Parker’s medical records, high school diploma, and college degree. Parker kept her mother’s ashes in an urn, and the prowler dumped the ashes onto the floor.

After surveying the damage at Paula Parker’s cabin on July 8, 2013, Stevens County sheriff deputies traveled to David Manlove’s home. When asked why he damaged Paula Parker’s home, Manlove responded, “It’s my mountain.” When arrested, Manlove repeated several times: “It’s my mountain so there’s no crime.”

Law enforcement obtained two search warrants for David Manlove’s home. Officers seized many items that belonged to Paula Parker, including a hatchet, a chainsaw, a veil for a belly dancing costume, a mortar and pestle, journals, and jewelry. Officers also found marijuana plants and a rifle.

David Manlove was charged with Residential Burglary, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the Second Degree, Possession of more than Forty Grams of Marijuana, Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree, and Malicious Mischief in the First Degree. The State further alleged that Manlove committed Residential Burglary with deliberate cruelty in violation of RCW 9.94A.535(3)(a). The trial court found Manlove competent to stand trial after an evaluation by Eastern State Hospital. At the close of trial, the trial court instructed the jury that: “Deliberate cruelty” means gratuitous violence ,or other conduct which inflicts physical, psychological, or emotional pain as an end in itself, and which goes beyond what is inherent in the elements of the crime or is normally associated with the commission of the crime. Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 177. The jury found David Manlove guilty as charged.

On appeal, the issue was whether the aggravating factor of deliberate cruelty under RCW 9.94A.535(3)(a) applies to Residential Burglary.

The Court of Appeals decided, “Yes.” They gave two reasons why, under appropriate circumstances, the deliberate cruelty aggravating factor may apply to a property crimes. First, when the legislature desired to limit the application of an aggravating factor to certain offenses, it expressly provided that limitation in the statute. Second, the statute allows a sentence enhancement when the current offense is a burglary and the victim ofthe burglary was present in the building or residence when the crime was committed.

The Court affirmed Manlove’s convictions and sentence, including the enhancement for deliberate cruelty.

 

State v. Allen: Prosecutor Commits Misconduct With Phrase, “Should Have Known.”

In State v. Allen, the WA Supremes ruled that the Prosecuting Attorney committed prejudicial misconduct by misstating the standard upon which the jury may convict an accomplice.

This case involves the Lakewood police officer shootings.

The defendant Mr. Allen was friend and co-worker of Maurice Clemmons, who fatally shot four police officers in a coffee shop on November 29, 2009. Mr. Allen’s involvement transpired on the days leading up to the shooting.

This tragic story began in May 2009 when officers responded to reports that Clemmons was throwing rocks through his neighbors’ windows. Clemmons responded violently when officers arrived at the scene, and he was arrested for punching officers. He posted bail in November 2009, the month of the shootings.

Shortly after his release, Clemmons attended Thanksgiving dinner at his aunt’s house, where he expressed animosity toward the police. Specifically, he announced that if the police arrived to look for him, he would kill them and then go across the street to the elementary school and commit further acts of violence. Clemmons brandished a handgun while he described these acts. Allen, who was a friend and employee of Clemmons, was present at that dinner.

Three days later, Clemmons contacted Allen and told him they were going to wash the company truck. With Allen driving, Clemmons directed him to a car wash near a coffee shop in Lakewood. Upon arriving at the car wash, Allen parked the truck, got out, and walked across the street to a minimart. During that time, Clemmons also left the car wash and entered the coffee shop, where the shootings occurred. When Allen returned to the truck, Clemmons appeared and told Allen that they had to leave. Allen claimed he drove only a few blocks until he left the truck upon discovering Clemmons was wounded. Allen also claimed that he did not know Clemmons was going to commit the murders.

Clemmons eventually ended up at his aunt’s house, and the truck was abandoned in a nearby parking lot. A few days later, Clemmons was killed by a Seattle police officer. Allen was arrested shortly afterward.

Allen was charged with four counts of Aggravated Murder in the first Degree. During trial, several spectators wore T -shirts that said, “‘You will not be forgotten, Lakewood Police,”‘ followed by the names of the four murdered officers. Allen objected to these T-shirts and asked that the shirts be covered. The trial court denied Allen’s motion.

At closing argument, the State was required to prove that Allen had actual knowledge that Clemmons would commit the murders. During closing argument, the prosecuting attorney initially stated the correct definition of “knowledge” as it was used in the jury instruction. However, immediately afterward, the prosecuting attorney stated that “for shorthand we’re going to call that ‘should have known.'” Also, the prosecuting attorney went on to repeatedly and improperly use the phrase “should have known” when describing the definition of “knowledge.” The prosecuting attorney also presented a slide show simultaneously with his closing argument. This slide show repeatedly referred to the incorrect “should have known” standard. One slide even stated, “You are an accomplice if: … you know or should have known,” with the words “should have known” in bold. The prosecuting attorney made several more “should have known” comments in rebuttal argument.

The jury received instructions that correctly stated the law regarding “knowledge.” Particularly, instruction 9 said the following:

A person knows or acts knowingly or with knowledge with respect to a fact or circumstance when he or she is aware of that fact or circumstance. If a person has information that would lead a reasonable person in the same situation to believe that a fact exists, the jury is permitted but not required to find that he or she acted with knowledge of that fact.

 Allen was convicted of four counts of Murder in the First Degree. Based on the aggravating circumstance, the trial court imposed an exceptional sentence of 400 years.

ISSUES ON APPEAL

The Court granted review on three issues: (1) Did the prosecuting attorney commit prejudicial misconduct by misstating the standard upon which the jury could convict Allen? (2) Does the “aggravator” found in RCW 9.94A.535(3)(v) apply to a defendant charged as an accomplice? (3) Was Allen prejudiced when spectators at trial wore T -shirts bearing the names of the murdered officers?

1. DID THE PROSECUTOR COMMIT MISCONDUCT?

The court ruled the Prosecutor committed prejudicial misconduct by misstating the standard upon which the jury could find Allen guilty. Here, the prosecuting attorney repeatedly misstated that the jury could convict Allen if it found that he should have known Clemmons was going to murder the four police officers.

The Court reasoned that, for example, the prosecuting attorney stated that “under the law, even if he doesn’t actually know, if a reasonable person would have known, he’s guilty.” As noted above, the “should have known” standard is incorrect; the jury must find that Allen actually knew Clemmons was going to murder the four police officers. Consequently, the Court concluded that the remarks were improper.

Furthermore, the improper comments prejudiced the defendant. First, the Prosecutor misstated a key issue of the case – knowledge. Second, the misstatement of law was repeated multiple times. Repetitive misconduct can have a “cumulative effect.” Third, the trial court twice overruled Allen’s timely objections in the jury’s presence, potentially leading the jury to believe that the “should have known” standard was a proper interpretation of law. Fourth, and perhaps most important, the record reveals that the jury was influenced by the improper statement of law during deliberations. Finally, the misconduct by the State was particularly egregious. Based on the foregoing factors, the Court found that there was a substantial likelihood that the Prosecutor’s misconduct affected the jury verdict and thus prejudiced Allen.

 2. DOES THE “AGGRAVATOR” SENTENCING ENHANCEMENT APPLY TO AN ACCOMPLICE?

The Court answered “Yes” to this question. Here, the court sentenced Allen to an exceptional sentence based on the sentencing aggravator found in RCW 9.94A.535(3)(v). That statute contains no express triggering language automatically authorizing an exceptional sentence for accomplices. Therefore, Allen’s own misconduct must form the basis upon which the exceptional sentence applies. The operative language of the statute here allows the court to sentence Allen above the standard range if the offense was committed against a law enforcement officer who was performing his or her official duties at the time of the offense, the offender knew that the victim was a law enforcement officer, and the victim’s status as a law enforcement officer is not an element of the offense.” Consequently, an exceptional sentence under RCW 9.94A.535(3)(v) may be imposed on remand if the jury finds the required elements based on Allen’s own misconduct.

3. DID THE SPECTATORS WEARING T-SHIRTS IN THE COURTROOM PREJUDICE ALLEN’S CASE?

The court decided that, based on the limited information in the record, it was unlikely that the t-shirts were inherently prejudicial. The T-shirts bore a message that said, “‘You will not be forgotten, Lakewood Police”‘ followed by a list of the victims’ names. The court said this message does not advocate for a message of guilt or innocence. Rather, the shirts were merely a silent showing of sympathy for the victims. Contrary to Allen’s arguments, the mere presence of words does not make a spectator display inherently prejudicial.

In conclusion, the prosecuting attorney committed prejudicial misconduct by misstating the proper standard upon which the jury could find Allen acted with knowledge. Based on that, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for a new trial.

My opinion?

The shootings were exceptionally tragic. These officers left friends and family in the wake of their senseless death. That said, the Prosecutor in this case clearly committed misconduct. i’ve been in jury trials where Prosecutors will bend and stretch the the law when it comes to whether a defendant had knoweldge they were committing a crime. Similar to the Prosecutor in this case, they’ll say “Well, the defendant should have known they were committing a crime.” This is an ABSOLUTE mistatement of the law. “Knowing” and “Should Have Known” are two very, very different levels of understanding. Here, saying Mr. Allen “Should Have Known” that Clemmons would commit murder implies that Mr. Allen had a legal duty to know what Clemmons was thinking about before committing the heinous murders he committed. That’s wrong, and an improper statement of the law.

 Again, I extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the police officers who lost their lives. 

State v. Davis: Unlawful Possession of Firearms, Rendering Criminal Assistance and Exceptional Sentences.

WA Supremes gave an interesting opinion touching upon the defendants who were allegedly involved in the Lakewood police officer shootings from last year. In short, the Supreme Court could not reach a 5-4 majority opinion on the issue of whether the State lacked evidence to support the defendant’s convictions for Possession of a Stolen Firearm. However, the State reached a majority “No” decision on the issue of whether Exceptional Sentence applied to this case. 

The underlying facts of State v. Davis are notorious and undisputed. On Sunday, November 29, 2009, Clemmons entered a coffee shop just before 8:00 a.m. with two handguns and began shooting at four Lakewood police officers, fatally wounding three. The fourth officer struggled with Clemmons and shot Clemmons once in the side, but Clemmons wrested the fourth officer’s gun from him, fatally shot him, and left with the stolen gun.

While on the run, Clemmons contacted defendants Eddie Lee Davis and Letrecia Nelson shortly after the murders. Clemmons went to Davis’ home, requested a ride to a house in Auburn, and said he had been shot while killing four police officers. Davis drove Clemmons to Nelson’s home. Nelson let Clemmons and Davis inside. Clemmons told Nelson he had killed four police officers, been shot in the process, and stolen one officer’s gun. At Clemmons’ request, he was given fresh clothing and help treating his gunshot wound. Nelson put some clothes and the stolen gun in a shopping bag that was left on a counter. Just before leaving, Clemmons asked where the gun was. Davis replied that it was in the bag on the counter and gave the bag to Clemmons. He left the home with the gun, and remained a fugitive from justice. On December 1, 2009, 2-3 days after the incident, Clemmons was gunned down by a Seattle Police Officer who pulled his car over.

Based on their actions following that contact, Davis and Nelson were charged by the Prosecutor and convicted at jury trial of Rendering Criminal Assistance and Possession of a Stolen Firearm. Davis was also convicted of Unlawful Possession of that self-same firearm. The conviction was appealed, and found its way to the WA Supreme Court.

The Court addressed the issues of whether (1) sufficient evidence supported Davis’ and Nelson’s convictions relating to possession of a firearm, and (2) whether the exceptional sentences for rendering criminal assistance factually were legally justified.

1. UNLAWFUL POSSESSION OF A FIREARM

The 4-person “majority” Court answered “Yes” to the question of whether sufficient evidence existed to support the convictions. The court reasoned there are two types of control: actual and constructive. A person actually possesses something that is in his or her physical custody, and constructively possesses something that is not in his or her physical custody but is still within his or her “dominion and control.” For either type, to establish possession the prosecution must prove more than a passing control; it must prove actual control. The length of time in itself does not determine whether control is actual or passing, and whether one has actual control over the item at issue depends on the totality of the circumstances presented.

In light of the totality of the circumstances, the Court was convinced that the State presented sufficient evidence to support a finding that Clemmons temporarily relinquished control over the stolen gun to Davis and Nelson while his wound was treated and he changed clothes. There was no testimony that Clemmons made any specific requests or orders as to what should be done with the stolen gun while he was at Nelson’s home, and he did not even know where the gun was until he was ready to leave about 15 minutes later. It is reasonable to infer that someone else decided what to do with the gun and that the decision-makers were Nelson and Davis because Nelson retrieved the shopping bag and put the gun inside it and Davis immediately responded when Clemmons asked where the gun was. Furthermore, both Nelson and Davis retained the ability to take further actions as to the gun until the time Davis gave it back to Clemmons because they knew where it was and Clemmons did not. Therefore, the court believed there was actual control sufficient to establish constructive possession.

2. EXCEPTIONAL SENTENCES

The Court answered “No” to the issue of whether the defendants should receive an exceptional upward sentence for their convictions. The Court said Exceptional Sentences are intended to impose additional punishment where the particular offense at issue causes more damage than that contemplated by the statute defining the offense. In that situation, the standard penalty for the offense is insufficient and an exceptional sentence based on an “aggravating factor” found by the jury remedies that insufficiency.

Here, the Court reasoned that, as a matter of law, the “aggravating factor” at issue cannot apply to Rendering Criminal Assistance charges.  Here, the “victim” was the public at large. However, Exceptional Sentences apply where there is “a destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than the victim.” Because Rendering Criminal Assistance victimizes the general public, every member of the public is part of the victim class. There is no “other.” Therefore, the exceptional sentences imposed on Davis and Nelson were not legally justified.

The WA Supreme Court was highly divided on this issue. Justice Wiggins appeared to be the swaying vote. He concurred with the dissenting opinion that the evidence was insufficient to sustain Davis’s and Nelson’s firearm possession convictions. However, Justice Wiggins concurred with the majority opinion as far as the decision that the Exceptional Sentences imposed for Eddie Davis’s and Letricia Nelson’s convictions for Rendering Criminal Assistance were not legally justified.

Ultimately, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings.