In State v. Shreve, the WA Court of Appeals held that a felony sentence condition prohibiting the defendant from having any future hostile contact with law enforcement was unconstitutionally vague.
In March 2022, Shreve attended a party at a hotel. He got into a physical altercation with another individual at the hotel. A hotel security guard intervened. When approached by the security guard, Shreve drew a knife and lunged toward him. The security guard blocked the attack and disarmed Shreve. The security guard confiscated the knife and brought Shreve to the lobby.
Police were dispatched. Upon arrival, a police officer saw Shreve seated in the lobby while the security guard stood nearby. Shreve appeared to be intoxicated and angry. The police officer and the security guard initially decided to allow Shreve to leave the hotel without his knife. However. Shreve escalated the situation by suddenly and aggressively moving toward the security guard.
A physical scuffle ensued. The officers forced Shreve to the ground and attempted to handcuff him. Ultimately, Officer Hannity was forced to use his taser to subdue Shreve.
On June 30, 2022, Shreve pleaded guilty to a single count of second degree burglary. Shreve was sentenced the same day. As a first-time offender, Shreve was sentenced to one day of confinement and twelve months of community custody. The sentencing court imposed several community custody conditions, including “No hostile contact with law enforcement/first responders.”
Shreve appealed his community custody sentencing condition. He argued that the community custody condition prohibiting him from having “hostile contact” with law enforcement is unconstitutionally vague and not crime-related. Shreve also argued that the condition was overbroad and infringed on his First Amendment rights.
COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS
Ultimately, the Court of Appeals agreed with Mr. Shreve.
First, it addressed Mr. Shreve’s arguments that his community custody condition is unconstitutionally vague. He asserts the term “hostile” is not subject to a clear definition and is especially susceptible to arbitrary enforcement because it could encompass a wide range of everyday conduct and permit law enforcement officers to decide subjectively for themselves what constitutes hostile behavior.
“Whether a condition is sufficiently specific is a constitutional issue,” said the Court of Appeals. “Due process requires that individuals have ‘fair warning’ of what constitutes prohibited conduct.”
Next, the Court of Appeals applied a two-prong analysis to determine whether a condition is sufficiently specific and not unconstitutionally vague. A condition is not unconstitutionally vague if (1) it defines the prohibited conduct so an ordinary person can understand what the condition means, and (2) it provides ascertainable standards to protect against arbitrary enforcement.
1. THE TERM “HOSTILE” DOES NOT CLARIFY WHAT BEHAVIOR IS PROHIBITED.
The Court reasoned that here, the term “hostile” does not clarify what behavior is prohibited. The term “hostile” has a wide variety of dictionary definitions, which is indicative of its imprecision in this context. An individual’s conduct may be considered hostile when it is marked by malevolence and a desire to injure. However, it may also be considered hostile when it is marked by antagonism or unfriendliness.
“Given the broad range of conduct this term could cover, what the condition prohibits is guesswork. Thus, the ambiguous scope of the term “hostile” fails to provide Shreve with fair warning of the type of behavior prohibited by the condition. The first prong of the vagueness analysis fails.” ~WA Court of Appeals
2. THE CONDITION WAS SUSCEPTIBLE TO ARBITRARY ENFORCEMENT.
The Court of Appeals explained that a community custody condition is unconstitutionally vague when enforcement relies on a subjective standard. It reasoned that here, even assuming Shreve could generally understand what “no hostile contact” means, the condition fails the second prong because it is overly susceptible to arbitrary enforcement.
“Considering that interactions with police officers are often investigative or even adverse in nature, separating hostile contact with law enforcement from an adverse, but non-hostile, contact is simply too subjective to be constitutional.” ~WA Court of Appeals
With that, the Court of Appeals decided Shreve’s “no hostile contact with law enforcement” condition was unconstitutionally vague.
My opinion? However well-intentioned by the sentencing court to protect law enforcement and first responders from enduring undeserved aggressive interactions, this particular community condition cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.
Clearly, some community custody conditions are unconstitutional. Best to avoid felony convictions altogether. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.