State v. Eaton: A Defendant’s Sentence Cannot Be Enhanced For Involunatry Acts

Good decision.

WA Supremes decide a defendant must act volitionally – with intent – to put himself within a zone that requires an upward sentencing enhancement.  An enhancement should not apply for drugs the defendant possessed when arrested and brought to jail.

Thomas Eaton was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) and taken by police to the Clark County Jail.  At the jail, Eaton was searched by staff who discovered a small bag of methamphetamine taped to his sock.  The State charged Eaton with DUI and Possession of Methamphetamine and sought a sentencing enhancement for possessing a controlled substance in a jail or prison.  A jury convicted Eaton on both charges and found by special verdict that Eaton possessed methamphetamine while in a jail.  The trial court imposed an enhanced sentence.

The WA Supremes overturned the sentencing enhancement.  They reasoned that once Eaton was arrested, he no longer had control over his location.  From the time of arrest, his movement from street to jail became involuntary: involuntary not because he did not wish to enter the jail, but because he was forcibly taken there by State authority. He no longer had the ability to choose his own course of action.  Nor did he have the ability through some other course of action to avoid entering the area that would increase the penalty for the underlying crime.

My opinion?  Again, excellent decision.  It’d be different if Eaton knew he was going to jail and tried sneaking meth within. However, those circumstances did not exist.  He was arrested for DUI  – a different matter althogether – and immediately booked into jail.  He never voluntarily brought the drugs into the jail itself.  He merely happened to possess them when arrested for DUI.