State v. Ellison: No Right to Allocution

In State v. Ellison, the WA Court of Appeals decided a defendant lost his right to give a statement at his sentencing because his lengthy presentation changed from religious songs and unrelated topics to protests of his innocence and an accusation that his attorney was lying to the court.

At a bench trial, Mr Ellison was convicted of Rape in the Second Degree and Child Molestation in the Second Degree. At his sentencing, the court invited Ellison to allocute.

For those who don’t know, “Allocution” is defined as the right of a criminal defendant to make a personal argument or statement to the court before the pronouncement of sentence. It is the defendant’ s opportunity to plead for mercy and present any information to try mitigating the sentence.

Here, Ellison sang a short religious song and spoke about various topics not clearly related to the sentencing proceeding. After making extensive remarks, Ellison began to protest his innocence and accuse his trial attorney of lying to the court. At that point, the court cut Ellison off, explained that the matters he related were irrelevant to the issues at hand, and pronounced the sentence. Ellison asked for permission to finish his remarks, but the court declined. The court imposed life imprisonment without the possibility of release. Ellison appealed.

The Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and denied Ellison’s appeal. it reasoned that the sentencing court allowed Ellison to speak for some time, cutting him off only when he began using the opportunity to testify about the facts of the case and complain about the conduct of his trial attorney. Unfortunately, those were not legitimate purposes for allocution. Because the court let Ellison speak without interruption until it was clear he was using the allocution for improper purposes, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in cutting short Ellison’ s allocution.