State v. Stately: Vehicular Homicide By Disregard Is NOT A Violent Offense; Some Defendants Eligible for First Offender Waiver.

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In State v. Stately, the WA Court of Appeals held that Vehicular Homicide By Disregard is NOT a Violent Offense and that some defendants are eligible for the First-Time Offender Waiver.

About a week before her 18th birthday, Ms. Stately drove a car while intoxicated.  Unfortunately, she caused an accident that killed her best friend.  Stately was charged — and later convicted — of Vehicular Homicide by Disregard under RCW 46.61.520(1)(c).  At sentencing, the State recommended 17 months of incarceration.  However, Stately argued she was entitled to a first-time offender waiver under former RCW 9.94A.650 because her crime was not defined as a violent offense.

The trial court agreed.  Stately was sentenced under the first-time offender waiver to 30 days of incarceration, 12 months of community custody, and 4,000 hours of community restitution (community service).

For those who don’t know, a “first-time offender” is any person who has no prior felony convictions.  At sentencing, the court may waive the imposition of a sentence within the standard sentencing range.  The sentence imposed under the first-time offender provision is not an exceptional sentence but is, rather, a waiver of the standard sentence range.

On appeal, the Prosecution argued that Stately was not eligible for a first-time offender waiver because she committed a violent offense.

However, the Court of Appeals thought different.  It reasoned that there are three types of vehicular homicide, all currently class A felonies.  Subsection (xiv) lists the first two types, homicide by intoxication and recklessness, but does not include the third type, homicide by disregard.  Former RCW 9.94A.030(50)(a)(xiv).

The court further reasoned, “If we read the statute to define Vehicular Homicide by Disregard as a violent offense simply because it is a class A felony, then subsection (xiv) would be superfluous.  We presume, however, that the legislature does not include superfluous language and we interpret statutes to give meaning to each section.

Here, it is impossible to harmonize the statute’s terms in subsection (i) with its terms in subsection (xiv).  The later subsection, relating specifically to vehicular homicide, is more specific than subsection (i), which relates generally to all class A felonies.  Applying the specific-general doctrine, the specific terms of subsection (xiv) prevail and Stately’s Vehicular Homicide by Disregard conviction is not a violent offense”  (emphasis supplied).

My opinion?  Again, excellent decision.  It’s pleasing when our legal system takes an academic approach to cases by methodically reviewing the WORDING and LEGISLATIVE INTENT of statutes.  Fortunately, that’s exactly what happened here.  The court avoided a huge miscarriage of justice by refusing to allow the general rule of “violent offense” swallow legislative exceptions to the rule.

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.