WA Supreme Court: Judges Hands Not Tied With High Sentence Per SRA Downward Departure Guidelines
People make mistakes. Sometimes people make really big mistakes. In this case, Graham made the mistake of running around shooting at cops during a foot chase in Spokane. This led to a conviction on a large amount of charges, each of them carrying a pretty extreme penalty. This meant that under the Sentencing Reform Act, the sentencing range would’ve effectively kept him in there for a lifetime. The Sentencing Reform Act does allow a judge some discretion, when all of the charges arise from one event:
The court may impose an exceptional sentence below the standard range if it finds that mitigating circumstances are established by preponderance of the evidence. The following are illustrative only and are not intended to be exclusive reasons for exceptional sentences.
… The operation of the multiple offense policy of RCW 9.94A.589 results in a presumptive sentence that is clearly excessive in light of the purpose of this chapter, as expressed in RCW 9.94A.010
Here, the judge actually put on the record that he believed the sentence was excessive in light of the purposes but that his hands were tied. Turns out his hands weren’t so much tied as they were not fully informed. This happens from time to time, as no judge can be expected to have a total recall as to every law, every exception, and every policy determination, including how all of them interlink. The Supreme Court remanded for resentencing in lieu of this mitigations allowed in the Sentencing Perform Act.
We take this opportunity to reaffirm that a sentencing judge may invoke .535(1)(g) to impose exceptional sentences both for multiple violent and nonviolent offenses scored under .589(l)(a) and for multiple serious violent offenses under .589(1)(b).