Friday, June 10, 2005

Abuse of discretion not to consider Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative

[CASE] A narrowly divided Washington Supreme Court held that a trial court abused its discretion in refusing to hear evidence and consider a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA). State v. Grayson, --- Wn.2d ---, --- P.3d ---, 2005 WL 1244592 (May 26, 2005), Find Result - 2005 WL 1244592.

After the defendant pleaded guilty to one count of delivering cocaine and one count of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, he requested a DOSA. The prosecutor argued against it because of the defendant's criminal history and pending charges. The trial judge denied the motion for a DOSA.

The judge did not dwell on the facts of Grayson's case in his oral ruling. Instead, he stated simply:
The motion for a DOSA ... is going to be denied. And my main reason for denying [the DOSA] is because of the fact that the State no longer has money available to treat people who go through a DOSA program.
*2 So I think in this case if I granted him a DOSA it would be merely to the effect of it cutting his sentence in half. I'm unwilling to do that for this purpose alone. There's no money available. He's not going to get any treatment; it's denied.

After discussing the facts a judge may consider at sentencing, the Supreme Court concluded:
20 We reverse on the limited grounds that the trial judge did not appear to meaningfully consider whether a sentencing alternative was appropriate. But we do not fault the judge at all for having background knowledge about DOSA. If judges are to consider meaningful alternatives to prison sentences, they should be knowledgeable about the programs, their effectiveness, and whether the offender is a good candidate for the program. Again, the purpose of DOSA is to provide meaningful treatment and rehabilitation incentives for those convicted of drug crimes, when the trial judge concludes it would be in the best interests of the individual and the community. See RCW 9.94A.660. But trial judges do not rule in a vacuum, and we do not require trial courts to ignore funding realities.

Four justices joined Justice Chambers's majority opinion. Justice Bridge wrote a dissent, joined by the remaining three justices, arguing that the trial judge was within his discretion in finding that a DOSA would not benefit the defendant and the community.

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