Sunday, August 12, 2007

Statutory Construction: Crimes Against Persons

The Washington Supreme Court unanimously construes sections of the Sentencing Reform Act to find that community custody is not mandated for an attempted assault. In re Postsentence Review of Leach, No. 79432-4, Wash. Courts website (Aug. 2, 2007).

RCW 9.94A.715 provides:

(1) When a court sentences a person to the custody of the department for * * * any crime against persons under RCW 9.94A.411(2) * * * , the court shall in addition to the other terms of the sentence, sentence the offender to community custody * * *
Flip the pages back to 9.94A.411, and you find:
(2) Decision to prosecute.


Crimes against persons will be filed if * * *

Crimes against property/other crimes will be filed if * * *

See table below for the crimes within these categories.
The table lists lots of crimes against persons, but none of them are attempt crimes.

Leach hit her 12-year-old son with a tire iron, and she pleaded guilty to attempted assault of a child in the second degree. She was sentenced to 23.25 months confinement followed by 9-18 months community custody.

The Department of Corrections said that she couldn't be placed in community custody because her crime wasn't in the statutory list. The Attorney General argued that result would be absurd. And, on the facts, it sure does seem nutty that bloodying a boy with a tire iron doesn't count as a crime against a person, but some of the nuttiness comes from the plea: the facts would have supported a charge of assault, but the state accepted a plea of attempted assault.

It's all about reading the statute. The Court says that the legislature could have included attempt crimes in the list -- or it could have said that the list was merely illustrative -- but what it said was: these are the crimes that count as crimes against persons. The Court is there to apply the statute the legislature actually enacted and so, in this case, the defendant will not serve community custody after her confinement.

No comments: