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Trial Court Lacks Authority to Deny Washington Earned Credits

The Washington State Supreme Court, sitting en banc, held that the trial court has no authority to restrict the grant of earned early release time credits.

Brenda Louise West robbed a motel. "In exchange for a reduction of the charge from first degree robbery down to first degree theft, West agreed to serve an exceptional 10-year-sentence.... As part of her plea bargain, West also signed a waiver in which she agreed to serve the full 10-year sentence and requested that the Department of Corrections (Department) not make any calculation or application of earned early release time. The sentencing judge made a handwritten notation on the judgment and sentence explaining that West stipulated to 10 years flat time with no earned early release. The Department read this notation to prohibit it from applying any earned early release credit to West's sentence."

West filed a personal restraint petition, but the Court of Appeals concluded "that [the trial court's] notation merely memorialized West's stipulation to serve flat time, but did not actually prohibit the application for early release time." It therefore dismissed the petition.

The Supreme Court disagreed, explaining that "the handwritten notation on West's sentence constitutes a fundamental defect justifying collateral relief because the sentence exceeds the sentencing court's statutory authority and the defect is not cured by the fact that West agreed to the limitation of her earned early release time as part of her plea bargain." Additionally, the "invited error doctrine" does not apply "where the sentencing court has acted outside of its statutory authority." As such, the Court held that "only the Department has the authority to grant or deny earned early release time, and thus the handwritten notation renders West's judgment and sentence facially invalid." See: Personal Restraint Petition of Brenda Louise West, 154 Wash.2d 204, 110 P.3d 1122 (Wash., 2005).

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Related legal case

Personal Restraint Petition of Brenda Louise West