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Withdrawal of Guilty Plea Required for Washington Prisoner

By David M. Ruetter

The State of Washington Court of Appeals has held that a defendant is entitled to withdraw a guilty plea where he was not informed that he could not earn early release credits during the mandatory minimum portion of his sentence.

Before the Court was the Personal Restraint Petition of Michael Duke Coombes, who pleaded guilty to first degree murder and was sentenced to 300 months. He claimed he was under the mistaken belief that he was eligible for 20 percent earned release credit for the entire 300 months.

After he began serving that sentence, he learned of RCW 9.94A.540(1)(a), which provides that anyone convicted of first degree murder has a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years’ total confinement. During that minimum term, the offender is not eligible for “community custody, earned release time, furlough, home detention, partial confinement, work crew, work release, or any form of early release.”

Neither his plea statement or judgment and sentence informed him of the 240 month mandatory minimum. In fact, the judgment and sentence leaves blank a statement informing of the mandatory minimum. A similar provision was struck from the plea statement.

The Court agreed Coombes was not advised of a significant difference in his ability to earn release credits, reducing what he thought he could earn from 30 months to only 6 months. As such, he was not informed of all of the consequences of his guilty plea and was entitled to withdrawal from that plea.

See: In the Matter of the Personal Restraint of Michael Duke Coombes, Case No. 28036-5-III (Wash Ct. Appeal 20__) Unpublished Opinion.

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Related legal case

In the Matter of the Personal Restraint of Michael Duke Coombes