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Washington Sexually Violent Predator Escape Law Upheld

The Washington state Court of Appeals held that a statute criminalizing escape from a civil commitment facility is not unconstitutional.

On March 15, 2006, Matthew John Jagger was civilly committed to the McNeil Island Special Commitment Center (SCC) after he was found to be a sexually violent predator (SVP).

On July 21, 2006, Jagger placed a dummy in his bed, climbed two fences and attempted to escape. He was found between SCC's interior and exterior fences. He was then charged with attempted SVP escape under RCW §§ 9A.76.115 and 9A.28.020.

On November 6, 2007, Jagger moved to dismiss the charges. The trial court denied his motion and the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed.

The court rejected Jagger's argument that criminalizing escape from a civil facility is inconsistent with judicial determinations that SVP confinement is appropriate because it is civil, not criminal, in nature.

Although the issue was a matter of first impression, the court observed that other courts had decided the issue contrary to Jagger's position.

The Court ultimately found that "Jagger presents no persuasive argument that" the "threat of prosecution for SVP escape changes the nature of the civil confinement." Rather, "prosecution for SVP escape does not criminalize his civil commitment; instead, it criminalizes his escape from that confinement."

The court also rejected Jagger's argument that his prosecution did not violate double jeopardy. "Jagger has not been put in jeopardy twice for the same crime," the court concluded. "The State charged him with attempted SVP escape, not the events that led to his placement in the facility."

The court finally rejected Jagger's argument that punishing SVP offenders who escape more harshly than other offenders who escape, violates the equal protection clause.

Since "an SVP is not a member of a suspect or semi-suspect class," the court determined that rational basis review applies. Noting that SVPs "are generally considerably more dangerous to others than the mentally ill," who are also civilly committed, the court determined that the "difference in threat level, combined with the heightened likelihood that the SVP will 'engage in predatory acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility,' supports the different treatment for SVP escapees." Ultimately, the court found that a rational relationship exists given that "the legislature has found treatment to be the primary goal of SVP commitment," and "discouraging those sent there from escaping furthers that treatment objective." See: Washington v. Jagger, 166 Wash.2d 1023, 217 P.3d 335 (Wash. 2009) (Table).

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Related legal case

Washington v. Jagger