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Washington Community Custody, Sex Offender Registration and Release Conditions Modified

On September 13, 2012, the Washington Court of Appeals, Division Three, instructed a lower court to clarify a sex offender’s length of community custody, correct his registration requirement, revise prohibitions regarding dating relationships and strike conditions related to Internet use, mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment.

Jerry D. Sheehan was convicted of molesting his 12-year-old step-daughter and sentenced to 22 years in prison followed by 13 years of community custody. The trial court also imposed post-release crime-related conditions, including prohibiting Sheehan from dating or forming relationships without prior approval and from possessing pornography. The court further ordered Sheehan to participate in mental health and substance abuse treatment and placed restrictions on his Internet usage.

Pursuant to RCW 9.94A.701(9), if an offender’s standard range of confinement, combined with community custody, exceeds the statutory maximum sentence, the community custody period shall be reduced. When “a sentence of confinement and community custody could possibly exceed the statutory maximum for the crime, the appropriate remedy is to remand to the trial court to amend the judgment and sentence.”

The Court of Appeals held that “While Mr. Sheehan’s total term of confinement and community custody does not exceed the statutory maximum for the combined offenses ... the judgment and sentence should clearly state the exact term of community custody for each count.” Therefore, the appellate court remanded the case “to clarify the length of confinement and/or community custody for each count within the statutory maximum.” Sheehan’s exceptional sentence was upheld, however, as “the trial court correctly found as a matter of law that substantial and compelling reasons existed for imposing an exceptional sentence.”

Under RCW 9A.44.140(2), Washington sex offenders are required to register for 15 years following their release from prison. However, the trial court ordered Sheehan to register for a total of 50 years. Accepting the state’s concession that the “registration requirement should end 15 years after his release,” the Court of Appeals remanded “to correct the judgment.”

Citing State v. Bahl, 164 Wn.2d 739, 757-58, 193 P.3d 678 (Wash. 2008), the appellate court recognized that “a general restriction on accessing or possessing pornographic materials implicates First Amendment rights and is unconstitutionally vague.” Given the state’s concession that the pornography ban imposed on Sheehan was vague, that prohibition was struck down.

Likewise, recognizing a First Amendment right to freedom of association under State v. Moultrie, 143 Wn.App 387, 399, n.21, 177 P.3d 776 (Wash. Ct. App. 2008), the Court of Appeals agreed that “the prohibition against dating or forming relationships without prior approval is overbroad and unreasonable because it does not accurately describe the class of persons that Mr. Sheehan is not allowed to contact, based on his crime.” Although Sheehan had victimized a child, the prohibition barred “platonic relationships with childless adults,” and thus was “not reasonably related to the State’s essential need to protect children.” The appellate court held that “a more focused prohibition is required” and instructed the lower court “to revise the prohibition to limit Mr. Sheehan from forming relationships with persons having minor children.”

The state also conceded that the trial court did not follow RCW 9.94A.505(9) in imposing a condition requiring Sheehan to undergo a mental health evaluation and treatment. The trial court was directed to strike that condition because it lacked the authority to impose it without first following the required statutory procedure.

Finally, the Court of Appeals struck the substance abuse treatment and Internet usage conditions, because the state admitted that Internet and substance abuse “were not implicated in Mr. Sheehan’s crime and are not crime related.” See: Washington v. Sheehan, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2143 (Wash. Ct. App. Sept. 13, 2012) (unpublished).

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Related legal case

Washington v. Sheehan