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Washington: Sentence for Escape Conviction Can Only be Enhanced by Other Escapes

Division III of the Washington State Court of Appeals held on June 21, 2016 that a sentence for a conviction of “escape from community custody” may only be enhanced or increased by other escape convictions.

Washington state prisoner Terry Baker pleaded guilty in February 2015 to a charge of escape from community custody. He and the state disagreed on what his offender score – or “points” – should be. In Washington, a sentence is increased by the number of a defendant’s prior felony convictions. Points are imposed not only for prior felonies, but also for other factors like committing a crime while under sentence for another crime or being on community custody at the time of the offense.

The parties’ disagreement centered on two sentencing statutes: One that said a sentence for escape from community custody may only be enhanced by prior escape convictions, and another that specified a point be added to a defendant’s offender score if he was on community custody when the offense was committed.

Baker had three prior escape convictions, and by the very nature of his current conviction he was on community custody when he escaped. The trial court accepted the state’s argument that Baker’s offender score should include an additional point for being on community custody at the time of the escape, and Baker appealed.

After analyzing both competing statutes and their legislative histories, the appellate court found that both interpretations were reasonable.

“If after applying the rules of statutory construction, we conclude that a statute is ambiguous, the rule of lenity requires us to interpret the statute in favor of the defendant,” the Court of Appeals ruled.

Accordingly, Baker’s sentence was vacated and the case remanded to the trial court with instructions to resentence him using only his prior escape convictions in his offender score. See: State of Washington v. Baker, 194 Wn. App. 678, 378 P.3d 243 (Wash. Ct. App. 2016). 

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Related legal case

State of Washington v. Baker