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State v. Williams

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

October 30, 2014

The State of Washington, Petitioner ,
v.
Christian Vern Williams, Respondent

Argued June 10, 2014

Appeal from Stevens County Superior Court 10-1-00081-4 Honorable Allen C Nielson.

Christian Vern Williams, pro se.

Timothy D. Rasmussen, Prosecuting Attorney, and Matthew J. Enzler, Deputy, for petitioner.

Kenneth H. Kato, for respondent.

AUTHOR: Justice Debra L. Stephens. WE CONCUR: Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, Justice Charles W. Johnson, Justice Susan Owens, Justice Mary E. Fairhurst, Justice Charles K. Wiggins, Justice Steven C. González, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Justice Mary I. Yu.

OPINION

Page 1153

Stephens, J.

[181 Wn.2d 796] ¶ 1 The Sentencing Reform Act of 1981 (SRA) requires sentencing courts to count prior convictions that encompass the same criminal conduct as a single offense when calculating an offender score. RCW 9.94A.525(5)(a). The burglary antimerger statute permits courts to punish and prosecute separately crimes committed during the commission of a burglary. RCW 9A.52.050. At issue is whether sentencing courts have discretion to count prior convictions separately under the burglary antimerger statute notwithstanding a finding that they encompass the same criminal conduct under the SRA. The Court of Appeals held they do not. We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2 On April 12, 2010, Christian Williams stole several items from the home of his childhood friend and former housemate, Bo Larsen. Tr. of Proceedings (TP) (Oct. 13, 2010) at 58-60, 64. When Larsen confronted Williams about the stolen items, Williams admitted his involvement and [181 Wn.2d 797] returned most items, though some had already been used as collateral for a pawn shop loan. Id. at 72-73, 79. A jury convicted Williams of residential burglary and trafficking in stolen property in the first degree. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 103-04.

¶ 3 At sentencing, the State submitted evidence that Williams had four prior adult convictions. TP (Nov. 16, 2010) at 2. Two of those convictions stem from a robbery and burglary sentenced in April 2004. CP at 113. Counting these prior convictions separately, the State calculated Williams's offender score to be five as to trafficking and seven as to residential burglary. Williams did not deny the existence of his prior convictions but debated the accuracy of the State's calculation. He insisted that his 2004 robbery and burglary convictions count as a single offense, making his offender score four and six, respectively. According to Williams, the 2004 sentencing court found the prior robbery and burglary convictions encompassed the same criminal conduct and therefore the current sentencing court was bound to that determination under RCW 9.94A.525(5)(a)(i). TP (Nov. 16, 2010) at 9. The dispute at sentencing centered on whether the 2004 court had made such a determination, and whether the burglary antimerger statute required the current sentencing court to count the prior convictions separately regardless of any same criminal conduct finding.

¶ 4 The record does not establish that the sentencing court reached any conclusion as to whether a same criminal conduct finding was made in 2004. The parties discussed some ambiguity in the scoring on the 2004 judgment and sentence, but the court ultimately concluded that " the legal authority in this area is the burglaries do not merge." Id. at 11; see also State v. Williams, 176 Wn.App. 138, 145 n.5, 307 P.3d 819 (2013) (Korsmo, C.J., dissenting) (noting confusion in 2004 calculation). The sentencing court therefore counted Williams's prior robbery and burglary convictions separately and did not engage in a same criminal conduct analysis under RCW 9.94A.525(5)(a)(i). TP (Nov. 16, 2010) [181 Wn.2d 798] at 11-12. It determined Williams's offender score was as the State had calculated and sentenced him accordingly.

¶ 5 Williams appealed, arguing that the sentencing court violated RCW 9.94A.525(5)(a)(i) by not conducting a same criminal conduct analysis. The Court of Appeals agreed with Williams. Williams, 176 Wn.App. at 143-44. The court held the burglary antimerger statute applies only to sentencing on current offenses, not to the scoring of prior convictions. Id. at 143. Accordingly, the court concluded that the sentencing court erred in relying on the burglary antimerger statute and abused its discretion by not conducting a same criminal conduct analysis. Although the court ...


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