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State v. Sleater

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3

September 28, 2017

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
KASI LYNN SLEATER, Appellant.

          KORSMO, J.

         Kasi Sleater appeals from an order denying her motion to vacate her 2006 conviction for possession of methamphetamine, arguing that a subsequent conviction occurring after the certificate of discharge issued for an offense committed prior to that date was not a "new crime" preventing vacation of the offense. We disagree with the focus of her argument and affirm the trial court.

         FACTS

         Ms. Sleater pleaded guilty on February 8, 2006, to possession of methamphetamine and complied with all the terms of the judgment and sentence. A certificate of discharge issued on May 22, 2008. However, one week before the certificate issued, she had been arrested for possessing methamphetamine with the intent to deliver.

         She promptly pleaded guilty on May 29, 2008, to one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine with the intent to manufacture or deliver and was sentenced to 22 months in prison. On October 3, 2016, Ms. Sleater moved to vacate the 2006 conviction, declaring that she did "not have a conviction for any new crime in any jurisdiction since discharge." Clerk's Papers at 16. The State responded that the 2008 conviction prevented vacation of the 2006 conviction.

         The trial court heard argument on the motion and agreed with the State's interpretation of the statute. Ms. Sleater timely appealed to this court. A panel considered the matter without argument.

         ANALYSIS

         The sole issue presented is whether the 2008 offense prevented the vacation of the 2006 conviction. Ms. Sleater wrongly focuses on the timing of her 2008 arrest rather than the date of conviction for that offense.

         This case presents an issue of statutory interpretation, so the basic rules of statutory construction govern this claim. Questions of statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo. State v. Bradshaw, 152 Wn.2d 528, 531, 98 P.3d 1190 (2004). A court begins by looking at the plain meaning of the rule as expressed through the words themselves. Tesoro Ref. & Mktg. Co. v. Dep't of Revenue, 164 Wn.2d 310, 317, 190 P.3d 28 (2008). If the meaning is plain on its face, the court applies the plain meaning. State v. Armendariz, 160 Wn.2d 106, 110, 156 P.3d 201 (2007). Only if the language is ambiguous does the court look to aids of construction. Id. at 110-11. A provision is ambiguous if it is reasonably subject to multiple interpretations. State v. Engel, 166 Wn.2d.572, 579, 210 P.3d 1007 (2009); State v. McGee, 122 Wn.2d 783, 787, 864 P.2d 912 (1993).

         The rule of lenity can be applied to ambiguous criminal statutes. If a statute is truly ambiguous, the rule of lenity requires that "the court must adopt the interpretation most favorable to the criminal defendant." McGee, 122 Wn.2d at 787.

         Vacation of a felony conviction in Washington is a two-step process under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981, chapter 9.94A RCW. When a convicted offender completes the requirements of his judgment and sentence, a certificate of discharge will enter and restore many civil rights. RCW 9.94A.637. After the receipt of the certificate of discharge and the passage of the requisite amount of time, [1] the offender can seek vacation of the conviction pursuant to RCW 9.94A.640.

         At issue here is the meaning of one of the vacation policy's exceptions found in RCW 9.94A.640(2). The relevant provision states:

(2) An offender may not have the record of conviction cleared if: . . . (d) the offender has been convicted of a new crime in this state, another state, or federal court since the date of the ...

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