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State v. H.Z.-B.

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

November 20, 2017

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Appellant,
v.
H.Z.-B., Respondent.

          Leach, J.

         The State challenges the trial court's decision to seal H.Z.-B.'s juvenile record after she completed the requirements of her deferred disposition and the court dismissed her case with prejudice. The State contends that the relevant statutes require that the court wait until H.Z.-B. is 18 years old before it may seal her record. We disagree because the relevant statutes direct the court to seal a juvenile record when the case is dismissed with prejudice, as it was here. We affirm.

         FACTS

         The State charged H.B.-Z. as a juvenile with taking a motor vehicle without permission in the second degree and theft in the third degree. The trial court granted H.Z.-B. a deferred disposition, as permitted by RCW 13.40.127. H.Z.-B. complied with the deferral conditions by paying $7 in restitution and completing 16 hours of community service. The court vacated H.Z.-B.'s conviction and dismissed the case with prejudice.

         H.Z.-B. asked the court to seal her juvenile record. At the time of the sealing hearing, H.Z.-B. was 15 years old. Over the State's objection, the court sealed her record.

         The State appeals.

         ANALYSIS

         The State contends that a trial court may not seal the record of a deferred disposition that results in dismissal with prejudice before a juvenile's 18th birthday. We disagree.

         In general, appellate courts review trial court decisions to seal records for abuse of discretion.[1] But the State raises an issue of statutory interpretation. This presents a question of law that we review de novo.[2] A court's objective in reading a statute is to ascertain and carry out the legislature's intent.[3] The court first looks to the statute's plain language to determine the legislature's intent.[4] If the court finds that the statutory language can be given only one reasonable interpretation, its inquiry ends because that language requires no construction.[5] "When interpreting an ambiguous statute, a court will construe it so as to effect the intent of the Legislature within the context of the entire statute."[6] The court must give effect to all language within the statute so that no portion is rendered meaningless or superfluous.[7]

         The statutes at issue are RCW 13.50.260, which governs sealing juvenile records generally, and RCW 13.40.127, which controls deferred dispositions and contains provisions about sealing the records of those cases. The State contends that the plain language of RCW 13.40.127(10)(a) requires that a juvenile offender be 18 before a court may seal her completed deferred disposition. H.Z.-B. contends that RCW 13.50.260(2) authorizes a court to seal a record of a deferred disposition immediately if the court has dismissed the case with prejudice. We agree with H.Z.-B.

         The plain language of the statutes supports H.Z.-B.'s position. RCW 13.50.260(2) states, "The court shall enter a written order immediately sealing the official juvenile court record upon the acquittal after a fact finding or upon the dismissal of charges with prejudice, subject to the state's right, if any, to appeal the dismissal." When a juvenile offender satisfies the conditions of a deferred disposition, the court vacates the conviction and dismisses the case with prejudice.[8] Thus, the plain language of RCW 13.50.260(2) entitles H.Z.-B. to have her record sealed. RCW 13.40.127(10)(b) reinforces this interpretation. RCW 13.40.127(10)(b) states that the subsection containing it does not prevent a juvenile from asking the court to seal her record: "Nothing in this subsection shall preclude a juvenile from petitioning the court to have the records of his or her deferred dispositions sealed under RCW 13.50.260." Thus, the unambiguous language of these two provisions supports record sealing here.[9]

         The State's contrary arguments do not persuade us. At oral argument, the State acknowledged that it had previously not contested sealing the deferred disposition records of minors. At some point, the Island County Prosecuting Attorney's Office changed this policy for reasons that counsel could not identify. It now claims that the office based this formerly accepted practice on an incorrect interpretation of the statutes. The State contends that the language of RCW 13.40.127(10)(a) plainly supports its position. The statute states,

(i) Any time the court vacates a conviction pursuant to subsection (9) of this section, if the juvenile is eighteen years of age or older and the full amount of restitution owing to the individual victim named in the restitution order, excluding restitution owed to any insurance provider authorized under Title 48 RCW has been paid, the court shall enter a written order sealing the case.
(ii) Any time the court vacates a conviction pursuant to subsection (9) of this section, if the juvenile is not eighteen years of age or older and full restitution ordered has been paid, the court shall schedule an administrative sealing hearing to take place no later than thirty days after the respondent's eighteenth ...

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