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State v. Bacon

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

April 19, 2018

EVAN BACON, Petitioner.

          GORDON MCCLOUD, J.

         Evan Bacon, a juvenile, pleaded guilty to second degree robbery and received a suspended disposition. The State challenged the juvenile court's authority to enter such a disposition, arguing that the Juvenile Justice Act of 1977 (JJA), chapter 13.40 RCW, does not give trial courts the statutory authority to suspend juvenile dispositions (except in specific situations that are absent here). The Court of Appeals agreed, and so do we. We therefore affirm and hold that juvenile court judges lack statutory authority to suspend JJA dispositions, even manifest injustice JJA dispositions, unless the disposition fits under one of the specifically listed exemptions in RCW 13.40.160(10).


         Bacon pleaded guilty to robbery in the second degree after stealing a purse. Based on his criminal history, the standard range disposition for this crime was 52-65 weeks. RCW 13.40.0357. The State and the juvenile probation officer both recommended a disposition within that standard range.

         Bacon, in contrast, requested a "manifest injustice" disposition below that range; he sought a sentence of 30 days plus 12 months of community supervision with standard probation conditions and "all conditions deemed appropriate by the court." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 10. Bacon argued that a manifest injustice finding was appropriate because (1) Bacon did not contemplate that his conduct would cause or threaten serious bodily injury, RCW 13.40.150(3)(h)(i), and (2) Bacon made significant growth in the months before the robbery. Specifically, Bacon stated that he had been working to incorporate the skills he learned at a Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA) facility. Both Bacon and his mother reported that he had been doing better since his release. Additionally, Bacon had services already in place within the community-Sea Mar Community Health Centers counseling, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and TeamChild. Bacon noted that the Bellevue School District had recently completed a comprehensive evaluation of his needs and that he had been placed at Bellevue High School to address his academic, emotional, and behavioral concerns. Bacon concluded that "if he is sent right back to JRA again, there is a real risk that [he] will become institutionalized." CP at 14.

         The juvenile court agreed with Bacon in part. On October 14, 2015, that court imposed a 65 week disposition, but suspended it all for a period of 12 months. CP at 22-23. The court acknowledged that this disposition fell outside the standard range and entered a "manifest injustice" finding under RCW 13.40.150(3)(h)(i) to support its imposition. Specifically, the court found that Bacon did not cause or contemplate that his actions would cause serious bodily injury and that he needed "[m]ental health treatment and qualifie[d] for a suspended disposition pursuant to RCW 30.40.167." CP at 23.

         Procedural History

         The State moved for reconsideration of the manifest injustice disposition on the ground that the facts did not support the manifest injustice finding. In addition, the State opposed the decision to suspend Bacon's disposition, arguing:

There is no statutory authorization for the Court to suspend a JRA commitment where Option B, SSODA [special sex offender disposition alternative], MHDA [mental health disposition alternative], and C[D]DA [chemical dependency disposition alternative] are unavailable under RCW 13.40.0357, 13.40.162, 13.40.167, and 13.40.165. Option D ("Manifest Injustice") allows the Court to impose a disposition outside the standard range, but does not authorize a court to suspend one. To conclude otherwise would be to render the sections regarding Option B, SSODA, MHDA, and C[D]DA-and their respective eligibility restrictions-superfluous and, essentially, meaningless.

CP at 58 (State's Proposed Conclusions of Law 10). The juvenile court declined to reconsider its October 14 decision.

         On April 29, 2016, after Bacon failed to meet the conditions of his suspended disposition, the court revoked it. The court noted that this was a manifest injustice disposition and therefore reconsidered the initial 65 week sentence and instead ordered 40 weeks of commitment to a JRA facility.

         After the court revoked Bacon's suspended disposition, the State's appeal became moot. However, both parties and the Court of Appeals commissioner "agree[d] that the issue [of whether a juvenile court can impose a suspended sentence under the manifest injustice portion of the JJA] is recurring and that an appellate decision by a panel of judges is warranted."[1] The State did not pursue its argument that the court's findings failed to support a manifest injustice finding. Both parties submitted new briefings regarding the juvenile court's authority to suspend a standard range disposition.

         Division One reversed. It adhered to its prior decision in State v. A.S., 116 Wn.App. 309, 65 P.3d 676 (2003) (per curiam), which held that juvenile courts lack inherent authority to suspend dispositions and can do so only when the legislature grants such authority. It therefore held that the JJA did not authorize suspended dispositions for juveniles convicted of robbery in the second degree, even with a finding of manifest injustice. State v. Bacon, 197 Wn.App. 772, 391 P.3d 556, review granted, 189 Wn.2d 1008, 403 P.3d 39 (2017).

         Bacon moved for reconsideration based on this court's decision in State v. Houston-Sconiers, 188 Wn.2d 1, 391 P.3d409 (2017). The Court of Appeals denied that motion. This court granted review, in part to resolve the conflict between Division One's decision in this case and Division Three's decision to the contrary in State v. Crabtree, 116 Wn.App. 536, 66 P.3d 695 (2003).[2]

         During oral arguments in this court, both parties acknowledged that the JJA did not give the juvenile court the statutory authority to suspend Bacon's disposition, even with the manifest injustice finding.[3] As discussed below, we agree.[4] We also reject the argument that the trial court possesses inherent ...

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