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Barr v. Snohomish County Sheriff

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

June 12, 2018

JERRY L. BARR III, Appellant,
v.
SNOHOMISH COUNTY SHERIFF, Respondent.

          Worswick, J.

         In 1992, a juvenile court adjudicated Jerry L. Barr guilty of two class A felonies. Over 25 years later, in 2016, the juvenile court entered an order sealing Barr's juvenile records of the two felony adjudications. Barr then applied for a concealed pistol license (CPL) through the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office (Sheriff). The Sheriff denied Barr's application based on these felony adjudications. Barr petitioned the superior court for a writ of mandamus to compel the Sheriff to issue him a CPL, and the superior court denied his petition. Because under the juvenile sealing statute sealed adjudications are to be "treated as if they never occurred, " Barr is not prohibited from obtaining a CPL and the superior court erroneously denied Barr's writ of mandamus. We, therefore, reverse and remand with instructions to the superior court to issue the writ. We also grant Barr's request for attorney fees.

          FACTS

         I. Background

         This case requires us to analyze the juvenile sealing statute. In the 19th century, Washington established a separate court division dedicated to juvenile issues with the intention of protecting the interests of juveniles, rather than prosecuting juveniles in the same manner as adult defendants. See Laws of 1905, ch. 18, § 3.[1] Throughout the years, the legislature has expanded the juvenile court system reflecting national changes regarding the treatment of juvenile offenders. See State v. S.J.C., 183 Wn.2d 408, 422-23, 352 P.3d 749 (2015).

         In 1977, the legislature overhauled the juvenile justice statutes and specified substantive and procedural guidelines for juvenile courts by enacting the Juvenile Justice Act of 1977 (JJA). Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess., ch. 291, § 55.[2] With the JJA, the legislature "changed the philosophy and methodology of addressing the personal and societal problems of juvenile offenders." State v. Lawley, 91 Wn.2d 654, 659, 591 P.2d 772 (1979).

         With the 1977 amendments, the legislature also addressed how juvenile proceeding records and official juvenile court files were to be treated. Though the JJA affirmed that juvenile proceeding records and court files were public records, the legislature also created a mechanism for juvenile offenders to have their records sealed or destroyed. State v. J.C., 192 Wn.App. 122, 128, 366 P.3d 455 (2016). The JJA allowed a juvenile to have his or her records sealed two years after the end of a proceeding and destroyed when the juvenile reached 23 years of age. Laws of 1979, 1st Ex. Sess., ch. 155, § 9(11); (16).[3] By establishing a method to seal juvenile records, the legislature reiterated its desire to treat juvenile records more confidentially than other court records. See S.J.C., 183 Wn.2d at 422.

         The juvenile sealing and destruction provisions underwent more changes in 1997. At that time, the legislature amended the sealing and destruction statutes and made the sealing and expungement process more difficult by imposing additional requirements and conditions. State v. Diaz-Cardona, 123 Wn.App. 477, 485, 98 P.3d 136 (2004). However, although the legislature made it more difficult to seal and destroy juvenile records, the legislature did not eradicate the sealing process. See State v. J.H., 96 Wn.App. 167, 176, 978 P.2d 1121 (1999).

         Then in 2014, the legislature again amended the JJA's juvenile court record sealing provisions. Laws of 2014, ch. 175, §§ 3-5.[4] The legislature mandated that the juvenile courts, instead of juveniles, must initiate the sealing of juvenile court records after a certain amount of time and after the juvenile offender met certain conditions. Laws of 2014, ch. 175, § 4. The legislature also clearly stated its intent regarding the protection of juvenile records:

It is the policy of the state of Washington that the interest in juvenile rehabilitation and reintegration constitutes compelling circumstances that outweigh the public interest in continued availability of juvenile court records.

         Laws of 2014, ch. 175, § 1. The legislature further explained that the mechanism for sealing juvenile records existed so that juveniles can overcome prejudice and reintegrate into society. Laws of 2014, ch. 175, § 1.

         More recently, the Supreme Court commented on the court's role in applying the juvenile sealing statutes:

The legislature has always treated juvenile court records as distinctive and as deserving of more confidentiality than other types of records[, ] and [Washington] court[s] ha[ve] always given effect to the legislature's judgment in the unique setting of juvenile court records.

S.J.C., 183 Wn.2d at 417.

         II. Barr's Record Sealing

         In 1992, the King County Juvenile Court adjudicated Barr guilty of two class A felonies.[5]In 2016, Barr petitioned the juvenile court to seal his two juvenile class A felony adjudications. Barr had not committed a crime during the 16 years prior to requesting his records be sealed, and he had maintained law abiding behavior.

         Determining that Barr met all the statutory prerequisites, the juvenile court granted his petition and entered orders sealing Barr's adjudications under RCW 13.50.260, the juvenile records sealing statute. The orders sealed Barr's official juvenile court record, social file, and related agency records. The orders cited RCW 13.50.260 which stated that "the proceedings in the case shall be treated as if they never occurred, and the subject of the records may reply accordingly to any inquiry about the events, the records of which are sealed." The orders also notified Barr that any charging of an adult felony would nullify the sealing order.

         Soon after it entered Barr's orders sealing his records, the court entered an order stating that under RCW 9.41.040(4)(a)(ii), Barr qualified for the restoration of his firearm rights because Barr complied with the terms of his sentences, spent five years in the community without being convicted of a crime, and because Barr "had no prior felony convictions." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 9.

         In 2017, Barr applied for a CPL through the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff denied Barr's application listing his two juvenile class A felony adjudications as the basis for the denial.

         Barr then filed a petition in Thurston County Superior Court seeking a writ of mandamus under RCW 9.41.0975.[6] Barr requested the court to grant his writ and to direct the Sheriff to issue him a CPL. Barr argued that the Sheriff had an affirmative duty to issue a CPL to every applicant unless the applicant was ineligible to possess a firearm under state law or federal law. Specifically, Barr argued that his sealed juvenile adjudications did not exist because under RCW 13.50.260(6)(a), sealed adjudications "shall be treated as if they never occurred, " and, therefore, he was not prohibited from possession of a firearm under RCW 9.41.040(4), Washington's possession of a firearm statute.

         Barr further argued that he was likewise not prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law. He asserted that under 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)((20), the federal firearm statute, federal law looks to the jurisdiction of conviction to determine whether an offense is a "conviction" for purposes of federal firearm law. CP at 33. Barr claimed that because his Washington adjudications were sealed, he did not have a prohibitory conviction under federal law.

          The superior court denied Barr's petition for a writ of mandamus. Barr appeals.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Writ of Mandamus Improperly Denied

         Barr argues that the superior court improperly denied his petition for a writ of mandamus. Barr claims that the Sheriff breached its duty to issue him a CPL because his sealed adjudications are treated as if they never occurred under the juvenile sealing statute and do not prohibit him from possessing a firearm. The Sheriff argues that sealing does not "restore" Barr's firearm rights because he is ineligible to possess a firearm under RCW 9.41.040 and that state and federal cases to the contrary are mistaken. We agree with Barr.

         A. Legal Principles: Writs of Mandamus, Juvenile Records, CPLs

         1. Writs of Mandamus

         A court may issue a writ of mandamus, "to any inferior tribunal, corporation, board or person, to compel the performance of an act which the law especially enjoins as a duty resulting from an office, trust or station." RCW 7.16.160. Additionally, RCW 9.41.0975(2)(a) specifically authorizes a petition for a writ of mandamus requesting that the court direct "an issuing agency to issue a concealed pistol license or alien firearm license wrongfully refused."

         An applicant must satisfy three elements before a writ will issue: (1) the party subject to the writ is under a clear duty to act; (2) the applicant has no plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law; and (3) the applicant is beneficially interested. Eugster v. City of Spokane, 118 Wn.App. 383, 402, 76 P.3d 741 (2003). This dispute involves only the first element-whether the Sheriff had a clear duty to issue Barr a CPL. To determine whether the Sheriff had a clear duty to act, we must look to the statutes governing sealing juvenile records and issuance of CPLs.

         2. Sealing Juvenile Records

         The juvenile record sealing statute provides that once a convicted person meets certain criteria, [7] a person can petition the court to "order the sealing of the official juvenile court record, the social file, and records of the court and of any other agency in the case." RCW 13.50.260(3). Once a person receives a court order sealing their juvenile court records,

[t]hereafter, the proceedings in the case shall be treated as if they never occurred, and the subject of the records may reply accordingly to any inquiry about the events, records of which are sealed. Any agency shall reply to any inquiry concerning confidential or sealed records that records are confidential, and no information can be given about the existence or nonexistence of records concerning an individual.

RCW 13.50.260(6)(a) (emphasis added). After receiving an order sealing their juvenile records and adjudications, the juvenile offender is treated as not having "previously been convicted" under RCW 9.41.040(3) for firearm possession purposes. Nelson v. State, 120 Wn.App. 470, 480, 85 P.3d 912 (2003).

         3. Issuing CPLs

         RCW 9.41.070 governs the issuance of CPL in Washington. RCW 9.41.070(1)(a) states that the sheriff of a county shall issue a CPL to an applicant and provides that an applicant will not be issued a CPL where

[h]e or she is ineligible to possess a firearm under the provisions of RCW 9.41.040 . . . or is prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law.

         Therefore, whether a person can obtain a CPL depends on whether they are eligible to possess a firearm under state and federal law.

         RCW 9.41.040(1)(a) provides:

A person, whether an adult or juvenile, is guilty of the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree, if the person owns, has in his or her possession, or has in his or her control any firearm after having previously been convicted . . . of any serious offense as defined in this chapter. It is undisputed that Barr's juvenile class A felonies constitute "serious offenses." Br. of App. at 2; Br. of Resp't at 5.

         Additionally, RCW 9.41.040(3) provides:

Notwithstanding RCW 9.41.047[8] or any other provisions of law, as used in this chapter, a person has been "convicted", whether in an adult court or adjudicated in a juvenile court, at such time as a plea of guilty has been accepted, or a verdict of guilty has been filed, notwithstanding the pendency of any future proceedings including but not limited to sentencing or disposition, post-trial or post-fact-finding motions, and appeals. . . . A person shall not be precluded from possession of a firearm if the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, certificate of rehabilitation, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding of the rehabilitation of the person convicted or the conviction or disposition has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, or other equivalent procedure based ...

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