Westwood was charged with several felony offenses related to
a sexual assault he committed at age 14. Mr. Westwood entered
into plea negotiations with the State and settled on a
resolution that would have allowed him to plead guilty to a
reduced set of original charges. Although the victim
disagreed with this resolution, the State justified the
agreement based on Mr. Westwood's young age.
trial court was unimpressed with the parties' proposed
resolution. It rejected the plea agreement as inconsistent
with prosecutorial standards and it refused to allow entry of
Mr. Westwood's plea. The case then proceeded to a jury
trial and Mr. Westwood was convicted of several felonies.
appeal, the parties both assign error to the trial
court's rejection of Mr. Westwood's proposed plea and
plea agreement. We concur with this assessment. Two distinct
legal errors tainted the trial court's rejection of the
parties' negotiated settlement. First, the court did not
distinguish between a proffered plea and a proposed plea
agreement. Under current statute and rules, Mr. Westwood
should have been afforded the opportunity to enter a plea
regardless of the merits of his plea agreement. Second,
respect for constitutional separation of powers required the
trial court to defer to the State's tenable position that
its plea agreement was consistent with prosecutorial
standards. This was not done.
remand Mr. Westwood's case to allow for entry of a plea
pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement.
the narrow issue addressed in this opinion, only a brief
recitation of facts is warranted. In 2012, A.B. was attacked
at knifepoint by a male individual who broke into her home.
The individual attempted to rape A.B., but she fended him
off. After the individual fled the scene, A.B. called 911 and
went to the hospital for a sexual assault examination. DNA
(deoxyribonucleic acid) collected from A.B. led the police to
14-year- old Dahndre Westwood. Mr. Westwood was arrested and
A.B. made a positive identification of Mr. Westwood from two
photos taken of him the day he was arrested.
State charged Mr. Westwood with attempted first degree rape,
first degree burglary, first degree assault, second degree
assault, and indecent liberties. Mr. Westwood was 17 years
old at the time charges were filed. The juvenile court
to trial, the parties arrived at a proposed plea agreement.
Under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Westwood would plead
guilty to the pending count of indecent liberties, along with
a charge of third degree assault pending in a different case.
The remaining charges would be dismissed.
plea agreement was presented to the trial court at a pretrial
motion hearing. The State explained it had proposed the
agreement, despite A.B.'s opposition, because Mr.
Westwood was 14 years old at the time of the offense and
recent case law from the Supreme Court indicated that youth
needed to be taken into consideration in case disposition.
The State submitted that the plea agreement was reasonable
and would result in Mr. Westwood being "under the
thumb" of the Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board for
the rest of his life. 1 Report of Proceedings (Sept. 18,
2017) at 6.
recessing to consider the terms of the proposed plea
agreement, the court directed the parties to RCW 9.94A.450,
the statute articulating prosecutorial standards for plea
dispositions in criminal cases:
STANDARD: (1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this
section, a defendant will normally be expected to plead
guilty to the charge or charges which adequately describe the
nature of his or her criminal conduct or go to trial.
(2) In certain circumstances, a plea agreement with a
defendant in exchange for a plea of guilty to a charge or
charges that may not fully describe the nature of his or her
criminal conduct may be necessary and in the public interest.
Such situations may include the following:
(a) Evidentiary problems which make conviction on the
original charges doubtful;
(b) The defendant's willingness to cooperate in the
investigation or prosecution of others whose criminal conduct
is more serious or represents a greater public threat;
(c) A request by the victim when it is not the result of
pressure from the defendant;
(d) The discovery of facts which mitigate the seriousness of
the defendant's conduct;
(e) The correction of errors in the initial charging
(f) The defendant's history with respect to criminal
(g) The nature and seriousness of the offense or offenses
charged; (h) The probable effect on witnesses.
court began with subsection (1) of the statute. The State
agreed that its proposed plea agreement did not totally
describe the nature of Mr. Westwood's criminal conduct.
Thus, the court moved on to subsection (2). The trial court
reviewed (a)-(e) of subsection (2) and (g)-(h). After brief
discussions with counsel for the State, the court determined
that none of the aforementioned provisions supported the
parties' plea agreement. The court did not inquire as to
(2)(f), which addresses a "defendant's history with
respect to criminal activity." Id.
hearing from the parties regarding RCW 9.94A.450, the trial
court took another recess. Upon reconvening, the judge
announced he was denying the parties' requested
resolution. The case was then set for trial. A jury
subsequently convicted Mr. Westwood of attempted first degree
rape, first degree burglary, and first degree assault. He was
acquitted of indecent liberties.
bargaining: the historical and legal context
bargaining is "an essential component of the
administration of justice." Santobello v. New
York, 404 U.S. 257, 260, 92 S.Ct. 495, 30 L.Ed.2d 427
(1971). The benefits of plea bargains include finality,
acceptance of responsibility, preservation of resources, and
the exercise of mercy. Plea bargaining is widely considered
an acceptable component of criminal practice. But this was
not always so. Until the United States Supreme Court's
1971 decision in Santobello, plea bargaining was
viewed with skepticism. "[I]t was a sub rosa process
shrouded in secrecy and deliberately concealed by
participating defendants, defense lawyers, prosecutors, and
even judges." Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S.
63, 76, 97 S.Ct. 1621, 52 L.Ed.2d 136 (1977). Reforms
beginning in the 1970s brought plea bargaining out of the
shadows by clarifying and codifying plea bargain procedures.
See Fed. R. Crim. P. 11 advisory committee's
note to 1974 amendments, 62 F.R.D. 271, 277-86 (1974). In
1981, Washington joined the national reform effort by
establishing procedures for judicial approval of plea
agreements pursuant to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981
(SRA), chapter 9.94A RCW. See former RCW 9.94A.080
(1981), recodified as RCW 9.94A.421; former RCW
9.94A.090 (1981), recodified as RCW 9.94A.431.
confers explicit approval on the plea bargaining process.
Under the SRA, the prosecution may "do any of the