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State v. Schwartz

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

October 10, 2019

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Petitioner,
v.
MATTHEW T. SCHWARTZ, Respondent.

          OWENS, J.

         Matthew T. Schwartz pleaded guilty to felony failure to register as a sex offender. At sentencing, Schwartz and the State disputed whether two of Schwartz's prior class C felony convictions had "washed out"-that is, whether Schwartz's prior convictions should not have been included in his offender score- under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981 (SRA), chapter 9.94A RCW. Specifically, the parties disagreed as to whether time spent in jail as a sanction for failing to pay legal financial obligations (LFOs) ordered on a felony conviction resets the five-year washout period under RCW 9.94A.525(2)(c).

         We hold that the legislature did not intend that time spent in jail as a sanction for failing to pay LFOs ordered on a felony conviction reset the five-year washout period and precluded a prior class C felony conviction from washing out. Reading RCW 9.94A.525(2)(c) as resetting the washout period when a defendant spends time in jail for failing to pay LFOs leads to absurd results and is contrary to the SRA and its legislative history. Accordingly, both Schwartz's 1997 and 2001 convictions wash out under RCW 9.94A.525(2)(c) and should not have been included in his offender score. Thus, we affirm the Court of Appeals.

         FACTS

         Schwartz was convicted of a felony sex offense and required by law to register as a sex offender. In 2017, a Klickitat County sheriffs deputy learned that Schwartz had moved from his last reported residence nearly three months prior and had failed to provide notice of the address change. The State subsequently charged Schwartz with felony failure to register as a sex offender.

         Schwartz pleaded guilty as charged. Prior to sentencing, both the State and Schwartz reported the following criminal history for Schwartz:

Crime

Violation Date

Sentence Date

Crime Type

Second Degree Assault (with Sexual Motivation)

09/01/1993

07/10/1998

FA [felony class A]

Forgery

07/02/1997

07/22/1997

FC [felony class C]

Failure to Register as a Sex Offender

05/04/2001

09/04/2001

FC

VUCS A [violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act] - Possession of Methamphetamine

03/13/2013

11/03/2014

FC

See Clerk's Papers at 28.

         Schwartz stipulated that both his 1998 second degree assault conviction and his 2014 possession of methamphetamine conviction counted toward his offender score. Accordingly, Schwartz's 1998 second degree assault conviction counted as three points toward his offender score, and his 2014 possession of methamphetamine conviction counted as one point. RCW 9.94A.525(2)(a), (17), (7).

         Schwartz argued, however, that neither his 1997 forgery conviction nor his 2001 failure to register as a sex offender conviction should be included in his offender score. Schwartz asserted that he spent over 5 years in the community without committing any crime that resulted in a conviction between the date of release from confinement for his 2001 failure to register as a sex offender conviction and his 2014 possession of methamphetamine conviction.[1] Schwartz reasoned that because he had spent over 5 years in the community without a conviction, his 1997 and 2001 class C felony convictions washed out under the SRA. Schwartz calculated his offender score as a 4, resulting in a standard range sentence of 12 to 14 months in confinement. RCW9.94A.510.

         The State disagreed with Schwartz's offender score calculation, contending that his 1997 forgery and 2001 failure to register as a sex offender convictions counted as one point each. RCW 9.94A.525(7), (18). The State noted that the trial court had entered three separate orders between 2014 and 2015 modifying the judgment and sentence for Schwartz's 2001 failure to register as a sex offender conviction and imposing additional jail time as sanctions due to Schwartz's failure to pay LFOs ordered on his 2001 conviction.[2] The State argued that because Schwartz was confined in jail for failing to pay the LFOs ordered on his 2001 conviction, Schwartz had been confined pursuant to a felony conviction. The State further reasoned that due to Schwartz's time in jail pursuant to his 2001 felony conviction, the SRA's washout period was not triggered until his release in 2015. Accordingly, the State asserted that Schwartz had not spent 5 years in the community without a conviction and calculated his offender score as a 6, leading to a standard range sentence of 17 to 22 months. RCW 9.94A.510.

         The trial court determined that Schwartz's offender score was a 6 and imposed a sentence of 17 months in confinement. The trial court concluded that the three orders modifying Schwartz's judgment and sentence and imposing sanctions for his failure to pay LFOs "exclude[d] any washout of the forgery and the failing to register as a sex offender crimes." Transcript of Proceedings at 28. The court reasoned that "the time of any service of any sentence [related to a felony conviction]," id, counted as "confinement. . . pursuant to a felony conviction" under RCW 9.94A.525(2)(c) of the SRA.

         Schwartz appealed, and Division Three of the Court of Appeals reversed his sentence and remanded for resentencing within the appropriate standard range. State v. Schwartz, 6 Wn.App. 2d 151, 160, 429 P.3d 1080 (2018). The Court of Appeals held that "the language 'the last date of release from confinement. . . pursuant to a felony conviction' in RCW 9.94A.525(2)(c) does not include confinement imposed for a failure to make a payment toward LFOs." Id. at 153 (alteration in original). The court reasoned that the legislature did not intend that financial conditions on a criminal sentence be included in an offender score because a condition requiring the payment of LFOs is not directly related to public safety and because the obligation to pay LFOs can continue well beyond the statutory maximum term for the convicted offense. Id. The State petitioned this court for review, which we granted. l92Wn.2d 1023 (2019).

         ISSUE

         Does serving jail time as a sanction for failing to pay LFOs ordered as part of a felony conviction constitute "confinement . . . pursuant to a felony conviction" under RCW 9.94A.525(2)(c) such that the statute's washout period would ...


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