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Court Discusses Youth as a Mitigating Factor in Washington Weapons Charge Cases

On Behalf of | Nov 5, 2019 | Evidence

In many cases in which a person convicted of a crime is a juvenile, the court will consider the person’s youth and impose a more lenient sentence. Even if the court takes a person’s youth into consideration, however, it does not always result in a lesser sentence. Recently, the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2, discussed the weight that a person’s age should be granted when determining an appropriate sentence in a case in which a juvenile defendant convicted of multiple weapons charges sought extraordinary relief. If you are a resident of Washington currently facing weapons charges, it is advisable to consult a proficient Washington gun crime attorney to assess your options for protecting your rights.

Background of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was in the process of illegally purchasing prescription drugs when he fired a gun several times into the vehicle of the person selling the drugs. One of the rounds the defendant fired hit a person in the vehicle in the jaw. The defendant was subsequently charged with first-degree assault, with a firearm enhancement, and unlawful possession of a firearm. The defendant entered a guilty plea to both charges.

Reportedly, prior to sentencing, the defendant requested an exceptional sentence due to his youth and the difficulties he faced as a child. Specifically, the defendant requested a sentence of 35.6 months in confinement, which is the sentence he would receive if he was sentenced as a juvenile.

The State opposed the defendant’s request for an exceptional sentence. The trial court ultimately imposed a sentence of 171 months’ imprisonment, which included 60 months for the firearm enhancement, which was at the low end of the sentencing range. The defendant then filed a petition for personal restraint, arguing that the trial court erred in failing to take his youth into meaningful consideration, thereby violating his Eighth Amendment rights.

Youth as a Mitigating Factor

Petitions for personal restraint face a high standard, and granting a personal restraint petition affords extraordinary relief. A defendant claiming the sentencing court committed constitutional error must show actual prejudice and that a non-constitutional fundamental defect caused a complete miscarriage of justice.

Under Washington law, while a trial court has the right to consider a defendant’s age as a mitigating factor, youth in and of itself is not a per se mitigating factor that necessarily grants a young defendant the right to an exceptional sentence. Rather, courts have the sole discretion to impose a sentence below the standard, with or without mandatory enhancements, in cases involving juveniles. In assessing an appropriate sentence for a juvenile, the court must consider whether the defendant possesses the mitigating factors associated with youth, such as immaturity and the failure to consider risks and consequences.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the trial court granted the defendant’s weight appropriate consideration and did not err in issuing the defendant’s sentence. Specifically, the court stated that at three months prior to his eighteenth birthday, the defendant could appreciate the consequences of firing a gun into a car. Thus, the court denied the petition.

Confer with a Skillful Washington Gun Crime Defense Attorney

In many cases, even if a defendant is convicted of a weapons charge, there are mitigating factors that the court will take into consideration that may result in a lesser sentence.  If you are a resident of Washington faced with a weapons charge, it is in your best interest to confer with a skillful Washington weapons charges attorney to assess your available defenses. The diligent criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White will work tirelessly to help you seek the best legal result achievable in your case. We can be reached through our online form or at 253-363-8662 to schedule a meeting.