Habitual Offender Status

Washington’s criminal justice system, as evidenced by both the laws passed by the state legislature and ballot initiatives passed by the voters, intends to discourage repeat offenders by allowing increasingly enhanced punishments for subsequent convictions. This was the first state to enact a “three strikes” law, which the voters approved in 1993. Judges have the authority, when determining a sentence after a conviction, to consider prior criminal history as grounds for increasing the punishment. Because of these laws, even seemingly minor offenses can have severe consequences. A Washington criminal defense attorney who understands the state’s criminal statutes and sentencing guidelines can advise you of the potential impact of a criminal case, and can help you work to minimize the consequences.

Three Strikes Law

Washington voters approved a measure in 1993 called the “three strikes” law, intended to provide harsher punishments for repeat offenders. The findings attached to the law state that almost half of the people convicted of criminal offense in Washington have “active prior criminal histories.” The three strikes law requires courts to sentence a defendant to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, upon their third conviction for a “most serious offense.” The criminal code defines “most serious offense” broadly, including class A felonies, conspiracies or solicitations to commit class A felonies, class B felonies with sexual motivation, certain organized crimes charges, promotion of prostitution, and out-of-state felonies with sexual motivation. It may also include certain prior convictions for indecent liberties. People who are subject to the three strikes law, known as “persistent offenders,” are ineligible for parole, work release, furlough, house arrest, community custody, or any other type of leave from prison except for medical necessity.

Prior Convictions in Sentencing

Washington’s criminal code establishes a scoring system to be used in sentencing, which takes into account the circumstances of the offense for which the defendant was convicted, prior criminal history, and other factors. The final “score” determines the sentence. A judge may consider prior “unscored” misdemeanor convictions or out-of-state convictions as factors meriting an increase in the punishment. A judge may also consider other offenses allegedly committed at or near the same time as the one for which the defendant was convicted.

Individuals convicted of sex crimes may also face enhanced sentencing based on prior convictions, even if they are not classified as a “persistent offender.” A person convicted of assault in the second degree with a prior conviction for a sex offense, for example, may face a sentencing enhancement. Understanding how prior convictions can affect a current case, should a conviction occur, is therefore critical to developing a strategy for your case.

Criminal convictions in Tacoma and elsewhere in western Washington can have dire consequences for a defendant. Defendants need the assistance of a Washington criminal defense lawyer with knowledge of and experience in our state’s legal system, who understands the laws involved and can work to minimize the impact on your life. For over fifteen years, I have helped criminal defendants obtain plea agreements and verdicts with significantly reduced penalties, as well as outright dismissals and acquittals. For a free and confidential consultation, contact our office today online or at (888) 312-3093.