The Parenting Sentencing Alternative. A Washington Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective.
In the practice of law as criminal defense attorneys | lawyers, we have occasionally seen mothers or fathers with dependent children make a mistake and face a felony conviction with prison time. As their children are innocent, it can cause real anguish for families trying to cope with the fallout of such charges. Though neither the Washington state prosecuting attorneys nor the court system is interested in promoting the idea that having children will get you out of prison sentences, there have been enough compelling situations that legislation was passed to allow a parent to avoid prison to care for their child while maintaining complete compliance with this order. The benefit of this program is a parent avoids a lengthy prison sentence; the down side is failure is treated harshly.
No person facing a felony conviction, no matter how much family support they have, should consider the Parenting Sentencing Alternative unless they are dead serious about their commitment to comply with the courts requirements and deal with any underlying issues surrounding the crime or conviction. The language of the statute authorizing this Sentencing Alternative makes it clear that failure to make “satisfactory progress” can result in the imposition of the full prison sentence at any time. Practically, this means that if a judge, in their discretion finds a defendant not really trying, they simply send a defendant to prison to do their original sentence. This sentencing alternative is not a game and we do not walk clients into it lightly. It is a lot of work, not easy, but for the right family and situation, it can be a blessing.
How does someone facing a felony conviction qualify for a parenting sentencing alternative?
RCW 9.94A.655 and associated case law lays out the all the details that a criminal defense lawyer | attorney should go over with a family, but the major points are:
- A parent must be facing a prison sentence that is greater than one year.
- A parent cannot be facing, or have a criminal record for sexual or violent crimes, as defined in the definition section of RCW 9.94A.030.
- The parent must have physical custody of his or her minor child or be a legal guardian or custodian with physical custody of a child under the age of eighteen at the time of the current offense.
- All prior or present state involvement (CPS) in the child’s life must be disclosed and presented to the court (so the judge can have all the facts before making a decision).
- A parent cannot be facing deportation proceedings.
- The court will weigh the prior criminal history and any other data in making a decision.
What kind of Sentence does a parent sentence alternative produce?
If a parent qualifies for it and a judge orders it, a judge will “waive” the prison sentence and impose 12 months of community custody (what used to be called parole or active supervision) where a parent will be monitored by an community custody officer. The parent will be required to make satisfactory progress on any affirmative conditions the judge thinks are appropriate, such as parenting classes, drug or alcohol treatment, mental health treatment or any other program ordered at sentencing. The monitoring officer will submit quarterly reports to the court and any problems will be handled by sanctions or removal from the program, which means back to prison to serve their original sentence.
Who is this program for?
This program is for
- A parent who has sufficient drive and support to change their lives in a positive direction.
- A parent who has made a serious mistake but on all other levels is a responsible and reliable person.
- A parent with a drug, alcohol or mental health problem that has hit rock bottom and is 100% committed to change.
- A parent whose unique situation will convince a judge that using this sentencing alternative is worth it.
Is there any other alternative?
Yes. There is a very similar program that requires the same qualifications as the Parent Sentence Alternative; however, instead of putting someone directly on community custody, the parent serves a period of confinement first and is then allowed to serve the remaining 12 months of their felony sentence on electronic home monitoring at home (and pay for it of course). This option is explained in RCW 9.94A.6551. Again, the major difference is a parent would do a period of jail or prison time first and then receive the remaining 12-month sentence converted to a home detention. There are highly restrictive conditions and limitations put in place that have little room for error that you and your criminal defense attorney | lawyer must go over in detail before pursuing this option. This option is used when judges think some period of incarceration is necessary to either appease a victim(s) or make an impression on a defendant who does not demonstrate their understanding of how serious their situation really is.
Yes. In some cases, a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA) may be a more appropriate sentence.
The criminal defense lawyers | attorneys in our office have handled an enormous number of complicated cases in the criminal arena over the course of our lengthy criminal law careers. We are interested in helping families and parents pursue this sentencing alternative under the right set of facts and will fight vigorously to achieve that result. We are a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know criminal cases are rarely as simple as the police reports claim and our clients hire us because they want staunch and effective counsel who takes the time to make sure their rights are protected. Whether our role is as legal counsel, negotiator, or litigator, we have years of experience fighting and resolving cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.