Conviction Consequences for a Felony Drug Offense in Washington. A Washington Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Opinion and Perspective.
In most circumstances, a violation and conviction of the majority of Washington’s drug laws will end up being a felony conviction on your record and it will cost you the right to vote and possess firearm. The felony criminal record will impact your ability to keep a job, get a job, get into the military, qualify for a licensure and further your education. There are a few instances where such possession is deemed a gross misdemeanor although if properly negotiated, felony charges can be pled down to misdemeanors under the right circumstances. That being said, if there is one area in Washington where vacating a felony i.e. removing the conviction from your record, has not been severely limited, it has been around drug crimes. So even if the facts are not arguable down to a misdemeanor or suitable for trial or motion, if your criminal defense attorney is thoughtful, they can position your case so in the long run it can be vacated. We have done this for a number of clients who eventually were able to come back and vacate their conviction.
From a criminal and administrative law defense prospective, the advantage of having experienced counsel | defense lawyers on your side is obvious. Law is not all about how quickly you can move through an investigation, charges and consequences; rather, in our mind, the proper practice of law is about taking the time and effort to get the best results. Knowing how prosecuting attorneys think, what they tend to trigger on as well as the issues with criminal cases in general; knowing how probation officers think and view situations, knowing how various Washington State Administrative Agencies view different types of pleas, knowing what issues to press and how to press them, knowing how to argue the equity of a case as apposed to the facts are just some of the keys that an experienced team of defense lawyers should bring to the table. As criminal defense attorneys who work with our clients and taken the time to counsel, we are also deeply connected with various alcohol/drug rehabilitation programs, mental health professionals, court programs and evaluators. As lawyers, we have worked as tirelessly on trial preparation as we have on plea deals, evaluation preparation, deferred prosecution programs, treatment programs and setting reasonable post sentencing conditions. We have also worked extensively with Polygraphs and Polygraph Examiners, Forensic Examiners, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Doctors, RN’s, Mental Health Court personnel and the Drug Court program. We know the system and will help navigate you through the criminal justice system to the best result we believe possible.
Depending on how serious the legislature considers the felony drug offense crime you are charged with and, convicted of, places you into one of three categories:
(1) Class A: the most serious and they carry the longest and most stringent jail sentences, fines, and in most circumstances, conditions of release especially if firearms or dangerous weapons are involved;
(2) Class B: these are the middle of the road felonies but don’t be fooled they can still pack a hefty jail sentence that is expanded with enhancements, fines, and conditions of release;
(3) Class C: these are the least serious felonies but in most circumstances result in jail if not prison time but still pack fines and conditions of release as well. If you have any enhancements ie: firearms, dangerous weapons, school zone, civic place, you can end up doing more time on the enhancements than the underlying offense.
In Washington, which Class of Crime you fall into gives one a rough idea of how serious the police, courts and prosecuting attorney will take your case. The Revised Code of Washington sets forth the classifications for the offense schedules, the mandatory sentencing grids, as well as the penalties associated with the drug offense charged based on your offender score and the seriousness level of the crime charged. The Washington State Adult Sentencing Guidelines set forth the Felony Offense sheets, Enhancements, Alternative Sentencing Options, Recent case decisions, and other useful information.
Being charged with a felony drug offense is a serious charge and carries a heavy penalty not only for the individual charged but for the family as well. You need to have an advocate who knows how the law, the system, the prosecuting attorneys, the judges, the probation officers, and the sentencing guidelines operate and interact with one another to best serve your interests. Knowing how to navigate the legal system and criminal justice process is the most important skill you can possess in the defense of your case. 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. Choosing the right counsel for your case is essential. Consultations are free but a poor choice in counsel is not. Call us at 206-708-7852 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.
A Breakdown of How Washington Treats Felony Convictions
Every discussion of a felony in Washington starts with the maximums that can be given on any given case:
FELONY CONVICTION CLASSIFICATION MAXIMUMS
Class A Life in prison | $50,000 fine
Class B Ten years in prison | $20,000 fine
Class C Five years in prison | $10,000 fine
It is important to understand these categories specify the “maximum” amount of time and fine each “class” of crime carries and are generally not what a likely sentence will be. The only time you need to worry about the maximum penalty is if you already have 9 points, this means you have 9 or more prior felony convictions (or equivalent), and the judge has come to the conclusion that you are beyond repair or redemption and need to sit in prison for a long time. Some class A felonies can result in a life sentence on the first charge such as Murder 1. However, typically the only way you end up with a life sentence on a drug offense felony is if a homicide is committed and/or there are adequate enhancements, (such as firearms) which run mandatorily consecutive to each other as well as your sentence, to result in a number such as 720 months (60 years): basically a life sentence.
WASHINGTON ADULT SENTENCING GUIDELINES AND APPLICATION
To get a better understanding of what an adult is likely to get as a sentence for felonies committed on or after July 1, 1984, one must look at the grid and tier system of the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) which was implemented in 1981 and has been updated almost every year since then. This very rigid grid and tier system is, in theory, designed to ensure that offenders who commit similar crimes and have similar criminal histories receive equivalent sentences. In practice, however, a skilled attorney can help manipulate the system by either having charges reduced, enhancements dismissed or not filed at all, argue for exceptional sentence or have a similar felony class crime charged that carries a lesser standard range.
Each of the “Offender Scoring Sheets” contains guidelines and procedures used by courts to impose sentences that are applied equally to anyone convicted in Washington. The SRA effectively eliminated parole in Washington as well as the judge’s discretion to impose a more lenient or harsher sentence although they can impose exceptional sentences (higher and lower) in certain circumstances provided there are substantial and compelling reasons to do so and proper notice and briefing has been provided to the prosecutor and sentencing judge. Sometimes the prosecutor brings the motion, other times it is brought by the defense attorney. It truly just depends on the criminal charges and the facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction(s) as well as the offender.
The “Offender Scoring Sheets” do allow very minimal judicial discretion by providing presumptive sentencing ranges for the courts to follow. In theory, the ranges are structured so that offenses involving greater harm to a victim and/or to society result in greater punishment. Exceptional sentences that depart from the standard presumptive ranges must be based upon substantial and compelling reasons and may be appealed by either the prosecutor or the defendant. With this in mind, the vast majority of felony sentences stay within these standard presumptive ranges. Although it is difficult, an often underappreciated way to get a fair sentence is to argue for exceptional sentences downward.
To get a feel for what the exposure one is potentially looking at if convicted of the charge they are facing, one can look at the offender scoring sheets for 2013 (or whatever the latest version is at present) in the Washington State Adult Sentencing Manual between pages 221-464. Each crime is listed alphabetically. What you primarily need to know is an offender’s prior criminal conviction history as it relates to felonies. In most instances and in general you will receive ½ point for each felony conviction as a juvenile and you get 1 point for each adult felony conviction with some nuanced calculations surrounding domestic violence convictions. Add them up and that will determine the offender score which is the number 0-9 on the top of the grid. The sentencing range is listed below the number. When you hear the term mid-point used it simply means the offender needs to look at how many points they have, look at the presumptive range beneath their score, add the two numbers and divide by 2 and that is the mid-point.
You do not count the charge which you are being sentenced upon but as a general rule, if you have say 3 counts you are being sentenced on, your offender score will be 2 for each count that you are not, but can be sentenced on at the sentencing hearing as they will soon be 2 additional felony convictions. The fact that they are filed under the same cause number makes no difference. Also, be aware of multipliers that come into play in a number of circumstances for same criminal conviction/conduct as that will double or triple its value on the scoring sheet. Calculating an offender score is not for the uninitiated and it is always wise to review such a calculation with an experienced defense lawyer who is familiar with the calculations and can give wise counsel.
You will notice a simple mathematical table that calculates an “offender score”. An offender score can range from 0-9+. In general, the number of points an offender receives depends on five primary factors:
(1) the number of prior adult felony criminal convictions and/or felony juvenile dispositions which establish the baseline;
(2) the relationship between any prior offense(s) and the current offense of conviction that can result in multipliers that either double or triple the prior convictions scoring value;
(3) the presence of other current felony convictions you are presently being sentenced on which, was discussed above;
(4) the offender’s community custody status at the time the crime was committed. If you were on community custody when you committed the current felony you automatically get another point added; and
(5) any applicable enhancements that have been pled and proven by the prosecutor. These enhancements run mandatorily consecutive to the standard range sentence and no good time is allowed on the enhancements.
Obviously, the nuances of each felony conviction’s case facts and circumstances along with the offender’s prior criminal history, and in some circumstances family history and desire to engage in treatment, can impact the end result at a sentencing hearing. A genuine desire and drive to engage in treatment is a powerful negotiating tool in our office. Remember, the prosecuting attorney’s discretion in charging and how seriously a criminal defense lawyer | attorney takes their job can produce a wide variety of results. However, the sentencing sheet for each crime is a good starting place for considering what one can get jail/prison time for and what some options/tactics are available for their defense.
There are additional subtleties to calculating an offender score involving multiple charges, deadly weapon enhancements, firearm enhancements as well as what alternative sentencing options may or may not be available to the offender being sentenced. Every felony conviction analysis starts with an “Offender Scoring Sheet”. You should review one with one of the defense lawyers in the office so we can help you navigate through the system and determine which course of action best suits your needs.
As you can see, not only are the drug offenses themselves complicated but so are the sentencing guidelines, sentencing alternatives, and enhancements that dictate how much jail or prison time the court must impose in the event that there is a conviction. 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 a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know that criminal cases are rarely as simple as the police reports claim our clients hire us because they want staunch and effective counsel who take the time to make sure their rights are protected. Knowing how to navigate the legal system and criminal justice process is the most important skill you can possess when defending yourself against a drug offense. We know that being convicted of a drug offense not only affects you but also your family and the impact can last a lifetime. 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. Choosing the right counsel for your case is essential. Consultations are free but a poor choice in counsel is not. Call us at 206-708-7852 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.