State v. Bryan, 46414

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Citation93 Wn.2d 177,606 P.2d 1228
Docket NumberNo. 46414,46414
PartiesSTATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Kirk N. BRYAN, Appellant.
Decision Date21 February 1980

[606 P.2d 1229] J. Patrick Billberg, Kelso, John Midgley, Institutional Legal Services, Seattle, for petitioner.

Henry R. Dunn, Pros. Atty., Robin M. Force, Deputy Pros. Atty., Kelso, for respondent.

HOROWITZ, Justice.

This case considers the constitutionality of sentencing provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act of 1977, RCW 13.40, and the validity of sentencing guidelines promulgated pursuant to that act.

The trial court, Cowlitz County Juvenile Department, found the sentencing standards established for fiscal year 1978-79 unconstitutional and committed appellant Kirk N. Bryan to the Division of Institutions for an indefinite period of time not to exceed his eighteenth birthday. The Court of Appeals, Division II, certified the case to this court on the issue of constitutionality. We Reverse the trial court's holdings of unconstitutionality and direct that Bryan instead serve an alternative sentence imposed by the trial judge after a finding of manifest injustice. RCW 13.40.160.

Bryan is now 15 years old. He has history of criminal behavior. In August 1978 Bryan was again referred to Cowlitz County Juvenile Court for auto theft. The court made a finding of "manifest injustice," which allows sentencing of a juvenile in a manner inconsistent with the administratively-prescribed sentence, RCW 13.40.020(12), 13.40.160, and committed Bryan to the Division of Institutions for a total of 27 weeks on two charges. 1 Pursuant to RCW 13.40.230, when Bryan appealed the manifest injustice disposition, he was released from custody after serving the few days detention time prescribed by the sentencing standard for the offenses. That appeal is pending.

[606 P.2d 1230] In November 1978 Bryan was charged, and later found guilty, of two counts of taking a motor vehicle without permission and one count of car prowling. Sentencing standards for these offenses would allow maximum detention of 6 days. Minimum-security treatment centers that might provide a longer-term alternative to detention were unwilling to take Bryan because of his history of criminal behavior.

Faced with the knowledge that a finding of manifest injustice would put Bryan out on the streets again after a few days detention pending appeal, the trial court judge declared the sentencing guidelines provided by the Juvenile Justice Act of 1977 and administrative regulations promulgated pursuant to it unconstitutional and committed Bryan "straightaway." Alternatively, however, the court made a finding of manifest injustice and committed Bryan to the Division of Institutions for 48 weeks on the three charges. RCW 13.40.160.

We first wish to point out that the wisdom of sentencing guidelines is a question for the legislature and is not an issue for this court. The fact that dispositional standards would provide only a few days detention, in addition to probation and community service time, for Bryan's offenses is immaterial here. Neither party has objected to the content of DSHS guidelines; the state has not had the need nor opportunity to defend the content of the guidelines against a claim that they are arbitrary and capricious. The decision that the sentencing provisions are valid is based instead on our answers to the following legal questions:

(1) Is RCW 13.40.030, which delegates to the Secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services the power to create juvenile disposition standards, an unconstitutional delegation of legislative or judicial power to an administrative agency?

(2) Are juvenile disposition standards promulgated in 1977 pursuant to RCW 13.40.030 by DSHS invalid because the legislature was not called into session and thus was unable to review the standards in 1978?


Determination of crimes and punishment has traditionally been a legislative prerogative, subject to only very limited review in the courts. State v. Monday, 85 Wash.2d 906, 540 P.2d 416 (1975); State v. Cerny, 78 Wash.2d 845, 480 P.2d 199 (1971); Hendrix v. Seattle, 76 Wash.2d 142, 456 P.2d 696 (1969). A belief on the part of the judiciary that sentencing possibilities are inadequate goes to the wisdom of the dispositional standards and cannot be enough to overcome the legislative-prescribed range of punishment. "(The statutory scheme) is sufficient flexibility for sentencing judges, and, if not, it is the function of the legislature and not the judiciary to alter the sentencing process." State v. Monday, supra 85 Wash.2d at 909-10, 540 P.2d at 418. Thus, it is clear, and the respondent State concedes, that legislative delegation of sentencing power to an administrative agency does not encroach on the judiciary's power.

Whether the legislature can constitutionally delegate its own power to define sentences depends on the standards and safeguards accompanying the delegation:

The constitutional requirements for such a delegation are that: (1) the legislature provide standards defining generally what is to be done and what body is to accomplish it; and (2) procedural safeguards be established to control arbitrary administrative action.

Polygon Corp. v. Seattle, 90 Wash.2d 59, 66, 578 P.2d 1309, 1313 (1978), citing Rody v. Hollis, 81 Wash.2d 88, 500 P.2d 97 (1972), and Barry and Barry, Inc. v. Department of Motor Vehicles, 81 Wash.2d 155, 500 P.2d 540 (1972).

Respondent State concedes the adequacy of standards in this case. RCW 13.40.030(1), (5), (6) & (7) provide an explicit set of standards governing the period of confinement or other supervision based on the offense committed and a wide range of other listed factors. The standards are at least as complete as those considered by this [606 P.2d 1231] court in State v. Mulcare, 189 Wash. 625, 66 P.2d 360 (1937), in which the indeterminate sentence act establishing the

Prison and Parole Board to set sentences within legislatively-prescribed maximums was upheld. For instance, RCW 13.40.030(1) provides that the sentencing standards must be established "on the basis of a youth's age, the instant offense, and the history and seriousness of previous offenses, but in no case shall the period of confinement and supervision exceed that to which an adult may be subjected for the same offense(s)." The section goes on to require that standards for sentencing "serious offenders" shall not be less than thirty days, and provides explicit restrictions on the possible lengths of time and sentencing alternatives that may be proposed. RCW 13.40.030(6) & (7) set out the permissible ranges of confinement in even greater detail

The Juvenile Justice Act also provides safeguards against abuse in administrative promulgation of dispositional standards. The legislature reserves the right to review, adopt, or require modification of the proposed standards. RCW 13.40.030(2) & (3). After the first set of standards, the proposed guidelines will always be before the legislature in a year in which a legislative session is mandated. Const. art. 2, § 12. Although delegation can not justify otherwise arbitrary and capricious administrative action, there is no claim or argument in this case that DSHS acted inappropriately in establishing the sentencing guidelines. Sufficient safeguards exist in the statute; the statutory scheme proposed clearly does not unconstitutionally delegate legislative functions to an administrative agency.


RCW 13.40.030(4) provides that the legislature "shall" consider proposed guidelines as prescribed by sections (2) and (3) of that statute. RCW 13.40.030(2) and (3) provide that the legislature "May adopt the proposed standards or refer the proposed standards to the secretary for modification." If the legislature takes no action, the standards go into effect automatically. RCW 13.40.030(3). (Italics ours.)

RCW 13.40.030(1) provides that DSHS shall propose guidelines to the legislature in even-numbered years; the disposition standards then can take effect on July in odd-numbered years after the legislature has been given an opportunity for review. However, in order to have effective standards for fiscal year 1978-79, the first year of the Juvenile Justice Act's operation, proposal of the first guidelines was necessary in 1977, an odd-numbered year. This is not provided for by section (1). Thus, section (4)'s obvious purpose is to provide justification for submission of standards in an odd-numbered year.

Respondent State argues, however, that the use of the word "shall" in section (4) indicates the legislature's desire that the first set of guidelines promulgated by DSHS be given explicit attention by the legislature, and that the legislature's failure to consider the standards, notwithstanding the fact that a session during which they could have been reviewed was not called,...

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