State v. Reynolds

Decision Date28 February 2022
Docket Number81022-7-I
Citation21 Wash.App.2d 179,505 P.3d 1174
Parties STATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Michael Scott REYNOLDS, Jr., Appellant.
CourtWashington Court of Appeals

Washington Appellate Project, 1511 Third Avenue, Suite 610, Seattle, WA, 98101, Jan Trasen, Attorney at Law, 1511 3rd Ave. Ste. 610, Seattle, WA, 98101-3647, for Appellant.

Stephanie Finn Guthrie, King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, 516 3rd Ave. Ste. W554, Seattle, WA, 98104-2362, for Respondent.

PUBLISHED OPINION

Smith, J. ¶1 After Michael Scott Reynolds, Jr.’s,1 trial for attempted rape and burglary, the court sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) under the Persistent Offender Accountability Act (POAA), of the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) of 1981, ch. 9.94A RCW. The court found that Reynolds had two prior "most serious" or "strike" offenses, which triggered a LWOP sentence under the POAA.2 Reynolds's first POAA strike was a 2002 conviction for an attempted robbery he committed when he was 17 years old. Reynolds appeals his LWOP sentence asserting three errors, which are that the State failed to prove that one of the previous convictions was a strike offense, that his LWOP sentence violates state and federal constitutions, and that he was deprived of equal protection of the state and federal constitutions. Finding no error, we affirm.

FACTS

¶2 On December 30, 2001, Reynolds and his accomplices attempted to rob a convenience store with a BB3 gun and smoke bomb. In 2002, the State charged then 17 year old Reynolds in juvenile court with attempted robbery in the first degree. The case was later transferred to adult court. Reynolds subsequently pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree assault in exchange for the State's agreement not to file any additional charges related to the BB gun or the smoke bomb and to recommend a low-end standard range sentence of 34.5 months in prison. Reynolds received a sentence consistent with this recommendation.

¶3 In January 2006, after being released from his sentence for the attempted first degree assault, Reynolds and an accomplice forced their way into a married couple's home with large bladed weapons demanding money. After Reynolds and the accomplice were not provided with money, Reynolds took the wife to an ATM4 while threatening her with the knife and the accomplice stayed at the home threatening the husband. The accomplice was later arrested at the victims’ home, and Reynolds was arrested the following day. Reynolds was initially charged with kidnapping in the first degree and attempted robbery in the first degree, both with deadly weapon enhancements. However, Reynolds was ultimately allowed to plead guilty to burglary in the first degree and robbery in the first degree without any enhancements. Reynolds received a sentence of 144 months in prison and he was released in September 2017.

¶4 In February 2018, a 33 year-old Reynolds threatened M.G., a barista at a drive-through espresso stand, with a knife and then forcefully dragged her from the stand to an area with bushes where he violently attempted to rape her. The State then charged Reynolds with burglary in the first degree and attempted rape in the second degree. The case proceeded to a jury trial, and on January 17, 2020, the jury found Reynolds guilty as charged on both counts. The court found that Reynolds's 2002 and 2006 convictions were both "most serious offenses" under the POAA and imposed concurrent LWOP sentences on both the burglary and attempted rape counts. Reynolds appeals.

ANALYSIS

¶5 Reynolds challenges his judgment and sentence on three grounds. First, he claims that because the State failed to prove that a decline hearing took place for his 2002 conviction, the conviction cannot qualify as a strike offense. Second, he claims that his sentence under the POAA violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 14 of the Washington State Constitution because the court relied on his 2002 conviction, which he committed as a juvenile. Third, Reynolds claims that the trial court deprived him of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 12 of the Washington State Constitution when the court, and not a jury, found the facts necessary to sentence him as a persistent offender. As further discussed below, Reynolds's claims fail.

Most Serious Offense

¶6 Interpretation of the POAA, under the SRA of 1981, is reviewed de novo. State v. Keller, 143 Wash.2d 267, 276, 19 P.3d 1030 (2001). Under the POAA, a persistent offender shall be sentenced to a term of total confinement for life without the possibility of release. State v. Knippling, 166 Wash.2d 93, 98, 206 P.3d 332 (2009) ; RCW 9.94A.570. An "offender" includes "a person who has committed a felony established by state law and is eighteen years of age or older or is less than eighteen years of age but whose case[...]has been transferred by the appropriate juvenile court to a criminal court pursuant to RCW 13.40.110." Knippling, 166 Wash.2d at 99, 206 P.3d 332 ; RCW 9.94A.030(34). A "persistent offender" is an offender who has been convicted of a felony considered a most serious offense and has been convicted as an offender on at least two separate occasions. Knippling, 166 Wash.2d at 98-99, 206 P.3d 332 ; RCW 9.94A.030(37). A "most serious offense" includes assault in the first degree, any class B felony with a finding of sexual motivation, and any other felony with a deadly weapon verdict under RCW 9.94A.825. RCW 9A.36.011 ; RCW 9.94A.030(32)(r), (s). The trial court cannot sentence a defendant as a persistent offender if the State fails to meet its burden to prove a defendant was convicted of "most serious offenses." Knippling, 166 Wash.2d at 102, 206 P.3d 332. Under the POAA, the State bears the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence an accused's prior "most serious offenses" to establish their persistent offender status. Knippling, 166 Wash.2d at 100, 206 P.3d 332 ; RCW 9.94A.030(37).

¶7 Here, Reynolds claims that the State did not satisfy its burden because it did not prove that the juvenile court properly declined jurisdiction over his 2002 offense due to its failure to produce a transcript from the decline hearing. We disagree. To satisfy its burden to prove that Reynolds's 2002 conviction was a most serious offense, the State had to prove "by a preponderance of the evidence" that Reynolds's 2002 case was properly transferred to adult court. State v. Hunley, 175 Wash.2d 901, 909-10, 287 P.3d 584 (2012). This, in turn required the State to prove that the juvenile court properly declined jurisdiction.

¶8 " ‘Preponderance of the evidence means evidence that is more probably true than not true.’ " In re Pugh, 7 Wash. App. 2d 412, 422, 433 P.3d 872 (2019) (quoting In re Welfare of Sego, 82 Wash.2d 736, 739 n. 2, 513 P.2d 831 (1973) ). "The best evidence of a prior conviction is a certified copy of the judgment of conviction, but the State may use any documents of record or transcripts of prior proceedings to establish criminal history." State v. Mitchell, 81 Wash. App. 387, 390, 914 P.2d 771 (1996). "If there is no record of the declination hearing, we can presume that no such hearing occurred." Knippling, 166 Wash.2d at 102, 206 P.3d 332.

¶9 To support this claim, Reynolds asserts that there was no evidence that he was even represented by counsel. However, the State produced a certified copy of the juvenile court's decline order, the minutes of the decline hearing, and a copy of the juvenile probation report submitted by Reynolds's juvenile counselor. In addition, the certified copy of the clerk's minutes indicates that the hearing took place on January 16, 2002, counsel for Reynolds was present, the declination report was admitted, and Reynolds stipulated to decline jurisdiction to adult court. The hearing, findings, and order for decline of jurisdiction indicate that declining jurisdiction was in the best interest of the juvenile or the public and that the juvenile court declined jurisdiction and transferred the case to adult court. Although there is no transcript of the decline hearing, there is sufficient documentation to establish the decline hearing took place and that Reynolds was represented by counsel. The trial court did not err by concluding that the State met its burden to prove that the 2002 conviction was properly under adult court jurisdiction. Cf. Knippling, 166 Wash.2d at 101, 206 P.3d 332 (where our Supreme Court held that the State failed to prove "strike" status of a prior offense because Knippling was convicted at 16 years of age and "there was no evidence in the record that the superior court had jurisdiction over him"). Because the existence of a decline hearing is the basis on which Reynolds's challenges the "strike" status of his 2002 conviction, the trial court did not err by including that conviction as a "strike" offense.

Life Without the Possibility of Parole Sentence

¶10 Reynolds asserts that because he committed his first strike offense when he was a juvenile, his LWOP sentence violates both the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and article I, section 14 of the Washington State Constitution, which also prohibits cruel punishment. He advances two claims in support of this assertion. First, he contends that the Eighth Amendment and article I, section 14 categorically bar a LWOP sentence for an offender whose first strike under the POAA was committed as a juvenile. Second, he claims that even if this sentence is not categorically barred, it violates article I, section 14 under the analysis set forth in State v. Fain, 94 Wash.2d 387, 397, 617 P.2d 720 (1980). Each of these claims present constitutional questions, which we review de novo. State v. Abrams, 163 Wash.2d 277, 282, 178 P.3d 1021 (2008). As discussed below, we reject both claims.

1. Categorical Bar Analysis

¶11 T...

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