State v. S.D.H.

Decision Date13 April 2021
Docket NumberNo. 53841-5-II,53841-5-II
CourtWashington Court of Appeals
Parties STATE of Washington, Respondent, v. S.D.H., Appellant.


Worswick, J.

¶ 1 SDH pleaded guilty in juvenile court to one count of first degree robbery and was sentenced under the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA) of 1977.1 The juvenile court denied his request for a manifest injustice disposition downward.2 He now appeals, making two arguments. First, he argues that under Houston-Sconiers ,3 the juvenile court had complete discretion to impose a manifest injustice disposition downward without his having to show that the standard range disposition would impose an excessive penalty on him. Second, he argues that the application of the JJA violated the equal protection clause4 because it requires a juvenile offender in juvenile court to prove that a standard range would effectuate a manifest injustice by clear and convincing evidence—a burden not imposed on juveniles sentenced in adult court.

¶ 2 We hold that Houston-Sconiers does not apply to juvenile defendants sentenced in juvenile court. We also hold that the standard of proof for a manifest injustice disposition downward under the JJA does not constitute a violation of equal protection. Consequently, we affirm SDH's disposition.


¶ 3 When SDH was 15 years old, he entered a gas station convenience store wearing a mask and a dark hooded sweat shirt to cover his face. He was armed with a toy replica handgun that he had altered to appear to be a real firearm. SDH pointed the gun at the store clerk and demanded that she give him money from the register or that he would "f**k [her] up." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 2. After taking approximately $300 in cash, SDH fled the scene.

¶ 4 The store clerk called the police and reported that she recognized the voice of the robber as that of a former employee's son, SDH. Police officers located and detained SDH, who later admitted to committing the robbery. Police searched SDH's home and found the clothing, backpack, mask, and gun used during the robbery. The State charged SDH in juvenile court with one count of first degree robbery.5


¶ 5 SDH pleaded guilty as charged. SDH had an offender score of 0 points, and so faced a standard range disposition of 103 to 129 weeks at a rehabilitation administration facility.

¶ 6 At the disposition hearing, SDH asked the court for a manifest injustice disposition downward under RCW 13.40.150. SDH argued that a standard range disposition would impose an excessive penalty on him and that there was clear and convincing evidence to support a manifest injustice disposition downward. SDH also argued that our Supreme Court's holding in Houston-Sconiers rendered his standard range sentence unconstitutional because it did not take into account his youthfulness. Specifically, SDH argued that the strictly age-based standard disposition ranges failed to take into account mitigating factors of youthfulness beyond mere age, and consequently, Houston-Sconiers compelled the court to consider these additional factors when sentencing a juvenile, even in juvenile court.

¶ 7 SDH called Marty Beyer, Ph.D., an expert in psychology and child development, to testify at the disposition hearing. Dr. Beyer testified about an adolescent development assessment she performed on SDH. Dr. Beyer stated that although SDH suffered from significant immaturity, developmental disabilities, and childhood trauma that resulted in clinical depression

and post-traumatic stress disorder, she was "optimistic" that services and rehabilitation would successfully address these areas. Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) at 28. Dr. Beyer further testified that the combination of SDH's immaturity and disabilities, along with a fearfulness about his family's financial situation, contributed to SDH's commission of the robbery. Dr. Breyer opined that, based on SDH's conditions and the resources available in a state facility versus in the community, a state facility would lead to "a continuation of the behavior that's not desired." VRP at 59.

¶ 8 The juvenile court further ruled that there was not clear and convincing evidence showing a basis to support a manifest injustice. Consequently, the court rejected SDH's request for a manifest injustice disposition and ordered a standard range disposition of "103 to 129 weeks at a rehabilitation administration facility, credit for time served." VRP at 127. The court further ruled that the statutory range for the crime of first degree robbery was constitutional because "the Legislature [had] considered many factors when determining an appropriate range for youth" in designing a sentencing framework "set up in consideration of sentencing juveniles." VRP at 122-23.

¶ 9 The juvenile court carefully considered each of the mitigating factors under RCW 13.40.150 and determined that none of them applied, stating:

Next, to look at the mitigating factors set forth in that statute: "(1) the Respondent's conduct neither caused nor threatened serious bodily injury, or the Respondent did not contemplate that his or her conduct would cause or threaten serious bodily injury." Under this factor, whether it was a fake gun or not, the victim in this case feared for her life. So, there is no question that the conduct did, in fact, threaten serious bodily injury based on his actions. Therefore, the factor does not apply.
"(2) the Respondent acted under strong and immediate provocation." The Court does not find that this applies. Not only did the Respondent talk about this beforehand, but [he] stayed up all night thinking about what he was going to do. He wore a hoodie to hide his face. He hid the evidence. Thus, this factor, again, does not apply.
"(3) the Respondent was suffering from a mental or physical condition that significantly reduced his or her culpability for the offense, though failing to establish a defense." It is clear that the Respondent has had a history of trauma in his life from a variety of sources, but there was nothing that presented that showed he was suffering from a mental or physical condition that significantly reduced his culpability for the offense. It is without doubt that he needs help, as presented by the Defense. But the Court does not see that as a mitigating factor. Therefore, the factor does not apply.
"(4) prior to his or her detection the Respondent compensated or made a good faith attempt to compensate the victim for the injury or loss sustained." The Court is not aware of any requested or offered compensation; to attempt to compensate the victim for injury or loss. The money he stole was given to his mother to hide. Therefore, this factor does not apply.
And "(5) there's been at least one year between the Respondent's current offense and any prior criminal offense." The Respondent does not have any prior criminal history, so this factor would not apply.

VRP at 123-124.6

¶ 10 Regarding the testimony of Dr. Beyer, the juvenile court stated that it

[did] not find that any of this information [was] applicable within the framework set up by the Legislature in mitigating the sentence. Even if the Court could—would find it more appropriate to tailor a sentence according to a specific person, which the Court does not find under these circumstances, the Court does not see the success of rehabilitating the Respondent in a safe and productive manner such that the Respondent would, in fact, participate in the plan for the extensive time necessary to make it a successful plan.

VRP at 126-27.

¶ 11 SDH appeals the juvenile court's disposition order.


¶ 12 SDH makes two arguments challenging his disposition. First, he argues that Houston-Sconiers extends to juvenile dispositions under the JJA, such that the juvenile court has complete discretion to consider mitigating circumstances of youth during disposition. Second, he argues that the clear and convincing standard of proof for establishing manifest injustice in a juvenile court under the JJA is a violation of equal protection. We disagree.


¶ 13 We review questions of statutory and constitutional interpretation under the de novo standard of review. State v. Hunley , 175 Wash.2d 901, 908, 287 P.3d 584 (2012). We presume statutes to be constitutional and "the challenger must show the statute is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt." Hunley , 175 Wash.2d at 908, 287 P.3d 584.


¶ 14 The standard range disposition of a juvenile offense is determined according to RCW 13.40.0357. RCW 13.40.160. These ranges are based in part on the age of the juvenile, the type of offense committed, and the juvenile's criminal history. RCW 13.40.0357. An offender is either committed to the custody of the State through Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), or put under community supervision, depending on the seriousness of the offense. Id . DCYF operates various rehabilitation facilities of varying security levels and group homes. See chs. 72.05, 72.16-72.20 RCW. Unlike the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) of 1981,7 which limits conditions of supervision to those related to the underlying offense, the JJA permits juvenile courts to impose any conditions of supervision it deems necessary to meet the needs of the juvenile and to effectuate the rehabilitative and accountability goals of the JJA. State v. H.E.J. , 102 Wash. App. 84, 87, 9 P.3d 835 (2000).

¶ 15 A juvenile court may impose a disposition outside the standard range if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that a disposition within the standard range would effectuate a manifest injustice. RCW 13.40.0357, .160(2). The legislative intent of the JJA was...

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  • State v. Rogers, 80404-9-I
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • May 17, 2021
    ...that "Houston-Sconiers does not apply to juvenile defendants sentenced in juvenile court." State v. S.D.H., ––– Wash. App. 2d ––––, ––––, 484 P.3d 538 (2021), We recognize that decision while noting that it res......
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    ...not well-defined. ¶ 54 The State also contends that Mr. Cox failed to establish a proper foundation. In support of its position, the State 484 P.3d 538 essentially posits that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. To prove relevance, however, the proponent of evidence needs to......
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    ...offender dispositions in juvenile court, it applies to juveniles sentenced in adult court. State v. S.D.H., 17 Wn.App. 2d 123, 127, 484 P.3d 538 (2021). "[E]xtending Houston-Sconiers to the juvenile courts would give juvenile courts unintended discretion within a juvenile disposition scheme......

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