State v. T.J.S.-M., 96434-3

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtMADSEN, J.
Citation441 P.3d 1181
Parties STATE of Washington, Respondent, v. T.J.S.-M., Petitioner.
Docket NumberNo. 96434-3,96434-3
Decision Date30 May 2019

441 P.3d 1181

STATE of Washington, Respondent,
T.J.S.-M., Petitioner.

No. 96434-3

Supreme Court of Washington.

Oral Argument Date: March 14, 2019
Filed MAY 30, 2019

Sean M. Downs, Grecco Downs, PLLC, 500 W. 8th Street, Suite 55, Vancouver, WA 98660-3085, for Petitioner.

Brian Clayton O'Brien, Samuel Joseph Comi, Spokane County Prosecuting, Attorney Office, 1100 W. Mallon Avenue, Spokane, WA 99260-2043, for Respondent.


¶ 1 In this case, T.J.S.-M., a juvenile, challenges his suspended manifest injustice disposition. The Court of Appeals dismissed his claim on ripeness grounds. T.J.S.-M. contends his appeal is ripe for review. T.J.S.-M. also argues the trial court applied the wrong standard of proof during the sentencing hearing and, accordingly, improperly imposed a manifest injustice disposition.

¶ 2 For the following reasons, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision but affirm T.J.S.-M.’s conviction and sentence.


¶ 3 In February 2016, T.J.S.-M., on three separate occasions, embraced, groped, and kissed three different high school classmates. In each of these instances, the victims indicated they were not comfortable with T.J.S.-M.’s conduct and attempted to leave. T.J.S.-M. detained each girl against her will before eventually releasing her.

¶ 4 After the incidents were reported and investigated, the State charged T.J.S.-M. with two counts of indecent liberties, two counts of unlawful imprisonment with sexual motivation, and one count of fourth degree assault with sexual motivation. The case proceeded to bench trial, where T.J.S.-M. was convicted of the two counts of unlawful imprisonment with sexual motivation and one count of fourth degree assault without sexual motivation.

¶ 5 Since T.J.S.-M. had no prior criminal history, he requested the standard range of 0-30 days’ confinement and 12 months’ probation with conditions, including sex offender counseling, with credit for 83 days served. The State recommended a manifest injustice disposition of 36 weeks’ confinement to be suspended by a special sex offender disposition alternative (SSODA).

¶ 6 The trial court adopted the State’s recommendation. Applying a "clear and convincing" standard, which it understood to be "just below beyond a reasonable doubt," 2 Verbatim Report of Proceedings (Jan. 25, 2017) (VRP) at 353, the court found that T.J.S.-M. had threatened serious bodily harm and sexual motivation was an aggravating factor. It also found T.J.S.-M. had a high risk to reoffend due to the sexual nature of the offense, posed a threat to community safety, and had intellectual limitations that could also show a high risk to reoffend. As mitigating factors, the court noted that T.J.S.-M. had no prior criminal record and had some mental health issues.

¶ 7 T.J.S.-M. appealed the manifest injustice disposition. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal on ripeness grounds, holding that a manifest injustice disposition suspended by a SSODA is not reviewable until the SSODA has been revoked and the disposition imposed. See State v. T.J.S.-M., No. 35130-1-III, 2018 WL 4520001 (Wash. Ct. App. Sept. 20, 2018) (unpublished), Between the filing of T.J.S.-M.’s notice of appeal and the Court of Appeals’ ruling, T.J.S.-M. violated his SSODA conditions. His SSODA was revoked and his suspended disposition was revoked; he was

441 P.3d 1184

committed to confinement. Decl. of Samuel J. Comi, Attach. F. T.J.S.-M. sought review in this court.



¶ 8 As a preliminary matter, both parties agree that this case is moot since T.J.S.-M. already served his sentence and we cannot provide relief for him on appeal. Generally, we do not consider questions that are moot. State v. Hunley, 175 Wash.2d 901, 907, 287 P.3d 584 (2012) (citing State v. Gentry, 125 Wash.2d 570, 616, 888 P.2d 1105 (1995) ). A case is moot if we can no longer provide effective relief on appeal. Id. The expiration of a sentencing term technically renders a case moot. Id. (citing In re Pers. Restraint of Mattson, 166 Wash.2d 730, 736, 214 P.3d 141 (2009) ). Nevertheless, we may retain and decide a case if it involves matters of continuing and substantial interest. Id. We consider three factors when determining whether the issue presents a continuing and substantial public interest: " ‘[ (1) ] the public or private nature of the question presented, [ (2) ] the desirability of an authoritative determination for the future guidance of public officers, and [ (3) ] the likelihood of future recurrence of the question.’ " Id. (alterations in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Mattson, 166 Wash.2d at 736, 214 P.3d 141 ).

¶ 9 Here, the timing of appealing a suspended manifest injustice disposition is a matter of public interest. It is not unique to T.J.S.-M., and whether a suspended disposition may be challenged is irrefutably of substantial public interest. Next, the lower court relied on a prior Court of Appeals case to dismiss T.J.S.-M.’s appeal on ripeness grounds. We have not had the opportunity to decide this issue.1 Since we have not ruled on this issue, there is a need for future guidance, meeting the second factor. Finally, this issue is likely to recur because manifest injustice dispositions are prevalent in juvenile proceedings and enhanced sentences are often challenged. Based on these considerations, we proceed to the merits of the case.

Reviewability of Suspended Manifest Injustice Dispositions

¶ 10 The first issue is whether a suspended manifest injustice disposition is reviewable prior to revocation of a SSODA. The Court of Appeals dismissed T.J.S.-M.’s appeal based on RCW 13.40.162 and State v. J.B., 102 Wash. App. 583, 9 P.3d 890 (2000). J.B. involved a challenge to a suspended manifest injustice disposition. Relying on State v. Langland, 42 Wash. App. 287, 711 P.2d 1039 (1985) (suspended life sentence as cruel and unusual punishment is not ripe for review until the sentence is actually imposed), the court in J.B. held that a suspended manifest injustice disposition is not ripe for review because "the consequences of such rulings are merely potential, not actual." J.B ., 102 Wash. App. at 585, 9 P.3d 890. The court stated that "the proper time to appeal a suspended manifest injustice disposition is after that disposition is imposed following SSODA revocation." Id. at 584, 9 P.3d 890.

¶ 11 Relying on J.B. , the State contends that the appeal should have been brought after T.J.S.-M.’s "SSODA was revoked and the [suspended] JRA [ (Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration) sentence] imposed." Suppl. Br. of Resp’t at 7. The State urges that since T.J.S.-M. failed to wait until his suspended sentence was imposed, his sentence is not ripe for review.

Statutes Governing Manifest Injustice and SSODA Dispositions

¶ 12 We first note that a manifest injustice disposition and a SSODA disposition are governed by different statutes. Imposition of a manifest injustice sentence is governed by RCW 13.40.160(2). Under that section, the court must enter its reasons for imposing a manifest injustice sentence as

441 P.3d 1185

indicated in option D of RCW 13.40.0357, and the sentence imposed under option D "shall be comprised of confinement or community supervision, or a combination thereof." RCW 13.40.160(2). "Community supervision" is defined in part as "an individualized program comprised of ... [r]esidential treatment, where substance abuse, mental health, and/or co-occurring disorders have been identified in an assessment by a qualified mental health professional." RCW 13.40.020(5)(e). If the court "imposes a sentence of confinement exceeding thirty days, the court shall sentence the juvenile to a maximum term." RCW 13.40.160(2). A court may suspend the execution of the manifest injustice disposition if imposed in conjunction with a SSODA disposition. RCW 13.40.160(10).

¶ 13 "A disposition outside the standard range is appealable under RCW 13.40.230 by the state or the respondent." RCW 13.40.160(2). If appealed, a manifest injustice disposition must be supported by the record, those reasons must clearly and convincingly support a disposition outside the standard range, and the sentence imposed must not be clearly too excessive or too lenient. RCW 13.40.230(2). RCW 13.40.230(1) provides that appeal of a manifest injustice sentence "shall be heard solely upon the record that was before the disposition court. No written briefs may be required, and the appeal shall be heard within thirty days following the date of sentencing and a decision rendered within fifteen days following the argument."

¶ 14 SSODA dispositions are governed by RCW 13.40.162(3). That statute provides that when a juvenile offender is eligible for a SSODA, a court may order an examination to determine eligibility for treatment. RCW 13.40.162(2). If the court determines treatment is necessary after reviewing the examination report, it shall impose either a standard range disposition or a manifest injustice disposition, if appropriate. RCW 13.40.162(3). The court may also "suspend the execution of the disposition and place the offender on community supervision for at least two years." Id. SSODA dispositions are not appealable under RCW 13.40.230. RCW 13.40.162(10).

¶ 15 The court in J.B....

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