Don’t Wait to Seek Resentencing Under The Houston-Sconiers Opinion

Michael Arnold sought to be “resentenced” under Washington Criminal Rule 7.8 and the authority of State v. Houston-Sconiers, 188 Wn 2d 1, 391 P. 3d 409/2017, which came out after Mr. Arnold was convicted of two counts of Child Molestation in the First Degree. The incident occurred between 1999-2005, during which Mr. Arnold was between 13 and 18 years old. Mr. Arnold received an 84 month sentence. The Houston-Sconiers case held that when juveniles are adjudicated as adults, trial courts must consider mitigating qualities of youth at sentencing and must have discretion to impose any sentence below the presumptive range of the Sentencing Reform Act (“SRA”).

Mr. Arnold waited until March 2022 to file with the trial court his request for resentencing. The trial court held he waited too long, but forwarded his case to the Court of Appeals as a Personal Restraint Petition (“PRP”). Mr. Arnold argued in his PRP that Houston-Sconiers was a substantial substantive change of constitutional magnitude. The reviewing court held his PRP was not substantive, but “procedural,” since he did not argue that he was a juvenile at the time of commission of the offense “with diminished culpability for serving a disproportionate adult standard SRA range sentence.” What this means in normal language is Mr. Arnold didn’t argue his lack of full adult capacity or his personal mitigating circumstances sufficiently. Mr. Arnold made no attempt in his PRP to describe his sentencing as one needing correction as a substantive error, which made the Appellate Court find his request as time-barred. Houston-Sconiers was not retroactive in his case. There have been several challenges to adult SRA sentences due to Houston-Sconiers. It is clear that the best current means of successful challenge to an adult SRA sentence when commission of the offense was done when the offender was a juvenile is to make a clear mitigation claim at initial sentencing, then challenge the trial court’s ruling within 30 days for direct appeal, or, at the very least, one year for collateral attack, using statutory grounds. Mr. Arnold appears to have waited too long, and made no effort to effectively demonstrate his sentencing involved a substantive error. There is language in this unpublished opinion that the Court could have been persuaded otherwise, if Mr. Arnold attempted to make such a showing.