Washington Supreme Court Case – Harris v. Charles

I’ve been following this case for quite some time.  When the case first happened in Seattle Municipal Court I was actually present and witnessed former Seattle Municipal Court Judge Charles’s actions.  Since then this particular case has had a long journey and a ruling was finally issued from the State Supreme Court last week.  Unfortunately I think its a bad ruling in (2) ways.  First it sets an unfair precedent that individuals who are in custody are treated differently if its a misdemeanor versus a felony; Secondly, its going to place an undue financial burden on the tax payers of this state.

Here is a little background on the case.  Basically this guy Harris was charged with a couple of crimes in Seattle Municipal Court.  At the time of his arraignment the Court set bail and imposed a condition of home detention (don’t get me started on this, in my opinion its a clear violation of CrRLJ 3.2).  Harris posted the bail and got the home detention set up.  He ended up serving like 5 months on home detention at his own cost and then plead guilty.  Unfortunately for him former Judge Charles did not give him credit for any of the pre-trial confinement he was on, and sentenced him to additional jail.

His Attorney then filed a writ in King County Superior Court and argued this was violation of his equal protection because felons on pretrial conditions of EHM receive credit towards their sentence.  The Superior Court agreed, and sent the order back to SMC.  The City of Seattle then appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals which reversed the order, afterwards the Supreme Court granted review of this case.  And long story short they agreed with Court of Appeals.

The interesting thing about this opinion is the Supreme Court finds that people accused of misdemeanors are not similarly situated with people accused of felonies (who can receive jail credit for pretrial home detention).  The Court talks about how giving a misdemeanor Court pretrial EHM can affect a Judge discretion at sentencing and tie their hands since misdemeanor maximum sentences are not very long.  They go on to cite other reasons, but thats the gist of it.  And in my opinion is complete B.S.  If you’re interested in reading the entire opinion here is it.  Harris v. Charles

The other issue I have with this decision is what happens now.  Are more Court going to require people to do EHM prior to trial in lieu of less restrictive options, just because they know the person will essentially be punished twice.  An article recently came out in the Seattle Times, stating that the Seattle Municipal Court is going to push for more defendants to be on pretrial EHM in lieu of jail.  Now this seems like a fine idea, I mean anyone would rather be out of custody than in custody.  But the cost of EHM is so ridiculously high that a person is going to pay a substantial amount of money for this option.  In addition to that, what if they get found guilty and they are coming off of a 1 year stint on EHM.  Is a Judge going to sentence them to an additional 1 year in custody, and us taxpayers are going to have to pay for them to stay in jail.  Last time I checked the cost of housing a person in the King County Jail was around $125 a day.  Guess who gets stuck with that cost, we as taxpayers do.

Remember if you have an upcoming Seattle DUI arraignment, please contact my office immediately.  Now more than ever its important you have an attorney present to argue against these unconstitutional and overly restrictive conditions.