Case Conclusion Date: May 1, 2008
Practice Area: Criminal Defense
Outcome: High court rules man was wrongly committed
Description: On March 3, 1992, Sheldon Martin was convicted in Vancouver, Washington of burglary in the second degree with sexual motivation and indecent exposure, which are not sexually violent offenses under Washington's sexually violent predator law. Pending sentencing Martin was released on bail and arrested on April 8, 1992 in Portland, Oregon. Martin pleaded guilty in Oregon to kidnapping in the second degree and attempted sexual abuse in the first degree, two sexually violent offenses. He was sentenced to 120 months. Martin was returned to Washington for sentencing; he was sentenced to 30 months to be served consecutively after his Oregon sentence. When Martin neared the end of his sentence in Washington, the End of Sentence Review Committee of the Community Protection Unit of the Washington Department of Corrections determined Martin met the statutory definition of a sexually violent predator and recommended referring Martin to the Clark County prosecutor for commitment proceedings. However, the community protection unit instead referred the matter to the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. On March 4, 2003, the attorney general's office, at the request of the Thurston County prosecutor, filed the commitment petition in Thurston County Superior Court. The trial court denied Martin's motion to dismiss the petition, ruling RCW 71.09.030 did not limit a prosecutor's authority to seek commitment to those counties where the sexually violent offense occurred. Accordingly, the trial court determined any prosecutor can file a commitment petition when the basis of the petition is an out-of-state conviction for a sexually violent offense. The Court of Appeals, Division Two, affirmed the trial court's order holding the language in RCW 71.09.030 referring to the â€œcounty where the person was convicted or chargedâ€ was â€œonly venue languageâ€ requiring a motion to change venue, not a motion to dismiss. In re Det. of Martin, 133 Wash.App. 450, 454-55, 136 P.3d 789 (2006). The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision and remanded the case to the Thurston County Superior Court with directions to grant Martin's motion to dismiss the State's petition. The court declared as follows: "We hold RCW 71.09.030 unambiguously authorizes a specific prosecuting attorney to file, or request the filing of, a sexually violent predator petition, namely the prosecuting attorney who convicted or charged the alleged sexually violent predator. The Thurston County prosecutor lacked the authority to commence the commitment proceedings against Martin because the Thurston County prosecutor never convicted or charged Martin. Before the State can commit a person for what may arguably be the remainder of his life, the State must be put through the inconvenience of fully complying with the statute."