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Equal Protection for Felonies in Incorporated Cities

Posted by attorney Michael Morgan
Filed under: Felony crime

Municipalities have passed many laws that seemed to mirror felonies. For example, Federal Way enacted a gross misdemeanor that made a domestic violence assault by strangulation a specific offense--although a felony assault could also be committed by means of strangulation. It is a well-settled rule of statutory interpretation that when general and specific statutes are concurrent, the special statute must apply to the exclusion of the general statute. See, e.g. State v. Danforth. General and special statutes are concurrent when the special statute prohibits conduct which is also prohibited by the general statute. see Danforth at 258. Washington courts have long recognized that: a statute which prescribes different punishments or different degrees of punishment for the same act committed under the same circumstances by persons in like situations is violative of the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution...Such a statute must be violative of Art. I, Sec. 12 of the constitution of this state. In re Olsen v. Delmore, 48 Wn. 2d 545, 550 (1956). There are cases from the Washington State Supreme Court that make it clear that the prosecuting authority does not have discretion to charge a felony for conduct specifically falling as a misdemeanor. Therefore, it is important to examine municipal laws when representing someone accused of a felony occurring within a municipality.

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