Prisoners can now request a new sentence

RaeLynn Ricarte
Editor, Statesman Examiner

Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen has taken steps to respond to requests from prisoners for re-sentencing, as allowed by a new law that state legislators approved for situations when the “original sentence no longer advances the interests of justice.”

Senate Bill 6164 was approved by the Legislature in 2020 and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee last summer. It authorizes prosecutors to petition Superior Courts to reduce the amount of time that an offender spends behind bars. Requests for resentencing only move forward with the prosecutor’s approval.

Rasmussen said the legislation offered little in the way of guidance about which sentences should be considered for a reduction, or how requests should be evaluated. So, he spent several months looking at protocols put in place in other counties and then adapted those standards to fit Stevens County.

"We have developed a protocol to create a fair and just process that makes efficient use of scarce prosecutorial resources,” he said.

Rasmussen established the Stevens County Sentence Review Committee to review resentencing requests on a case-by-case basis. The committee is made up of attorneys in the prosecutor’s office and may include a non-attorney staff member as needed.

The group will convene quarterly to consider requests from offenders and to consider cases independently identified by members of Rasmussen’s staff as possible candidates for resentencing.

Currently, there have been about a dozen requests for resentencing, he said.

“Some more or less demand a resentencing, while others are thoughtful and actually provide a reason why they believe that being in prison no longer serves the interest of justice,” said Rasmussen. “Some of the requests are from persons who were convicted of murder and who received long sentences, but some are from folks who will be released soon and do not want to serve the last few months of the sentence they received.”

When asked who might be a candidate for resentencing, Rasmussen said it might include a 72-year-old man who was sentenced to 34 years in prison for murder and has six years remaining.

“Has justice been served? Probably,” said Rasmussen.

He said the law was approved to address situations such as that of a local man given a mandatory minimum sentence of more than 1,000 months for possessing stolen firearms. The law required a series of consecutive sentences that added up to that time he was a previously convicted felon. One of the guns that he had stolen was later used in a homicide.

In order to be given consideration for resentencing in Stevens County, the offender must submit a written application that includes a discussion of the criteria justifying less time, the final charging document that was the basis of the conviction, the original charging document (if available), the official statement of the defendant to a guilty plea if applicable, and the final judgment and sentence.

The prisoner should also submit relevant records, such as programmatic achievements, infraction history, behavior and substance abuse treatment records, medical documentation (if relevant) and a release plan.

An offender whose request is rejected for any reason cannot reapply for two years under Rasmussen’s protocol.

Sentences that do not qualify under the new law for a revision are: Life for aggravated first-degree murder; life for being a habitual offender; enhancements for firearms and deadly weapons; the mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for first-degree murder; five-year minimum for first-degree rape; and five years for sexual violence.

Read the full story in the January 20, 2021 edition of the Deer Park