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Are you eligible for a SSOSA in Washington?

Posted by Brian C. Zuanich | Jan 02, 2020 | 0 Comments

Prosecutors and judges treat sexual offenders harshly but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be going to prison for a long time if you've been convicted of a sex offense in Washington.

Under Washington law (RCW 9.94A.670), some sexual offenders may be eligible for Washington's Special Sexual Offender Sentencing Alternative (SSOSA). 

As the name suggests, SSOSA is a sentencing alternative to a traditional prison sentence.  Instead, sex offenders get the opportunity to serve all or part of their sentence out of custody while participating sexual deviancy treatment.  At most, assuming you comply, you will not serve more than 1 year behind bars. 

Treatment is intensive—it must be completed from a state-certified treatment provider and it can last up to 5 years.  A judge may order inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Who is eligible for a SSOSA?

To be eligible for a SSOSA, you must meet certain conditions:

  • No prior convictions for a felony sex offense (i.e. rape in the first degree, rape in the second degree)
  • No prior adult convictions for a violent offense within the past 5 years (i.e. murder, robbery)
  • You must not be facing a sentence of more than 11 years in custody
  • The crime did not result in “substantial bodily harm” to the victim
  • You received an evaluation and you are amenable to treatment 
  • If you plead guilty, you must voluntarily and affirmatively admit that you committed the crime (i.e. you cannot plead no contest or enter an Alford plea)
  • The offender had an “established relationship” or a “connection” to the victim at the time but the commission of the crime cannot be the sole connection

What is the connection requirement under the SSOSA?

What does it mean to have an established relationship or connection to the victim?  The Court of Appeals considered this question earlier this month in State v. Pratt

A judge convicted Cory Pratt of child molestation in the first degree for sexually assaulting a minor female (MB) during a sleepover at her cousin's birthday party.  The party took place at the home of Pratt's aunt and uncle.  MB is the daughter of Pratt's aunt's stepsister.

The trial judge imposed a SSOSA over the prosecutor and victim's objection.  The main issue on appeal concerned the relationship (or lack thereof) between Pratt and MB. 

The trial judge concluded that Pratt knew MB and her family and that the two of them had had contact at the party before the commission of the crime. 

The Court of Appeals disagreed, relying on the following facts:

  • MB said she had never met Pratt before the party
  • MB's parents both said they had never met Pratt before
  • Pratt could not remember having met or spoken to MB before the party
  • Their only connection (other than the crime ) was Pratt handing MB some food and asking MB her name

The Court ruled that these do not come close to showing that Pratt and MB had an “established relationship” under RCW 9.94A.670. 

Likewise they don't show a “connection” under the statute.  The Court recognized that the statute does not say "close connection" (just "connection" but the Legislature clearly intended a "close connection" requirement when it created the SSOSA alternative.  

As the Court noted, the legislature determined that children would be more likely to report sexual assault by family members if prison were not the only available sentence. This meant that legislators were thinking about close family units when it created the SSOSA, not tenuous familial links. 

For these reasons, the Court concluded that Pratt was not eligible for a SSOSA sentence. 

About us:  Zuanich Law specializes in criminal and civil appeals, including DOL and family law appeals.  We also handle post-conviction relief, including vacating, expunging, and sealing criminal records.  Subscribe to our weekly criminal law email newsletter.   

About the Author

Brian C. Zuanich

I am the managing partner at Zuanich Law. I am a former prosecutor and insurance defense attorney, and have practiced law in state and federal courts for over a decade.

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