Are You Eligible for the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative Program?

In criminal cases in Washington, the courts generally have to give a convicted person a sentence that falls within the standard sentencing range set out by state laws. In some cases, however, the court can deviate from that standard range. This is seen in situations such as first-time offenders and under the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA).

Under DOSA, a person can receive a shorter sentence, treatment, and more supervision if they are convicted of a nonviolent drug related offense, with the goal being to help that person recover from their addiction. The DOSA program has criteria that people must meet to receive the special sentencing, and it allows for both residential and prison-based chemical dependency treatment-based options. Residential-based means the person receives treatment in the community and outside of jail, usually at a treatment facility, while prison-based DOSA treatment occurs while the person is in custody. One requirement people must meet to qualify for DOSA is the length of the sentence they would receive under the standard sentencing range; the midpoint can’t exceed 24 months.

In a recent case in Washington, the state challenged a person who received a residential-based DOSA sentence because his standard sentence midpoint was over 24 months. He was charged with two counts of delivering drugs, with a sentence enhancement–a longer term added under special circumstances–because he was selling the drugs within 1,000 feet of a bus stop for a school. Based on the seriousness of the crime and his status as a first-time offender, his standard sentencing range was 12 to 20 months plus another 24 months on the enhancement for each of the two counts.

In his case, the state offered him a deal that would eliminate one count and see prison-based DOSA on the other. This would have ended in 20 months in jail and another 20 months on parole (now known as “community custody” in Washington). The state rejected his counteroffer, which involved him pleading guilty on both counts in exchange for the state removing the school enhancements on his sentences, making him eligible for residential-based DOSA.

In the end, the defendant in this case pled guilty to both charges with the enhancements, and he sought a residential-based DOSA or a waiver as a first-time offender, which the state denied. However, the trial court did sentence him to a residential-based DOSA.

The state then appealed the decision and argued the court could not sentence him to that type of DOSA. In the appeals court, it was decided that the trial court could, in fact, waive sentencing enhancements to make a person eligible for residential-based DOSA. If the trial court in this case had waived the school enhancements, according to the appeals court, the defendant’s sentencing midpoint would become 16 months, which falls below the 24-month limit. Since the appeals court did not have a sentencing transcript, it returned the case to the trial court to let that court decide whether to re-sentence the defendant or waive the enhancements.

At this point, the state’s Supreme Court granted a review of the case. The defendant took the position that the trial court has broad discretion over the standard sentencing range under state laws. Meanwhile, the state argued that the laws limited the trial court’s discretion and that the court could only impose a prison-based DOSA when the standard range midpoint exceeded 24 months.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court sided with the state, citing that the state laws don’t specifically allow the court to disregard sentencing enhancements in order to allow a person to receive a residential-based DOSA sentence. While this may limit the application of DOSA in future cases, it does provide the courts and legal community with more clarification on who may be eligible for this alternative. If you think you may be able to receive this alternative, speak to your defense lawyer.

Criminal drug charges are very serious and can result in fines, jail time and a record that will follow you for the rest of your life. If you are facing drug charges, it’s important to contact a criminal defense lawyer for help in Washington as soon as possible so your rights are protected from the start.

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