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Washington Supreme Court to Decide Important Case Affecting Certificates of Discharge

Posted by Ryan Robertson on Apr 17, 2018 | 0 Comments

The Washington Supreme Court will soon review a case which will have a profound impact on how courts determine the effective date for a Certificate of Discharge. This blog will briefly review the law regarding a Certificate of Discharge, the importance of this Supreme Court case, and will end with a description of how Robertson Law can help you obtain an appropriately dated Certificate of Discharge.

If you are convicted of a felony offense, it is imperative that you obtain a Certificate of Discharge as quickly as possible. The Certificate of Discharge does three important things:

  1. It ends the felony case; meaning no future court action can be taken against you;
  2. It permanently restores your right to vote; and
  3. It starts the process for vacating the conviction record. You can vacate a class C felony five years after the date of discharge, and you can vacate a class B felony ten years after the date of discharge.

State law generally holds that a person becomes eligible for a Certificate of Discharge once they complete all conditions of their sentence. In State v. Hubbard, Case #95012-1, the Washington Supreme Court will now determine precisely “when” the certificate should be issued. Figuring out the “date” that a person should receive the discharge can be tricky, so we will try to break this down in a straight-forward manner.

If a person completes the conditions of his or sentence while under community supervision, the Department of Corrections is supposed to notify the court to issue the Certificate of Discharge. However, many times supervision ends before everything is done. When this occurs, part of the burden to get information to the court can fall on the defendant. The problem sometimes centers on the payment of “legal financial obligations” or “LFO's.” When a person pays off fines and restitution, the clerk's office is required to file what is called “Satisfaction of Judgment.” The “date” for “Satisfaction of Judgment” is often a very important date to determine the date of discharge, as it typically is the last thing a person completes as a condition of sentence.

The larger issue, however, is what happens when a person fails to complete other conditions of sentence (like treatment or community service) before supervision is terminated. Under Washington State law, the defendant is required to give “adequate verification” to the court that these conditions have been satisfied. Further, a Certificate of Discharge cannot be issued until adequate verification is received by the court. Therefore, the date a court receives notice a person completed sentence conditions may be very different from the date the person actually completed the conditions.

This is the problem raised in State v. Hubbard. The defendant completed his sentence requirements years before the court received notice. Hubbard intends to argue that the law should focus on the date he completed his sentence conditions, and not the date the court received notice. In our opinion, this is going to be a very difficult argument for Hubbard to win. The statutory language is quite clear: the date the court receives notice controls.

How can Robertson Law help you? We take great pride in our ability to research ALL pertinent records to show that our clients qualify for the earliest dated Certificate of Discharge. One thing we have learned: often the court has received “adequate verification” a person has completed sentence conditions, even if proof is not actually in the court file. We frequently request and obtain Dept. of Corrections (DOC) records for our clients. There, we often find proof that a person completed a sentence condition (like treatment or community service hours), and the DOC simply failed to provide that information to the court while the client was under DOC supervision. This additional research can dramatically change the date for discharge.

We also take great pride in our knowledge of the law. For felony convictions occurring before 2000, the State was restricted to a ten-year period of time to compel payment of LFO's. Therefore, in some cases, even where a client failed to pay all LFO's and never received a Satisfaction of Judgment, they can still obtain a Certificate of Discharge once that ten-year period expired. Again, this can dramatically change the date for discharge.

Each case is unique and we cannot determine the date of discharge for any case until we do the research and review the law. We have learned, however, that digging deeper and working harder can produce great results for many clients.

If you have questions about your felony conviction and whether you qualify for a Certificate of Discharge, please call us (206) 395-5257 and we can get to work for you.

About the Author

Ryan Robertson

Ryan is a creative and articulate advocate who limits his practice to criminal appeals and post-conviction relief including vacation, expungement, and sealing of records. He has worked exclusively in the criminal defense field since passing the Washington State bar exam in 1998. Ryan has been recognized as a Rising Star lawyer by Law & Politics Magazine.

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The attorneys of Robertson Law have a proven track record of creative and effective advocacy for clients throughout the state of Washington.

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Ryan Robertson's practice focuses exclusively on high-quality creative appellate representation in criminal and administrative matters, as well as expungements, vacation of records, and petitions to seal.