State v. Snider, No. 99310-6 (Wash. 2022)
Nature of Case: Under Washington law, most people convicted of sex offenses are required to register with their county sheriff and update their registration whenever they change their residence. In this case, Petitioner, who had been convicted of third degree rape in 2003, was charged with failing to update his registration with the county sheriff when he moved out of a residential treatment facility in mid-2017. Petitioner pleaded guilty to the failure to register charge, but he now seeks to withdraw his plea.
At a hearing before the trial court, Petitioner, a veteran with significant mental illness proceeding pro se, sought to raise a diminished capacity defense. Specifically, Petitioner argued that a disruption in his medications had uprooted his ability to function at the time he left the residential facility and that he could not knowingly fail to comply with the registration requirements at that time because of his mental illness. The trial court ultimately denied Petitioner’s request to present a diminished capacity defense and instructed petitioner that the knowledge requirement of the failure to register charge only applied to the knowledge of his duty to register. Based on the trial court’s representations, Petitioner pled guilty.
Petitioner now argues that his plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent because the trial court misinformed him about the knowledge element of failure to register. The Court of Appeals rejected Petitioner’s argument, concluding that the trial court’s descriptions of the knowledge element were accurate and Petitioner’s plea was constitutionally valid.
Holding: Sitting en banc, the Supreme Court of Washington held that Petitioner’s guilty plea was constitutionally valid. In so holding, the Court stated that the fact that “the trial court did not explicitly inform Petitioner that the knowledge element of failure to register necessarily includes knowledge of the specific circumstance giving rise to the responsibility to register under [the statute] does not render Snider’s plea constitutionally invalid.”
The Honorable G. Helen Whitener filed a dissent, joined by two colleagues, concluding that in addition to proving that Petitioner knew of his registration obligation the state must also prove that Petitioner knowingly did not follow through with the registration requirements. The dissent went on to state that “the [trial judge’s] repeated references to incorrect statements of the law were so pervasive that they overcome the presumption that a plea is constitutionally valid when the charging document correctly sets forth the elements of the crime.”