Court Strikes Pierce County Sex Offender’s Prohibition from Social Media

State of Washington v. Bagley (2017)

by David S. Marshall

The Washington State Court of Appeals has overturned a Pierce County man’s sentencing condition and required the lower court to modify its sentence in his case. Sean T. Leverette Bagley had appealed the trial court’s prohibiting him “from joining or perusing any public social websites” while in community custody as part of his sentence for attempted rape.

Mr. Bagley was charged after an incident involving a woman outside a Walmart in 2013. Mr. Bagley approached the woman on a public street near the Walmart where they had both been shopping. This interaction occurred totally in person – there was no on-line interaction of any kind between the two.

After a jury convicted Mr. Bagley of attempted rape, the trial court handed down a prison sentence and also barred Mr. Bagley from any public social websites while in community custody. He objected to the latter condition.

Trial courts in Washington are permitted by state law to impose crime-related prohibitions as part of a sentence. However, such a prohibition must cover conduct that directly relates to the circumstances of the crime; it cannot be imposed on conduct that is unrelated to the crime for which the defendant has been convicted.

Sentences for attempted second degree rape in Washington State must follow the guidelines of RCW 9.94A.507. Under this law, defendants convicted of second degree attempted rape may serve a portion of their sentence in “community custody” (rather than remaining in prison) “subject to controls placed on the offender’s movement and activities.” In Mr. Bagley’s case, one such control was to prohibit him from using or viewing public social media websites.

Under Washington law, sentence conditions imposing prohibitions must be crime-related. RCW 9.94A.703(3)(f)RCW 9.94A.030(10). “[A] sentencing court may not prohibit a defendant from using the Internet if his or her crime lacks a nexus to Internet use.”  Because there was no evidence in Mr. Bagley’s case that social media was part of the crime he committed, there is no reason for the court to limit his social media use during community custody. Accordingly, the appeals court lifted this portion of Mr. Bagley’s sentence.