State of Washington v. Ruiz-Sibaja (2017)
by David S. Marshall
Under Washington State law, some sex offenders qualify for a Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative (RCW 9.94A.670). A SSOSA sentence includes a suspended prison sentence and a requirement to undergo sex offender treatment. Courts giving SSOSA sentences also impose other conditions, including prohibitions on certain behavior. RCW 9.94A.670(5)(d). A SSOSA can be revoked, and the offender sent to prison to serve the suspended sentence, if he doesn’t make satisfactory progress in treatment or violates any of the other sentence conditions.
Steven Ruiz-Sibaja, a man from Kennewick, Washington, was given a SSOSA sentence by the Benton County Superior Court after pleading guilty to one count of first degree child rape. The trial court also imposed sentence conditions requiring that he:
- not possess or view pornography
- not consume alcohol
Over a year after Mr. Sibaja’s sentence was handed down, the prosecutor moved to revoke the SSOSA for violation of these two conditions. The prosecutor pointed to Mr. Sibaja’s statement during a polygraph examination that he had viewed naked pictures of a 21-year-old woman who sent pictures of herself to his phone. Mr. Sibaja also revealed that he had consumed wine.
At the revocation hearing, Mr. Sibaja explained that he had consumed small amounts of wine at church and with a friend at Christmas. He also said that the woman was a friend and had sent him pictures of her breasts. His treatment providers and corrections officer all recommended that the SSOSA be revoked. The court concluded that Mr. Sibaja had violated both the pornography and alcohol conditions and revoked his SSOSA.
Mr. Sibaja appealed. On appeal, the State agreed with him that the pornography condition was unconstitutionally vague and therefore should not have been considered by the court at the SSOSA hearing. But the State argued that the violation of the alcohol condition was sufficient to revoke Mr. Sibaja’s SSOSA.
The Court of Appeals found that, while alcohol violations and Mr. Sibaja’s failure to progress much in treatment may have been adequate reason to revoke the SSOSA, the trial court relied heavily on both the alcohol and pornography violations. Neither violation alone, nor the poor treatment progress, was necessarily sufficient reason to revoke the SSOSA. The appeals court also reasoned that since Mr. Sibaja’s conviction involved sexual conduct and his admitted wine consumption was minimal, it could not reach the conclusion that the lower court would have revoked the SSOSA solely due to the drinking. Because of the child rape conviction, it was more likely the pornography violation was given significant weight in the lower court’s decision to revoke.
The appeals court reversed the lower court’s order revoking Mr. Sibaja’s SSOSA and granted a new hearing, instructing the court to strike the pornography condition.