Sex Offender Registration Requirement Lifted for Convictions under Repealed Laws

In re Pers. Restraint of Arnold (2017)
Registration requirements for sex offenders in Washington State partly depend on the specific law under which an offender was convicted. Spokane resident Eddie Arnold has won a challenge to his conviction for failure to register as a sex offender based on a statutory rape law that was later repealed.   Division Three of the Washington State Court of Appeals overturned Mr. Arnold’s failure to register conviction after Divisions One and Two of the court made similar decisions.

The State Charges Mr. Arnold with Failure to Register as a Sex Offender

In 1988, Mr. Arnold pleaded guilty to statutory rape in violation of former RCW 9A.44.080(1). A few days after Mr. Arnold’s plea, the Washington State Legislature repealed that statute and replaced it with another (RCW 9A.44.073, .076, and .079). Mr. Arnold was released from prison in August of 1990. The same year, the Washington State Legislature enacted RCW 9A.44.130, which required sex offenders to register. Mr. Arnold, however, did not register.

In October 2013, Mr. Arnold was charged by the State with failure to register. The State alleged that he was required to do so because of his 1988 statutory rape conviction. In March 2015, Mr. Arnold reached a plea agreement with the State. The trial court accepted the agreement and imposed a sentence.

Mr. Arnold is Relieved of His Duty to Register

Two weeks after the sentencing hearing, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office sent Mr. Arnold a letter informing him that he was relieved of his duty to register as a sex offender under new Washington case law. In 2011, Division One of the Court of Appeals decided the Taylor case, reversing a conviction for failure to register as a sex offender because the defendant’s prior conviction was no longer defined as a “sex offense” under Washington law. In 2015, Division Two overturned a conviction for failure to register in a similar case.

After receiving this news, Mr. Arnold moved Division Three to permit him to withdraw his guilty plea. He asserted that he was not required to register as a sex offender under the precedent of the Taylor case, and that he had been unaware of the Taylor case when he pleaded guilty.

Division Three agreed with Mr. Arnold that his conviction was materially indistinguishable from the convictions Divisions One and Two had ruled invalid. The legal doctrine of stare decisis applied: the issue had already been decided. The legal issue in Mr. Arnold’s case—whether he was required to register as a sex offender, even though his conviction was no longer considered a “sex offense” under Washington law—had already been decided by the Court of Appeals in similar cases. Therefore Division Three granted Mr. Arnold’s petition and vacated his conviction.