The lack of tough sentences allows serial domestic violence offenders to continue to commit these dangerous and damaging offenses with limited consequence. For example, in a recent King County case State v. Gary Ruffcorn the defendant was charged with Assault in the Second degree domestic violence for a brutal assault upon his girlfriend.
Ruffcorn had a long documented history of misdemeanor domestic violence abuse:
Six prior convictions for Assault in the Fourth degree domestic violence
Three convictions for violation of a no contact order
And two felony drug convictions
Ruffcorn’s legacy of domestic violence was well known to dozens of police and prosecutors throughout east King County. Even though his nine misdemeanor domestic violence convictions appear significant, when it came time to impose punishment, none of his convictions counted towards his offender score.
Instead, his standard range was calculated only by adding a point for each of his non-violent drug convictions. The resulting standard range was little different than what he faced for a misdemeanor.1
Other examples of repeat domestic violence offenders are found throughout the state:
In a recent Thurston county case, State v. Marvin Greene, a repeat DV defendant had five misdemeanor domestic violence convictions (including twice for Assault 4 DV) involving the same victim. When he was convicted of a felony domestic violence charge for tampering with that victim he was sentenced as a first time felony offender with no consideration to his long DV history. In essence, the defendant faced less time for committing a felony domestic violence crime than for his prior misdemeanor domestic violence crimes.
In a Pierce county case, State v. L.A. Johnson, the defendant had a history of domestic violence involving the same victim and her children. He was recently convicted of a number of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes, including stalking, for his obsessive behavior. Once out of custody the defendant broke into the victim's home. The victim came home from work, put the children to bed, and found the defendant hiding under her bed. His constant harassment and stalking of the victim and her children left her terrified. The defendant's standard range does not consider his lengthy domestic violence history providing a sentence range less than a misdemeanor.
In a recent Snohomish county case, State v. Sam Cornish, the defendant had an extensive domestic violence relationship with his ex-wife. In the late 1990s he was convicted of five violations of no contact and felony stalking, and upon release pursued his ex-wife for several years. From 2000 to 2008 he was convicted of five additional domestic violence felony violations of no contact order. After ten years of criminal domestic violence offenses involving the same victim (eleven total) he faced a sentence commensurate with a third time burglar or car thief.
Unlike other repeat offenders whose prior convictions count more heavily when their current offense is for the same or similar conduct the repeat domestic violence felon faces no such concerns. The bottom line is prior domestic violence felony convictions are not multiplied and prior misdemeanor domestic violence convictions are not scored, no matter how many or if those involve the same victim or victim's children. The failure to consider prior convictions has led to widening gaps for repeat domestic violence felons and other repeat criminal felons--all while domestic violence cases are an increasing priority for prosecutors throughout Washington.2
Washington does have an exceptional sentence provision for history of domestic violence, and it was used against Mr. Ruffcorn with success, but it does not mitigate the systemic lack of a multiplier or failure to score misdemeanor convictions. Many other offenses such as sex, drugs, violent, and economic crimes also carry exceptional sentences in addition to a multiplier and other sentencing enhancements. Finally, exceptional sentences are unreliable having been subject to attack on appeal and only recently allowed. The statewide application is limited, and in 2006 was used in less than a dozen cases.
The Legislature has added additional penalties for certain offenses, including longer sentences for offenses committed with a firearm or another deadly weapon, longer sentences for drug offenses committed in a "protected" zone and for drug offenses committed while confined in a jail or prison. There are no such additional penalties for domestic violence.