In In re Personal Restraint of Snively, the Court affirmed a principle of law noted before: sexually violent predators do not win collateral challenges to their convictions.

At issue was whether Snively could evade the one-year limit for collateral review of his 1993 guilty plea to indecent liberties because the plea resulted in a facially invalid judgment and sentence to two years of community placement. The State relied on this conviction, along with his concurrent guilty pleas to two counts of first degree child molestation, to file a petition alleging Snively was a sexually violent predator subject to civil commitment.  In 2006, a jury found Snively to be a sexually violent predator and Snively has been confined to McNeil Island ever since.

Before the Court of Appeals, the State conceded that the sentence for the indecent liberties plea was facially invalid and the Court held that Snively was entitled to withdraw his plea because he was misinformed of the community custody term. However the Court denied challenges to the other two convictions and found that they provided a valid basis for Snively’s civil commitment. The Supreme Court granted review of the indecent liberties finding and reversed the Court of Appeals in a per curiam decision.

Relying on In re Personal Restrain of Adams (another case denying collateral attack of a sex crime conviction), the Supreme Court found that the sentencing error could not provide grounds for what it categorized as a separate claim that the guilty plea was involuntary due to misinformation as to the sentence. The only remedy available to Snively would be the correction of the judgment and sentence.

RCW 71.09 provides for the long-term civil commitment of sexually violent predators on the basis of prior sex crime convictions and a recent overt act. It is unsurprising that the Court has tightened the rules of collateral review to avoid turning each civil commitment proceeding under Chapter 71.09 into retrials of all the predicate felonies.  It is hard to see how courts would be able to handle rehasing the factual and legal issues from decades old crimes in each civil commitment trial.  Washington has chosen to protect itself from sexually violent predators by allowing something very much akin to a life sentence in something very much akin to prison to be imposed on the basis of a civil rather than criminal proceeding.  This series of cases is the logical result of that choice.