In a case that emerged from tragic facts of a dogs killing weaker members of their pack and maiming a neighbor’s pet, the Washington Supreme Court issued two significant rulings concerning criminal sentencing last week. First, it unanimously ruled in State v. Deskins that district courts have broad discretion to impose conditions of probation. Second, in a 5-4 ruling, it clarified that evidentiary rules concerning hearsay do not apply to evidence of restitution amounts offered at sentencing hearings.
Pamela Deskins kept approximately 40 dogs in a fenced area on her property. These dogs were vicious toward one another, with some mauling and killing other members of the pack. They attacked and killed livestock on the property. And despite the fence, some attacked a pet dog off the property, inflicting serious injuries. The local sheriff later seized the remaining dogs, placing them in the custody of a local animal rescue.
Deskins was later found guilty of confining animals in an unsafe manner (a misdemeanor), among other charges. Twenty-two minutes after the jury rendered its verdict, the District Court commenced a sentencing hearing, denying Deskins’ request for a one-week continuance. Prepared for sentencing, the State presented statements from individuals who witnessed the dog attacks, the owners of the injured pet, and evidence of the State’s costs of caring for the seized dogs. The District Court sentenced Deskins to two years of probation (as well as a period of confinement), ordered her to pay restitution, and imposed two conditions on her probation: (1) it prohibited her from owning or living animals during her probation; and (2) it ordered to forfeit any remaining animals to the local sheriff, after allowing Deskins seven days to find any remaining animals new homes.
After both the Superior Court and the Court of Appeals reversed certain aspects of the District Court’s rulings, the Washington Supreme Court granted review of the two probation conditions and whether the short period between trial and sentencing and the resulting restitution order violated due process.