Stipulated Orders of Continuances and Expungements


There is no Washington state statute that recognizes the authority of a court to enter into Stipulated Orders of Continuance (SOC). Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, unlike the Superior Courts, are not courts of equity but are courts that sole power is derived by statute–so while many courts authorize SOCs they do so with the belief that this is a private agreement between the defense and the prosecution and that the court’s role is merely to insure that the defendant is knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily giving up certain constitutional rights (such as a right to a speedy trial)  that are often relinquished before the prosecution will agree to enter into an SOC.

post5aThe parties in many SOCs agree that the outcome, upon a defendant complying with certain conditions such as seeking addiction treatment at a facility is a dismissal. This makes an SOC similar to diversion programs–although diversion programs are statutorily recognized programs.

Ordinarily a defendant is entitled to have non-conviction data deleted from criminal justice agency files, upon proper application to the Washington State Patrol (WSP), if a misdemeanor is dismissed. The relevant criminal justice agency , pursuant to RCW 10.97.060, has the discretion to maintain the non-conviction data (such as the fact of an arrest) if the dismissal was the result of a…”deferred prosecution or similar diversion of the alleged offender.” RCW 10.97.060 (1). The WSP treats SOC dismissals as identical to a deferred prosecution for the purposes of this statute and are not inclined (absent a court order) to delete non-conviction data from a dismissal following an SOC.

post4bIt is time the legislature recognize  SOCs since they are common place in courts of limited jurisdiction and have proven to be an effective mechanism to equitably resolve cases short of trial. It is also time to find a simpler mechanism to get non-conviction data removed from an alleged offender’s record after a case is dismissed following an SOC.

So as you can see, judges and generally the court usually bend the legal system a little bit. And if the parties agree on these conditions, then it is surely a good outcome for both sides and what is more important, the case will be dismissed. Courts as you have seen above, are not allowed to allow these orders. But as common practice says, there are cases in which both sides agree to respect the final decision. If the defendant complies and do exactly as he/she is being told, the case will be dropped and everything will be ok. The thing is, this is a more economic measure because it saves a lot of time and money for the court and the state. The effect is probably the same or almost the same as if the real sentence was brought. So we can understand why this court practice is very much alive.

About the author

Jacquelyn Smith