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Compromise of Misdemeanors in Seattle, Oak Harbor, Island County

In February, a Seattle resident referred to as the “Piggyback Bandit” plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of assault. The Piggyback Bandit apparently has a history of jumping on the backs of athletes at sporting events in the Pacific Northwest. Jumping on someone’s back can constitute assault in the fourth degree.

The Seattle PI story on the Piggyback Bandit’s guilty plea can be read here.

Unfortunately, the Piggyback Bandit faced these assault charges in Montana. Washington State has a statute which allows “compromise of misdemeanors.”

Under RCW 10.22, certain misdemeanor crimes can be “compromised” unless defendant is charged with criminal street gang tagging and graffiti, or when the offense is committed (1) by or upon an officer; (2) “riotously”; (3) with an intent to commit a felony; or (4) is a crime of domestic violence committed by one family or household member against another.

A compromise of misdemeanor can avoid a criminal conviction for a misdemeanor offense if there is a tort claim that has overlapping elements with the misdemeanor. However, the procedure to obtain a “compromise of misdemeanor” requires the victim to provide a written acknowledgment that he or she has been compensated for their injury. If the victim provides such an acknowledgement, the court has discretion to dismiss the misdemeanor.

Washington Case law holds that trial courts even have the authority to dismiss gross misdemeanors that meet the requirements of RCW 10.22. State v. Britton, 84 Wash.App. 146, 150, 925 P.2d 1295, 1296 (Wash. Ct. App. 1996). This is because at the time the original statute providing for compromise of misdemeanors was passed in 1881, misdemeanor offenses included “all offenses other than felonies.” There was no subcategory of “gross misdemeanors” at the time. Therefore, the Court in Britton concluded that even gross misdemeanor offenses may be compromised. Ultimately, the Washington Legislature intended to include those misdemeanors in which by their very nature there is an overlapping of the civil remedy and the public remedy by way of prosecution. So long as the civil cause of action shares a common element with the criminal offense, compromise is available; overlapping, not full congruence, is required. State ex rel. Fitch v. Roxbury Dist. Court, 29 Wash.App. 591, 597, 629 P.2d 1341, 1344 (Wash. Ct. App. 1981).

The policy behind the compromise of misdemeanor statute is to promote making the victim whole again through restitution, avoid prosecution for minor offenses, and vesting discretion with the trial court to dismiss where a compromise has been reached. Therefore, a compromise of misdemeanor may be a good option under certain circumstances.

For instance, if a defendant is accused of petty theft (e.g. shoplifting) such a gross misdemeanor may be compromised as the torts of trespass to chattel and conversion have overlapping elements with petty theft. Therefore, if the store or store representative acknowledges that a defendant accused of stealing has compensated the store in full for the offense, and agrees that the criminal case can be dismissed, then it is possible that a court will dismiss the criminal matter as a result.

Ultimately, the compromise of misdemeanor statute may provide a good avenue for the defendant and defense attorney to get a case dismissed thereby avoiding a conviction that may haunt the defendant for the rest of his or her life. If the alleged victim of the petty offense has time to cool off after the incident–he or she may be willing to accept money, compromise, and settle the matter without pressing charges.

Had the Piggyback Bandit committed this crime in Washington State, it is possible that he may have been able to compromise with the person from which he sought a piggy back ride –assuming that the offense was not done “riotously” (which seems to be an undefined and amorphous concept which may support an argument for application of the rule of lenity).

The attorneys at Platt & Buescher have been serving those accused of misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors for over 20 years.