I Love SOCs

Michael P. BrodskyMichael P. Brodsky, Attorney at Law
120 Prospect Street
Bellingham, WA 98225-4300
Phone: (360) 756-5120
Fax: (360) 671-1285

Last month, I wrote about deferred sentences and I why I don’t recommend them to my clients when they are offered. Here I will discuss the alternative I prefer: SOCs.  A ‘stipulated order of continuance’ (SOC) also referred to variously as “continuance for dismissal” (CFD) , “continuance without finding”, pretrial diversion agreements (PDA’s), “Non-Judicial, Non-Statutory, Prosecutor Diversion Program” or (NJNSPDP), “Pre-Trial Diversion Agreements” (PTDA), “Dispositional Continuance”, depending on where you practice, have the same effect as a ‘deferred sentence’ but without all the negative implications for the defendant. An SOC is basically a contract between the prosecuting authority (The State or City) and the defendant where the defendant stipulates (agrees):

  1. To waive their speedy trial rights;
  2. To waive their constitutional rights – to call witnesses, testify or refuse to testify, cross examine witnesses against them, the presumption of innocence and the right to appeal;
  3. To the accuracy and sufficiency of the police reports to convict them of the charged offense.

In exchange, the prosecuting authority agrees to dismiss or amend the case following compliance with certain obligations and conditions of a definite dime period not to exceed two years.  Conditions and obligations can include treatment, community service or simply have no further convictions of a similar nature.

In other words, mind your Ps and Qs, do what has been asked of you and the case is dismissed WITHOUT the defendant ever having to say “guilty”.  Essentially, accomplishing everything the person thought they were getting but probably weren’t getting in a deferred sentence. 

The problem is, unlike deferred sentences, SOCs are not creatures of statute.  They are creatures of convenience authorized (or tolerated) by some courts but not others. There is one big reason why some courts won’t do them: money.  Because SOCs are not authorized by statute or court rule, there is no mechanism for the Court to get paid.  With any other type of resolution – deferred sentence, compromise of misdemeanor, deferred prosecution or regular old sentence – the Court gets paid for administering the case.   The payment can come in the form of fines, fees and assessments, but it’s all money.  And a recent state Ethics Advisory Committee opinion says they can’t get paid for SOCs and pretty much put the kibosh on the whole concept.[1]  Nevertheless, some courts still permit them under local rules[2] while others just call them something else and do them with a wink and a nod.  Perhaps it’s time to codify this very useful tool for resolving petty cases without clogging the courts or saddling the defendant with a conviction or some other sort of adverse history that can come back to haunt them when applying for a job, renting an apartment or even going out on a date!  Just give the courts their cut and everyone will be happy.

[1] Judicial Ethics State of Washington Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 04-05

[2] See e.g.,  Lewis County District Court Local Rule LLCrRLJ7.2(h); Selah Municipal Court Local Rule SEMAR 1.8; Local Rules of Practice and Procedure for the Union Gap Municipal Court UGAR1.8; District I Court of Clallam County Local Rule LRCrRLJ 3.1(3)(e); Milton Municipal Court Rule LCrRLJ 3.1; Local Court Rules of the Upper District Court for Kittitas County LCrRLJ 4.5; Roslyn Municipal Court Local Rule LCrRLJ 4.5; Lower Kittitas County District Court Local Rule LCrR 4.5 AND OTHERS