PORT ANGELES — A convicted child rapist received too long of a sentence when he pleaded guilty to dealing in child pornography and will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.
Shawn Michael Dawson, an inmate at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Grays Harbor County appeared in Clallam County Superior Court on Wednesday after the state Department of Corrections informed prosecutors and his defense attorney in May that when Dawson pleaded guilty to dealing in child pornography, Dawson was charged under the current law instead of the law that applied at the time of the offense.
“As this crime is a Class C felony based on the date of offense the maximum term should have been listed as 5 years, making this sentence over the maximum term,” according to an email from the Stafford Creek Corrections Center. “The Department respectfully requests that the sentence be amended to be within the [statutory] max for a Class C Felony. The Department does not have jurisdiction past the maximum term of 5 years.”
Dawson is currently serving 26 months for third-degree rape of a 14-year-old boy and communication with a minor for immoral purposes and 75 months for dealing in depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct,
Dawson will appear in court again July 11, where he will have the opportunity to withdraw his plea.
“I anticipate because there was an error in the charging document that he is going to be allowed to withdraw his plea,” said Superior Court Judge Lauren Erickson. “The state will file a new amended information [charges] and Mr. Dawson will need to decide if he still wants to plead guilty.”
The state Legislature in 2017 harshened punishments against people convicted of crimes against children, but the law became effective July 23, 2017 and does not apply to Dawson’s case.
That change increased the punishment from a maximum of five years to a maximum of 10 years for second-degree dealing in depictions of minors engaged in explicit conduct.
Dawson was charged with multiple child pornography charges in November of 2018 — while he was already serving time for raping a child — after investigators in North Carolina discovered emails between Dawson and a suspect they were investigating.
Those emails show that the two began emailing in February 2016 and that they exchanged photos depicting minors in March, 2016, before the law changed and before the rape.
Dawson pleaded guilty to a single count of dealing in depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct and was recommended to serve 60 months in prison.
Erickson rejected the recommendation and sentenced him to 75 months in prison.
“The state’s offer would not have been what it was if we were operating under this guideline,” said Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michele Devlin.
He had also been charged with two counts of first-degree possessing depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, Class B felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and a second count of second-degree possessing depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Those charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
Dawson refused to participate in a risk-needs assessment interview for the pre-sentence investigation on the pornography charges, saying “he had signed a plea agreement and the interview won’t change anything,” according to the April 11 Department of Corrections report.
Dawson was viewing child pornography in March 2016 and raped the boy six months later, according to the report.
“It seems very likely that his interest in child pornography was a provocative factor in the rape that occurred six months later,” according to the report.
The report says Dawson does not admit to his offense that he was not interested in treatment.
“Dawson does not express any empathy for the emotional trauma that he has imposed on his victims,” the report says. “Sexual abuse can result in very deep trauma that can take many years to recover from.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].