Imagine paying a fine…for 25 years. It can happen, and the Washington Supreme Court just did something about it.
The Court has ruled that two Pierce County defendants will get new sentence hearings because the judges in those cases imposed standard legal financial obligations without looking at whether the defendants could afford them.
Although attorneys for neither defendant objected at their sentencings, they made their case to the court of Appeals, which declined to take up the case. The Supreme Court said it issued a ruling to “emphasize the trial court’s obligation to consider the defendant’s ability to pay.” Chief justice Barbara Madsen wrote that the sentencing judges in these cases used boilerplate language rather than assessing each defendant’s financial circumstances and whether they could pay the amounts. “The Legislature did not intend Legal Financial Obligation (LFO) orders to be uniform among cases of similar crimes,” Madsen wrote in the decision. “Rather it intended each judge to conduct a case-by-case analysis and arrive at an LFO order appropriate to the individual defendant’s circumstances.”
The ruling notes studies that have shown ordering standard financial obligations without consideration of a particular defendant’s case can make it harder for the person to re-enter society. It also increases recidivism rates and makes it difficult for the government to recoup the money, according to the ruling. Some poorer defendants never pay their legal fees and otherS pay a small stipend. That means the court stays involved in the defendant’s life much longer – possibly creating issues with employment, housing and credit rates – and the defendant could end up paying more in the long run, the ruling states. In fact, it can take some defendants 25 years of minimum payments to pay off LFOs. Failing to pay the LFOs is a bar to expunging or vacating criminal records.
Counties in Washington with higher violent crime rates, smaller populations and those that designate less of their budgets to law and justice assess higher legal financial obligations than other counties, according to the ruling. This imperative under RCW 10.01.160(3) means that the court must do more than sign a judgment and sentence with boilerplate language stating that it engaged in the required inquiry.
If you have been charged with a crime, you not only have to consider the potential loss of liberty but also the fines and fees that go along with a conviction. You need to hire an attorney who understands all the implications of a criminal charge. You can trust the former prosecutors and experienced defense attorneys at Durflinger Oliver to give you all the info and options you need to make the right choices. Call today for a free consultation. We offer military discount and easy payment plans.