May 2014 Bar Bulletin
Letters to the Editor
Your lead article in the April issue, "Punishing People for Being Poor," addresses an important subject, but it was misleading by omission because it left the impression that King County follows these practices of arresting defendants who cannot pay. We do not.
The ACLU report only reviewed Benton, Clark, Clallam and Thurston counties, but the authors failed to state this in the body of the article. A reader had to look at the footnotes to learn this fact.
King County does not arrest people for failing to pay fines, fees and restitution. A court may issue warrants for defendants who fail to show up for scheduled review hearings post-sentencing. In King County, collections of fines and fees are treated as civil collection matters and are administered by the Clerk's Office.
It should be noted that the authors also failed to address the current state of the law (the Revised Code of Washington), which requires judges to impose fees at sentencing without consideration of one's financial ability to pay. The law does allow a defendant's financial ability to be taken into account after a good faith effort to pay the fees. The Legislature would be the place to address this issue, not the courts.
As a practical matter, in King County most discretionary fees are entirely waived except the victim penalty assessment and DNA fees (both mandatory). Of course, an offender is always required to pay restitution.
-Judge Jim Rogers
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