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Can’t Pay? Go Directly to Jail.

You might have thought that “debtors' prisons” were extinct. But people are still being jailed in Washington all too often simply because they can’t pay their court-ordered financial obligations in a criminal case.

The Washington Supreme Court recently agreed with ACLU-WA that it is not fair to “automatically” send a person to jail for failure to pay these financial obligations, without a hearing to determine if the person has the ability to pay.

The case (State v. Nason) involved a Spokane man who was convicted of burglary in 1999 when he was 18 and was sentenced to serve 30 days in jail and to pay about $700 in court fines and fees. The amount he owed quickly doubled due to accruing interest. The interest rate on legal financial obligations in criminal cases is 12%, far higher than the rate for things like savings accounts.

Little did Mr. Nason know that he would end up spending nearly 10 times his original sentence behind bars - not for committing new crimes but for missing payments. Under the “automatic jail” policy adopted by the court in Spokane County, he was required to agree that he would serve 30 or 60 days or more each time he missed a monthly payment. He was sent to jail without a hearing to consider whether he had the ability to pay.

In fact, Mr. Nason could not pay – he had no income, was homeless, and was living out of his car with his brother. He had been walking up and down a main street in Spokane looking for employment at different places. His only money was the $152 that he received in food stamps.

The Washington Supreme Court said that the “automatic jail” policy was a violation of the due process clause of the constitution. But questions about the fairness of Washington’s system for collecting legal financial obligations (LFOs) remain. A recent study showed some counties impose far more LFOs than others, and a larger debt burden is placed on Latino defendants than on others. As the Spokane Spokesman-Review noted, counties may spend more to put people in jail for non-payment than they take in.

Fortunately, this issue is increasingly attracting the attention of legal scholars and activists. A Seattle University Law School graduate was recently awarded a fellowship dealing solely with LFO issues in Washington. A legal seminar on June 25 at the University of Washington School of Law will discuss the problem, and groups such as the ACLU and the Washington Defender Association continue to seek to reform Washington’s tangled LFO procedures. These groups are also filing a friend of the court brief this week in another case involving the fairness of procedures for LFO enforcement.

Legal financial obligations",Remissions test ".

This article re: the "go to jail" policy widely enforced in the state of Washington, is ruthlessly enforced in the County of Grant , where I so earnestly am seeking a reprieve from. I so appreciate the effort of the ACLU in addressing this issue. I am interested in knowing if your efforts regarding this matter have caused a reform of court behavior in the Washington Court proceedings. I too am currently seeking out the protection of our "justice set of Judicial reprieve" so elegantly prepared and Nationally adopted by the American population that has us set apart from all other countries. In this patriotic "spirit" I am hoping to find support in petition preparation addressing this debilitating hardship. In desperation and the certain 180 days of incarceration that I will be subjected to as result of my inability to satisfy the order of the Courts, can you assist me in addressing the courts of proper jurisdiction in regards to the "remission test" and ability to pay not my desire to comply with the order of the court.

Warmest Regards:

Terri Overall Jackson

I paid all my fines I was

I paid all my fines I was told to pay while on DOC. My probation officer at the time told me I needed to go down and pay monthly for court costs, so I did. I paid over $1,000 and they told me I had finished making payments years ago. I am still getting letters from the County Clerk's office monthly saying I still need to pay a separate $800 amount. When I had asked about this separate billing from the county clerk, my DOC officer had told me not to worry about paying it. Yet, I've heard of people being summoned to court and sentenced to jail time for not having these "legal fine obligations" paid. I am confused ... what did I pay off then? Someone please help explain this to me.

LFO's in WA state

I have 13 felonies with 13 felony fines attached. I make a monthly payment each month and because of the interest I will never have these fines paid in full. I also have been jailed several times for missing a payment. I noticed that none of the studies done have Benton County included in them. I think something needs to be done to have the interest waived. The courts have also changed procedure when arrested for felony fines. They now offer a court appointed attorney if you say you can't afford the fines, but if you say that, you have to wait a week to be seen again, so of course every body says they can afford the payment amount so they can get out of jail that day.


I as well have 4 felonys. I got first one in 1996, & the last one in 2004. I have not been in trouble since, except for my lfos. Ive done more time for my lfos thani did for the original charges. I now have 4 young children, ages 2 to 8. They werent even born yet when i got my charges. That was a part of my life im not proud of didnt want my babys to know about, but its continuously thrown in their lives every time im incarcerated. They r the ones it hurts. I might as well b on dope again, out running the streets. They would b apart from their mommy just the same. I will never have these lfos paid off. Im tired of being taken away from my babys for jail time all because i haven't had money to pay. Im a single mother, and these lfos have been a hardship on my family.

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