WA State Courts of Limited Jurisdiction: 2018 Reference Guide on Legal Financial Obligations in Criminal Cases

This bench card is meant to educate Washington State judges about procedural protections owed to defendants who are ordered to pay fines and fees in criminal court. In particular, it establishes a definition of indigence, specifies permissible and preferred sanctions for nonpayment of fines and fees, and outlines best practices for collections.

You can access the bench card here. 

Key Provisions
  • “Courts are required to inquire into a defendant’s ability to pay costs… The defendant may bear the burden of proving inability to pay, but the court still has a duty to inquire.”
  • “A court must find that a defendant is willfully defaulting on required payments prior to issuing a warrant” or imposing additional sanctions for nonpayment.
  • The bench card establishes a definition of indigence: “currently receives public assistance… is involuntarily committed to a mental health facility… has a net income at or below 125% of the federal poverty level.”
  • “A defendant is entitled to assistance of counsel when facing a contempt proceeding that could result in incarceration, and counsel must be appointed if the defendant is indigent.”
  • Courts should only resort to incarceration for nonpayment if “no reasonable or effective alternatives are available,” e.g. community service, reducing fines and fees.
  • The bench card also includes sample questions that judges can ask defendants in order to determine ability to pay.
Washington State Supreme Court Minority and Justice Commission