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AGO 1950 No. 361 - October 05, 1950
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

DISPOSITION OF COSTS IN CRIMINAL FORFEITURES

Costs in cases of forfeiture of bail in criminal proceedings may be deducted from such forfeitures and credited to the appropriate county fund where such forfeitures are directed to be paid into funds other than the county current expense or salary fund.

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                                                                 October 5, 1950

Honorable Hugh H. Evans
Prosecuting Attorney, Spokane County
Court House
Spokane, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 361

Attention:  Earl W. Foster, Deputy

Dear Sir:

            We have your request of recent date for an opinion on the following question:

            May costs in cases of forfeiture of bail in criminal proceedings be deducted from such forfeitures and credited to the appropriate county fund where such forfeitures are directed to be paid into funds other than the county current expense fund or salary fund?

            Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:

            Such costs may be deducted from said forfeitures and credited to the appropriate county fund.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            The only statutory direction as to the disposition of costs in criminal proceedings, section 12, page 425, Laws of 1863 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 2230), which provided that such costs should belong to the county from which the case came, was repealed by section 1, chapter 30, Laws of 1941.

            Section 1, chapter 94, Laws of 1935 (Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp. 4201-1) provides that in class A counties and counties of the first class all fines and receipts heretofore and hereafter credited to the current county expense fund shall be credited to the county salary fund.  Section 1, chapter 85, Laws of 1945 (5634-1 Rem. Supp. 1945), provides:

            "Every county shall maintain a current expense fund to which shall be credited all taxes levied for that purpose and all fees collected, fines assessed and forfeitures adjudged in the county the proceeds of which have not been specifically allocated to any other purpose."

            In at least one instance, fines imposed for criminal violations are directed to be distributed to salary funds.  Section 5, chapter 172, Laws of 1939 (Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp. 7306-70) provides that fines imposed for violations of the State liquor laws are to be placed in a general fund for payment of the salaries of those engaged in the enforcement of such laws.

            Your inquiry is concerned with such statutes as section 2, chapter 75, Laws of 1949 (6312-83 Rem. Supp. 1949), which provides that fines and forfeitures collected for violations of the State Highway Code are to be paid into various funds other than the county current expense fund.  Section 1, chapter 30, Laws of 1919 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 4940) amending section 9, chapter 97, Laws of 1909, provides in part as follows:

            "Except as otherwise provided by law, all sums of money derived from fines imposed for violation of orders of injunction, mandamus and other like writs, or for contempt of court, and the net proceeds of all fines collected within the several counties of the state for breach of the penal laws,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] and all funds arising from the sale of lost goods and estrays, and from penalties and forfeitures, shall be paid in cash by the person collecting the same, within twenty days after the collection, to the county treasurer of the county in which the same have accrued, and shall be by him transmitted to the state treasurer, who shall place the same to the credit of the current state school fund.  * * * A forfeiture of bail shall be construed as a fine.  * * * "

            Although there is no specific authority that costs are deductible, so far as the above cited statute is concerned it may reasonably be implied, from the phrase "net proceeds of all fines collected", that the amount of the fines less the cost of prosecution is to be remitted to the credit of the current state school fund.  The same implication attaches to forfeitures of bail, since the latter are to be construed as fines and since a justice of the peace is required to docket a cost fee upon the filing of the case, whether a fine is later imposed or bail forfeited for non-appearance [[nonappearance]].  The statute dealing with fines and forfeitures for violations of the Highway Code does have the qualification referred to above.  However, inasmuch as the county is liable for the costs involved in unsuccessful prosecutions, it is only proper that the county should be reimbursed, at least to the extent of costs, where violators are convicted or bail forfeited.  Moreover, you advise us that it has been the practice in various counties to deduct such costs from fines or forfeitures before the proceeds are remitted to the appropriate funds.  The sanction of lengthy practice should not be disregarded where such practice is not in conflict with the statutes.

            Accordingly, we are of the opinion that costs in cases of forfeitures of bail in criminal proceedings may be deducted from such forfeitures and credited to the appropriate county fund, where said forfeitures are directed to be paid into funds other than the current county expense fund or salary fund.  Prior inconsistent opinions are hereby overruled.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

LAWRENCE K. McDONELL
Assistant Attorney General

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