FISHERIES CODE -- DISPOSITION OF FINES
1. When a justice of the peace assesses the minimum fine and suspends a portion, the county should retain one half of the fine actually collected and remit one half to the state treasury.
2. The court has authority to suspend any portion of the minimum fine.
3. The court may set bail at less than the minimum fined.
4. Court costs may not be extracted from the minimum fine when no separate assessment has been made.
5. The county has no right to take anything as costs from money received by them as bail forfeiture.
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November 25, 1949
Honorable Alvin Anderson
Director of Fisheries
1308 Smith Tower
Seattle 4, Washington Cite as: AGO 49-51 No. 168
Attention: Mr. E. M. Benn, Chief Inspector
We have your letter of November 1, 1949, in which you ask certain questions pertaining to sections 25 and 75, chapter 112, Laws of 1949. We will now answer the questions submitted.
1. When a justice of the peace assesses the minimum fine of $25.00, suspending a portion thereof, should the county retain one half of the fine actually collected and remit one half of the portion collected to the general fund?
Section 25,supra, first contains a general provision for the disposition of certain moneys and then a proviso reading:
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
"* * * Provided, That fifty per cent (50%) of all money received as fines together with all of the costs shall be retained by the county in which the fine was collected. * * *"
The proviso of section 25, supra, reads, "50 per cent (50%) of all money received as fines" shall be retained by the county. We are unable to see how more appropriate words could have been selected to express the thought that the county should retain one half of all money collected as fines, no more, no less. For instance, if a defendant were fined $25.00 and $15.00 of such fine was suspended, only $10.00 would be actually paid as a fine. There would therefore be only $10.00 received by the county treasury to which the county can apply the 50% formula. In such a case the county should retain $5.00 and remit $5.00 to the treasury. Therefore the answer to your first question is, "yes."
2. Has the court any authority to suspend any portion of the minimum fine?
All the violations of chapter 112, Laws of 1945, are gross misdemeanors (see sections 20, 33, 44, 47, 48, 49, 61, 62, 73 and 75). Section 1, chapter 9, Laws of 1921 [Rem. Rev. Stat. 2280] authorizes the suspension of sentences in all cases of felonies or gross misdemeanors with certain exceptions immaterial herein. Therefore, we must conclude that the court does have authority to suspend any portion of the minimum fine, and the answer to your second question is, "yes."
3. May the court set bail at less than the amount established for minimum fines by the Laws of 1949?
The purpose of bail is to secure the attendance of defendant at the trial. Generally speaking, a court does not have to set any amount of bail but may release a defendant upon his own recognizance. Therefore, it would seem to us that the court does have the right to set bail at less than the amount established for minimum fines by the Laws of 1949. The answer to your third question is, "yes."
4. May court costs be extracted from the minimum fine when no separate assessment has been made by the court to provide compensation for court expenses?
We would first refer you to our opinion issued to you on August 24, 1949, and to the answer to the first question therein. Under the law there appears to be no authority for any court to impose a fine of less than $25.00 and costs.
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
SeeState v. Sullivan, 172 Wash. 530, 22 P. (2d) 56. If a court has neglected its duty to the extent that it has imposed a fine of less than $25.00, or has imposed a fine and costs but has not segregated the two separate and distinct items, and has remitted the same to the county treasury so that the remittance form shows simply a remittance of a given sum of money as fines, then in such event we believe that the county has no right to retain anything as costs.
As a practical matter, it would seem to us that there should be small likelihood of any court neglecting to assess costs in such a case. In non-salaried justice courts the only compensation that the judges can receive is from the fees which are part of the costs.
5. May court costs be extracted by the county from bail forfeitures?
We again refer you to our opinion of August 24, 1949, and to the answer to the third question herein. In such answer we held that the county had no statutory authorization to retain 50% of the bail forfeiture under section 25, supra. Since they have no rights whatever to bail forfeitures other than to remit the same to the state treasurer, we cannot see how they would have any right to retain any portion of such monies on the theory that such monies are "court costs." The answer to your fifth question is, "no."
Very truly yours,
Assistant Attorney General