OLYMPIA - The Washington State Supreme Court today ruled that the Department of Corrections (DOC) has the authority to collect payments for Legal Financial Obligations from all inmates, including those sentenced to death or life without parole.
Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) include money for court costs, court appointed attorneys and restitution for victims as a result of their felony convictions. Payments are deducted from the funds received by inmates.
“We believe the legislature did not intend to exempt the worst offenders from paying Legal Financial Obligations,” said McKenna. “It only makes sense that those who will never be released from prison because of their crimes should pay victim restitution and other legal financial obligations from their incoming funds.”
DOC’s authority was challenged in the case of Anderson v. Norland by two inmates who claimed they were exempt from paying LFOs because they are serving life sentences without parole.
The state argued that since these payments are required by law, and inmates sentenced to life without parole or death will never have an opportunity to pay their LFOs outside of prison, DOC has the authority to deduct these payments from incoming funds to ensure these legal obligations are met.
In another matter, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld the dismissal of a class action lawsuit filed by Washington State inmates who claimed that they were entitled to a hearing if not released to community supervision at the earliest possible date.
The inmates sought monetary damages as well as an injunction forcing the Department of Corrections to provide them such a hearing.
In ruling for the state, the court concluded that "no authority indicates that a hearing is required if such early release is denied".
The federal court's decision means that inmates may not file challenges in federal court to the failure of the Department of Corrections to release them to community supervision before their prison sentences expire, but does not affect the authority of state courts to enforce state sentencing statutes.
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Contact: Maureen Scharber, AG Public Affairs, (360)753-6224