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Washington Absconding Does Not Toll LFO Collection Statue

The Washington State Court of Appeals for Division 1 has held that RCW 9.94A.753 affords the state 10 years from a prisoner’s release from total confinement in which to collect Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) from prisoners. The court also held that a probationer’s absconding does not toll that period of time.

Gordon Adams was convicted of possession of stolen property and forgery 1988, and was convicted of similar charges in 1990. Both cases were in Washington courts, and both ordered Adams to pay court costs. Adams paid neither debt.

Pursuant to the 1990 conviction Adams was sentenced to prison, where he was released to Oregon authorities in 1993. He did a short stint in an Oregon prison and was again released in 1994. In 1995 Adams absconded without paying his LFOs. He was jailed on new charges in Spokane, Washington in 2002, and the DOC attempted to collect the old LFO debt, but the trial court refused to so order, asserting that the time for collecting those debts had run. The DOC appealed.

On appeal the court recognized that LFO debt collection was governed by RCW 9.94A.753, which allows the state to collect LFOs from prisoners for 10 years following their release from total confinement or 10 years after entry of the judgment and sentence, which ever later occurs, but does not allow for tolling of the time period because a probationer absconds from supervision. The court also recognized that the statute allows the DOC one 10-year extension for collecting LFOs. However, since the DOC did not petition for an extension in Adams’ case, the 10-year period for collection of his LFOs had run, thus the court held that they could no longer be forcibly collected.

The court ruled that since the time for collecting Adams’ LFOs had run, the debt must be quashed. See: Washington v. Adams, 121 Wn. App. 438; 88 P.3d 1012 (Wash. Ct. App. Div. 1, 2004).

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Related legal case

Washington v. Adams

State v. Adams, 121 Wash.App. 438, 88 P.3d 1012 (Wash.App.Div.1 05/03/2004)


[2] No. 51531-4-I (consolidated with Nos. 51533-1-I and 51532-2-I)

[3] 121 Wash.App. 438, 88 P.3d 1012, 2004.WA

[4] May 03, 2004


[6] Appeal from Superior Court of Snohomish County Docket No: 90-1-00921-6 Judgment or order under review Date filed: 11/25/2002 Judge signing: Hon. George N Bowden

[7] Counsel for Appellant(s) Charles Franklin Blackman c/o Snohomish County Pros 3000 Rockefeller Ave Everett, WA 98201-4061; Thomas Marshal Curtis Snohomish County Pros Ofc 3000 Rockefeller Ave # 504 Everett, WA 98201-4060; Seth Aaron Fine Attorney at Law Snohomish Co Pros Ofc 3000 Rockefeller Ave Everett, WA 98201-4060

[8] Counsel for Respondent(s) William R. Joice Attorney at Law 16300 Mill Creek Blvd Ste 205 Mill Creek, WA 98012-1294

[9] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellington, J.

[10] Concurring: H Joseph Coleman, Marlin J. Appelwick


[12] For criminal offenses committed before July 1, 2000, courts have 10 years to enforce financial obligations imposed as part of the sentence. The only question here is whether that time is tolled when an offender is out of state or has an outstanding warrant. We hold that jurisdiction is not tolled, and affirm the trial court's order terminating supervision.

[13] FACTS

[14] In 1988, Gordon Adams pled guilty to charges of forgery and second degree possession of stolen property. His sentence included a requirement that he pay court costs and restitution. In 1990, Adams pled guilty to another charge of possessing stolen property and a charge of taking a motor vehicle without permission. Again he was ordered to pay court costs.

[15] Adams was released from prison in Washington in 1993. He was immediately transferred to the Oregon Department of Corrections. He was paroled in Oregon in 1994. In February, 1995, Adams' Oregon parole officer lost contact with him.

[16] Adams never made any payments on the financial obligations imposed in the Washington cases. Upon learning that Oregon had lost track of Adams, the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) obtained a warrant for Adams' arrest.*fn1 Adams was incarcerated on new charges in Spokane in November, 2002, and a hearing was held on his outstanding financial obligations. The trial ruled that neither Adams' absence nor his 'abscond status'*fn2 tolled the time allowed for collecting financial obligations, and time had expired. The State appeals.


[18] The only question in this case is whether the 10 yearsprovided by statute for collection of legal financial obligations*fn3 is tolled when an offender leaves the jurisdiction or absconds from supervision.

[19] Restitution is entirely controlled by statute.*fn4 As relevant here, the statute provides:

[20] For the purposes of this section, for an offense committed prior to July 1, 2000, the offender shall remain under the court's jurisdiction for a term of ten years following the offender's release from total confinement or ten years subsequent to the entry to the judgment and sentence, whichever period ends later.*fn5

[21] The time to collect other legal financial obligations is also 10 years for offenses committed before July 1, 2000.*fn6

[22] Contending this time should be tolled whenever an offender is absent or on warrant status, the State analogizes to cases holding that probation is tolled when an offender is unavailable for supervision. For example, in City of Spokane v. Marquette,*fn7 the defendant was sentenced to 365 days in jail, with 364 suspended on condition he serve two years' probation and complete alcohol treatment. Marquette failed to serve the day not suspended and failed to undergo treatment. Warrants were issued for his arrest. The trial court reinstated his suspended sentence and probation, and then (after Marquette again failed to appear) revoked his probation.

[23] Marquette objected that the court's two-year jurisdiction expired before the final hearing. The Supreme Court disagreed, and held that a probationer cannot, simply by absconding, divest the court of jurisdiction to enforce its sentence. Because Marquette was 'not actually under the court's supervision' while the warrants were outstanding, the term of his probation was tolled during that time.*fn8

[24] Other cases have reached similar conclusions, on the same theory that the offender was unavailable for supervision.*fn9 The common thread in these cases is frustration of the purpose of supervision. Probation in lieu of incarceration is a privilege; its aim is rehabilitation. When an offender eludes supervision, he eludes rehabilitation as well. If his absence does not toll the court's jurisdiction, he escapes punishment altogether. As the court observed in Marquette: '{W}e recognize that a probationer has a duty to cooperate in his rehabilitation in exchange for the privilege of being relieved of jail time.'*fn10

[25] Similarly, where conditions are imposed*fn11 as part of a felony sentence, supervision is tolled by any period during which the offender absconds from supervision.*fn12

[26] Supervision of legal financial obligations is different. Under the statutes we construe here, the only objective is the collection of moneys owed. No jail time is suspended, there is no monitoring of the offender's behavior or whereabouts, and nowhere has the legislature provided for tolling. Instead, the legislature provided a lengthy time for collection, allowed for extension of that time, and also provided that an offender's financial obligations are enforceable privately, in the same manner as civil judgments.*fn13

[27] The question of tolling under the restitution statute was addressed in In re: Sappenfield.*fn14 Noting that the plain language of the restitution statute made no provision for tolling, and that the legislature protected against the risk that victims would go uncompensated by permitting the extension of jurisdiction for an additional 10 years, the court held that jurisdiction to collect restitution is not tolled by an offender's imprisonment, even though the same offender's community placement supervision is tolled by incarceration.*fn15

[28] The State contends the Sappenfield rule applies only to tolling by imprisonment, and that absconding is different, because the offender's own wrongful acts (rather than his status as an inmate) are the cause of the State's inability to supervise him. TheState argues the legislature intended to provide 10 years for collecting financial obligations imposed at sentencing, and if an offender leaves the state or absconds, the 10 years is reduced by every day the offender is unavailable.

[29] But this argument is not supported by the statutes themselves. Like the statutes in Sappenfield, they make no provision for tolling, and we can see no principled basis for distinguishing Sappenfield. Further, even if there could be some theoretical difference between incarceration and absconding for other purposes, Adams did not abscond. His sentence did not require him to remain within the state of Washington, or even to contact DOC.

[30] Indeed, his whereabouts were of no consequence to the State, so long as he sent his payments. As relevant to this question, therefore, Adams' only arguably wrongful act*fn16 was his failure to comply with the original order that is, to pay his financial obligations. Failure to comply with an order is insufficient, by itself, to toll the court's jurisdiction to enforce that order. While a warrant was issued for Adams' arrest after his Oregon parole officer lost track of him, it was not issued for any wrongdoing on his part except failure to pay. Unlike Marquette, Adams did not fail to appear when ordered to appear. The circumstances thus give no more support to the State's argument than does the case law.

[31] It is for the legislature to decide what resources will be expended in the effort to recoup funds from offenders. To accept the State's position here is to rewrite the statutes and provide essentially indefinite jurisdiction.

[32] In 2000, the legislature did exactly that: '{F}or an offense committed on or after July 1, 2000, the offender shall remain under the court's jurisdiction until the obligation is completely satisfied.'*fn17 Under the provisions at issue here, however, the State's jurisdiction was for a finite term, with opportunity to seek a 10-year extension of jurisdiction, which the State did not do.

[33] The trial court correctly ruled that jurisdiction to enforce Adams' legal financial obligations had expired, and we affirm.


Opinion Footnotes


[34] *fn1 It appears this warrant was never served.

[35] *fn2 Clerk's Papers at 5.

[36] *fn3 The State points out that under a 1994 amendment to the restitution and legal financial obligation statutes, the court's 10-year jurisdiction runs from the date of Adams' release from total confinement, not from the date of sentencing. RCW 9.94A.753(4) ('the offender shall remain under the court's jurisdiction for a term of ten years following the offender's release from total confinement or ten years subsequent to the entry of the judgment and sentence, whichever period ends later'); RCW 9.94A.760(4). This amendment applies retroactively. State v. Schultz, 138 Wn.2d 638, 641, 980 P.2d 1265 (1999). But because more than 10 years have passed from the date of Adams' release, the amendment plays no part in our analysis.

[37] *fn4 In re Sappenfield, 138 Wn.2d 588, 591, 980 P.2d 1271 (1999).

[38] *fn5 RCW 9.94A.753 (formerly RCW 9.94A.142).

[39] *fn6 RCW 9.94A.760.

[40] *fn7 146 Wn.2d 124, 43 P.3d 502 (2002).

[41] *fn8 Id. at 134.

[42] *fn9 See State v. Haugen, 22 Wn. App 785, 787-88, 591 P.2d 1218 (1979) (probation tolled while defendant absent from state); State v. Campbell, 95 Wn.2d 954, 957, 632 P.2d 517 (1981) (probation tolled when defendant was committed to a mental institution).

[43] *fn10 Marquette, 146 Wn.2d at 132.

[44] *fn11 Conditions may include requirements for work, education, living arrangements, geographical limitations or treatment requirements. See, e.g., RCW 9.94A.700.

[45] *fn12 RCW 9.94A.625(2).

[46] *fn13 RCW 9.94A.760(4).

[47] *fn14 138 Wn.2d 588, 980 P.2d 1271 (1999).

[48] *fn15 Sappenfield, 138 Wn.2d at 593-94. Sappenfield addressed the former versions of RCW 9.94A.753 and RCW 9.94A.625, RCW 9.94A.142 and RCW 9.94A.170 respectively.

[49] *fn16 The record does not disclose whether Adams' failure to pay was willful.

[50] *fn17 RCW 9.94A.753(4) (restitution); RCW 9.94A.760(4) (other financial obligations). Additionally, all offenders sentenced to terms involving legal financial obligations must now comply with DOC instructions and conditions that include, at a minimum, remaining within prescribed geographic boundaries and notifying community corrections of any change in address. RCW 9.94A.720(1).