Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Legal Financial Obligation Deductions Imposed on All Washington Prisoners

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court for the State of Washington has held that the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) has authority to collect court-ordered legal financial obligations (LFOs) from all prisoners, regardless of sentence, from non-work related income.

Before the Court was an action brought by Clallam Bay Corrections Center prisoners John Anderson and Frank Nordlund, both of whom were sentenced to life without parole or release (LWOP). Their lawsuit argued that LFO deductions are not allowed under Washington law when a prisoner is serving an LWOP sentence or has been sentenced to death.

The Clallam County Superior Court dismissed the suit and the prisoners appealed. Division Two of the Court of Appeals, on its own motion, certified the case to the Supreme Court. Anderson and Nordlund agreed to be represented on appeal by counsel from the University of Washington Law School.

In 2003, WDOC began taking 20 percent of non-work related income deposited into prisoners’ accounts from outside sources to satisfy LFOs. In May 2004 that policy was suspended, but it resumed in September 2004. WDOC contended that LFO deductions from non-work related income were mandatory for all prisoners regardless of sentence.

At issue were several statutes. Anderson and Nordlund argued that RCW 72.09.480(7) “unambiguously omits LFO deductions from the list of deductions to be made from non work related income received by inmates not subject to release.” That statute provides that when an LWOP prisoner receives non-work related funds, WDOC is to deduct “five percent to the public safety and education account for the purpose of crime victims’ compensation, twenty percent to the department to contribute to the cost of incarceration, and fifteen percent to child support payments.” LFO deductions are not mentioned.

The prisoners also argued that because RCW 72.09.480(2) “clearly included an LFO deduction in the list of mandatory deductions from non work related income received by inmates that are subject to release,” the legislature intended to prohibit the WDOC from applying such LFO deductions to LWOP prisoners. WDOC, however, countered that RCW 72.11.020 unambiguously grants the Secretary of the WDOC authority to “disburse money from [an inmate’s] personal account for the purpose of satisfying a court-ordered [LFO].”

The Washington Supreme Court agreed with WDOC’s position and found the statutes did not conflict. If RCW 72.09.480(7) prohibited LFO deductions from LWOP prisoners, the statute would necessarily repeal RCW 72.11.020. The Court held that was not the legislature’s intent, and if the legislature had intended to exclude LWOP prisoners from LFO deductions it could have done so when it excluded them from the ten percent deduction for personal savings accounts.

As such, the state Supreme Court ruled that Washington law includes an (unwritten) “specific mandatory LFO deduction for LWOP” prisoners. In a stinging dissent, four justices wrote that the majority had “rewrit[ten] the statutes to find a general power not found in the detailed statutory scheme.”

The Superior Court’s order dismissing the case was affirmed. See: Anderson v. Washington, 159 Wash.2d 849, 154 P.3d 220 (Wa. 2007).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Anderson v. Washington