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Washington: Financial Obligations to Crime Victims’ Compensation Account Persist Through Incarceration

The Court of Appeals of the State of Washington has affirmed a trial court’s order denying a prisoner’s motion to determine legal financial obligations (LFOs) imposed as part of his sentence.

Sherman Pulley was sentenced in 1995 to life without parole following conviction for first-degree burglary. As part of his sentence, he was ordered to pay a mandatory victim assessment penalty of $5000, as well as $110 in court costs. Additionally, although the amount owed was not set by the court at sentencing, Pulley--like other convicted felons in Washington--faces ongoing obligations to the crime victim’s compensation account (CVCA).

In February 2010, Pulley filed a motion in Spokane County Superior Court to terminate his LFOs, as well as his obligations to the CVCA. At that point, he had paid $1,385.03 towards his LFOs and at least $453.47 toward the CVCA. He argued that continued payment would impose a manifest hardship on him. The trial court denied his motion.

On appeal, Pulley argued 1) that he had paid off his LFOs; 2) alternatively, the trial court erred in not finding him indigent; and 3) in any event, pursuant to RCW 9.94A.760(4), the Court lost jurisdiction over him in 2008, ten years after he was sentenced, at least for purposes of collecting LFOs.

As to the first argument, the Court of Appeals noted a) that LFOs accrue interest at the rate of 12% per year and b) that under state law, 5% of Pulley’s prison wages will perpetually be deducted from his account for deposit in the CVCA. Pulley’s second argument failed “because all of his basic needs are provided for by the state.” His third argument failed because it was premised on an erroneous reading of the statute, the Department of Corrections retains authority to take deductions from an offender’s wages in order to pay off LFO’s “throughout the duration of an offender’s incarceration” See: State v. Pulley, Court of Appeals, Div. Three, Case No. 28922-2-III.

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Related legal case

State v. Pulley