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Washington DOC Can Collect Incarceration Fees Waived by Trial Court

The Washington State Supreme Court has held that the Department of Corrections (DOC) “has independent statutory authority to collect costs of incarceration regardless of the trial court’s waiver of costs of incarceration in the judgment and sentence.” Additionally, it may collect legal financial obligations (LFOs) from a prisoner’s trust account.

Chad A. Pierce, who is serving a life sentence with a 108 month minimum, filed a personal restraint petition challenging the DOC’s deduction of cost of incarceration and LFOs consisting of restitution and a $500 victim penalty assessment. The court waived other financial obligations, including costs of incarceration under former RCW 9.94 A. 760 (2)(2004).

Following denial of his administrative grievances, Pierce filed his petition, which the court of appeals dismissed as frivolous. The Washington State Supreme Court granted Pierce’s motion for discretionary review. The Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Washington Defender Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed an amici brief in support of Pierce’s pro se argument relating to the collection of incarceration costs when the judgment and sentence waives such costs.

The court outrightly rejected those arguments, finding that both RCW 72.09.111 and RCW 72.09.480 “require separate deductions- one for court-ordered costs in the form of LFOs and other costs of incarceration.” Both the statues’ language and its history indicated DOC “has authority to deduct costs of incarceration even when they are not ordered in the judgment and sentence.”

The court said 72.09.480 was enacted to broaden DOC’s collection authority in the wake of an escalating prison population and run-away costs. It intended DOC to “deduct costs of incarceration both as an LFO and as an independent deduction.” The court emphasized that whether the deduction was court ordered or a result of DOC’s independent authority, “under no circumstances” could it “deduct costs of incarceration beyond the actual costs required to maintain an inmate in confinement.”

As the statute states, this independent authority of DOC is a policy decision: “All citizens, the public and inmates alike, have a personal and fiscal obligation in the corrections system.” Interpreting the statue as Pierce and the amici argue for would frustrate the Legislature’s intent that prisoners contribute to the cost of their incarceration, the court wrote.

Finally, the court held that RCW 3.94A.772 unambiguously allows for collection of LFOs during incarceration despite language in a defendant’s judgment and sentence that would direct otherwise.” The court dismissed Pierce’s personal restraint petition. See: In re Matter of the Personal Restraint of Pierce, Case No. 83731-7 (Wash: Supreme Court, 2011).

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Related legal case

In re Matter of the Personal Restraint of Pierce