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Washington: No Public Funds for Deferred Prosecution Treatment Programs

The en banc Washington state Supreme Court has held that the legislature did not intend to commit public funds to cover the full cost of treatment for indigent defendants participating in deferred prosecutions.

A Washington defendant charged with a misdemeanor offense may petition for deferred prosecution if the crime was a result of substance abuse or mental illness; successful completion of a treatment program allows for dismissal of the charges.

RCW 10.05.130 requires appropriation of public funds “to provide investigation, examination, report and treatment plan for any indigent person who is unable to pay the cost of any program of treatment.”

In separate cases, two defendants charged with driving while intoxicated petitioned Washington district courts for deferred prosecution. Both petitions were granted and, since the defendants were indigent, the courts approved the use of public funds to pay for their treatment programs.

A superior court vacated the funding orders, concluding that the plain language of RCW 10.05.130 authorizes public funds for “investigation, examination, report and treatment plan,” but not the cost of the treatment program.

The state Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the statute’s use of the phrase “treatment plan” encompasses the full course of treatment.

Agreeing with the superior court, the Court found that RCW 10.05.130 is plain and unambiguous. A “‘treatment plan’ is simply a document describing the plan of action for treatment,” the Supreme Court wrote. Therefore, “the legislature did not intend to commit public funds for the full course of treatment for indigent defendants in deferred prosecutions.” Presumably, then, defendants will have to fund the cost of their treatment programs themselves – which will be difficult for those who lack the financial resources to do so. See: State v. Velasquez/Hutchison, 176 Wn.2d 333, 292 P.3d 92 (Wash. 2013).

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