Legislative Reforms for Washington State's Criminal Monetary Penalties
39 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2012 Last revised: 25 Jan 2013
Date Written: March 13, 2012
Balancing the present racial and ethnic disparities in Washington’s criminal justice system requires state legislators to carefully assess contributing factors and seriously consider sentencing reforms. One contributing factor can be found in Washington’s laws governing criminal monetary penalties, known as legal financial obligations (“LFOs”). Many have criticized LFOs as creating de facto debtors’ prisons that disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minorities. These critics have also identified potential reforms but offered little practical guidance on how to implement them in Washington. As a complement to their work, this note offers a discussion draft of proposed legislation. Specifically, this note proposes that the Washington State Legislature alleviate the negative effects of LFOs by enacting legislation with four results: first, structuring the amount of nonrestitution LFOs to reflect the seriousness of the offense and the offender’s ability to pay; second, repealing the interest accrual on nonrestitution LFOs; third, reducing the annual interest rate on restitution LFOs from twelve percent to six percent; and finally, empowering the sentencing court to modify or convert nonrestitution LFOs when the offender’s financial circumstances change.
Keywords: Criminal monetary penalties, criminal monetary sanctions, legal financial obligations
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