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Washington Court Holds Indigency Does Not Bar Domestic Violence Penalties

On Behalf of | Jun 12, 2019 | Domestic Violence

Under Washington law, if a defendant is convicted of a crime in addition to imprisonment or probation the court may impose monetary penalties. If a defendant is indigent, however, the court may be barred from imposing certain penalties. In a recent Washington appellate court case, the court analyzed the definition of indigence under recent amendments to the Washington Rules of Criminal Procedure and whether indigency bars domestic violence penalty assessments. If you are a Washington resident currently facing domestic violence charges you should meet with a skillful Washington domestic violence defense attorney to discuss your case and potential penalties you may face.

Facts of the Case

Reportedly, the defendant pleaded guilty to seven offenses, each of which included a domestic violence allegation. The court sentenced the defendant to 347 months of imprisonment and imposed mandatory and discretionary legal financial obligations, including a domestic violence penalty assessment. The defendant appealed, arguing that recent amendments to the Washington legal financial obligation laws barred the imposition of penalties, including the domestic violence penalty, due to his indigency.

Indigency Under Washington Law

In 2018, the Washington legislature amended the rules of criminal procedure. The amendments included a prohibition of the imposition of criminal filing fees against defendants who are indigent at the time of sentencing. Further, the 2018 amendments set forth a specific definition of indigence. Under the amendments, the inability to afford a lawyer is not sufficient to prove a defendant is indigent with regards to the ability to pay legal financial obligations. Rather, the defendant must show either that he or she receives a qualifying form of public assistance, that he or she was involuntarily committed in a public mental health facility, or that his or her annual income, after taxes, is 125 percent or less of the current poverty level established by the federal government.

In the subject case, the court found that the defendant was indigent based on his income. The court found, however, that a domestic violence penalty assessment differed from other fees imposed by the court in that it was not a cost of prosecution. Rather, it was a penalty. The court noted that the domestic violence penalty assessment statute was not amended by the 2018 modifications to the laws pertaining to legal financial obligations, and therefore, indigency did not dictate whether the penalty could be imposed.

The appellate court then analyzed whether the trial court abused its discretion in assessing the domestic violence penalty. The court noted that rather than weighing the hardship the penalty may have on the defendant, the focus in determining whether to impose a domestic violence assessment is on the hardship to the victims. Here, the court found that imposing the penalty did not cause any hardship to the defendant’s victims. As such, the court found that the domestic violence penalty was properly assessed.

Meet with a Skilled Washington Domestic Violence Defense Attorney

If you are charged with domestic violence it is essential to engage a skilled Washington domestic violence defense attorney to discuss the facts of your case and your available defenses. The trusted domestic violence defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Smith & White will work tirelessly to develop persuasive arguments in your defense to help you strive for the best legal outcome possible under the facts of your case. You can contact us via our online form or at 253-363-8662 to schedule a confidential and free meeting to discuss your case.