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Legal Financial Obligations in Washington State: Background, Statutes, and 50-State Review

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Devin Bales, Paige Wanner - December 2021

Upon conviction for a crime in a trial court in the U.S., an individual may incur monetary sanctions as part of their sentence. These monetary sanctions, which can include fines, fees, restitution, and any surcharges associated with their case are commonly known as legal financial obligations (LFOs). The 2021 Washington State Legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) to study LFOs.

In this preliminary report, WSIPP studied statutes that allow for the imposition of LFOs in Washington and how other states fund their court systems. The review of statutes found over 350 unique LFOs that can be imposed across Washington courts. Of those LFOs, four are mandatory for convictions in a superior court and three are mandatory for convictions in courts of limited jurisdiction. Our 50-state review of court funding and LFOs found that every state allows for the imposition of LFOs, but it is unclear how LFOs are connected to court funding in many states. The review also indicates that states operate and fund their court systems differently. Some rely more on state-level funding while others rely more heavily on local resources. Using 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data, we found that local funding accounts for a higher percentage of Washington’s judicial spending than in 41 other states. This report also provides a brief description of WSIPP’s intended research plan for the final report, due to the Legislature by December 1, 2022.

Report ID: 21-12-1901
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