How To Have Your Legal Financial Obligations Reduced Or Foregiven

October 18, 2018 Written by
How to reduce or eliminate your LFO's How to reduce or eliminate your LFO's Jennifer Witt

Where To Turn If You’re Trying to Have Your Legal Financial Obligations Reduced or Forgiven

The Change Comes From A House Bill And Court Decisions

In June of 2018, House Bill 1783 went into effect and changed numerous Washington statutes to conform with the Blazina decision, which requires the sentencing Judge to make an “individualized inquiry” into the defendant’s ability to pay before imposing Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs). In September, the Washington Supreme Court revisited this issue in Ramirez, where it determined the trial court failed to make an adequate inquiry and to consider the other “important factors” from Blazina, including financial circumstances, employment history, income, assets, living expenses, and other debts. However, re-sentencing was not ordered by the Court because it determined,

“While this Blazina error would normally entitle Ramirez to a resentencing hearing on a his ability to pay discretionary LFOs, such a limited resentencing is unnecessary in this case. Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1783, 65th Leg., Reg. Tess. (Wash. 2018) House Bill 1783, which amended two statutes at issue and now prohibits the imposition of certain LFOs on indigent defendants, applies prospectively to Ramirez’s case on appeal.” (emphasis added)

What Does All This Really Mean?

The nitty gritty of this means that defendants who have a Judgment and Sentence (not those who entered into a contract with the State like a Pretrial Diversion Agreement, or “PDA” ) that includes LFOs, it is possible to have those obligations reviewed based on your financial situation. The Judge who assigned the LFOs must have complied with the Blazina and the Ramirez decision but, even if they did, you might still be eligible under the law to have those LFOs reduced based on changes in your current financial circumstances.

Steps To Take

If you would like to seek a review, the Northwest Justice Project put together directions on How To Ask A Washington Court To Reduce Or Forgive Your Legal Financial Obligations. To learn more, review the following list:

1) Go to www.washingtonlawhelp.org
2) Go to the blue tab, Get Legal Info
3) Scroll to Crime, Traffic, ID
4) Click on Legal Financial Obligations (LFO)
5) There are 4 articles under Know Your Rights. Click on How to Ask a Washington Court to Reduce or Forgive Your Legal Financial Obligations
6) Go through Contents links and fill out forms

* Pay attention to whether you meet the requirements that permit you to ask for forgiveness or a reduction in your LFOs.

The information in the Contents link will show you how to get Criminal History Reports, LFO Accounting Summaries, schedule hearings, as well as directions on how to fill out forms. This is a rather detailed and potentially lengthy process. It is important that you do not skip any of the steps. You may be eligible to get help in the process from the local Northwest Justice Project office.

How To Handle This At Your Local Court

On a local level, we have spoken with the Court Clerks for both Kitsap County District and Kitsap County Superior Court.

Regarding District Court, the Clerks will provide you with a Motion titled “I Can’t Afford To Pay Motion And Declaration.” It is relatively short and it takes no special expertise to fill it out. Once you turn that Motion in, the clerks will schedule you for the next Monday at 1:30 to have your situation heard before a District Court Judge. On top of reducing or eliminating your fines, the Judge can also order the “FTA” removed, which is what prevents many people from obtaining a driver’s license. Lastly, they will not pull fines from collections for you, but they WILL order the collections company to remove all the interest that has accrued over the months or years since your sentence.  The Courts will NOT reduce fines on infractions.

Regarding Superior Court, the Clerks will require you to speak with a “Finance Clerk” that will assist you with your request. They will inform you exactly what amount of your fines and costs are eligible to be reduced. Once you have that number from the Finance Clerk, they will provide you with a “Note For Hearing” and a “Motion For Order Waiving Or Reducing Interest On LFO’s”. Once that is completed and filed, you will be scheduled to appear on the next Friday at 11:00 in Superior Court. They Judge will review your Motion and hear from you – and most likely reduce your fines and interest.

If you aren’t certain whether your fines or financial obligations fall under LFOs, you can check out our pervious blog post that goes into greater detail.

While this is not intended to be legal advice, we hope this information helps you find the legal resources you need to move forward. Our goal is to help those who are indigent and stuck in this process to seek a way out from overwhelming financial obligations.