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State v. Blazina

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

March 12, 2015

The State of Washington, Respondent,
v.
Nicholas Peter Blazina, Petitioner. The State of Washington, Respondent,
v.
Mauricio Terrence Paige-Colter, Petitioner

Argued February 11, 2014

Jennifer L. Dobson, Dana M. Nelson, and Jared B. Steed (of Nielsen Broman & Koch PLLC ), for petitioners.

Mark E. Lindquist, Prosecuting Attorney, and Thomas C. Roberts and Melody M. Crick, Deputies, for respondent.

Sarah A. Dunne, Nancy L. Talner, and Vanessa T. Hernandez on behalf of American Civil Liberties Union, amicus curiae.

Julie J. Schaffer on behalf of Center for Justice, amicus curiae.

Nicholas B. Allen on behalf of Columbia Legal Services, amicus curiae.

Lila J. Silverstein on behalf of Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, amicus curiae.

Travis Stearns on behalf of Washington Defender Association, amicus curiae.

AUTHOR: Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen. WE CONCUR: Justice Charles W. Johnson, Justice Susan Owens, Justice Charles K. Wiggins, Justice Steven C. González, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, James M. Johnson, Justice Pro Tem. AUTHOR: Justice Mary E. Fairhurst. WE CONCUR: Justice Debra L. Stephens.

OPINION

Page 681

Madsen, C.J.

[182 Wn.2d 830] ¶ 1 At sentencing, judges ordered Nicholas Blazina and Mauricio Paige-Colter to pay discretionary legal financial obligations (LFOs) under RCW 10.01.160(3). The records do not show that the trial judges considered either defendant's ability to pay before imposing the LFOs. Neither defendant objected at the time. For the first time on appeal, however, both argued that a trial judge must make an individualized inquiry into a defendant's ability to pay and that the judges' failure to make this inquiry warranted resentencing. Citing RAP 2.5, the Court of Appeals declined to reach the issue because the defendants failed to object at sentencing and thus failed to preserve the issue for appeal.

¶ 2 Although a defendant has the obligation to properly preserve a claim of error, an appellate court may use its discretion to reach unpreserved claims of error consistent with RAP 2.5. In this case, we hold that the Court of Appeals did not err in declining to reach the merits. However, exercising our own RAP 2.5 discretion, we reach the merits and hold that a trial court has a statutory obligation to make an individualized inquiry into a defendant's current and future ability to pay before the court imposes LFOs. Because the trial judges failed to make this inquiry, we remand to the trial courts for new sentence hearings.

[182 Wn.2d 831] FACTS

A. State v. Blazina

¶ 3 A jury convicted Blazina of one count of second degree assault, and the trial court sentenced him to 20 months in prison. The State also recommended that the court impose a $ 500 victim penalty assessment, $ 200 filing fee, $ 100 DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) sample fee, $ 400 for the Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel, and $ 2,087.87 in extradition costs. Blazina did not object, and the trial court accepted the State's recommendation. The trial court, however, did not examine Blazina's ability to pay the discretionary fees on the record. Instead, Blazina's judgment and sentence included the following boilerplate language:

2.5 ABILITY TO PAY LEGAL FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS The court has considered the total amount owing,

Page 682

the defend[ant]'s past, present and future ability to pay legal financial obligations, including the defendant's financial resources and the likelihood that the defendant's status will change. The court finds that the defendant has the ability or likely future ability ...

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