recent decisions, the Washington Supreme Court announced a
new regime for the imposition and remission of discretionary
costs imposed as legal financial obligations on convicted
offenders. Beforehand, trial courts routinely and rotely
imposed sums of discretionary legal financial obligations and
appellate courts spurned review of the awards. In State
v. Blazina, 182 Wn.2d 827, 344 P.3d 680 (2015), the
state high court directed superior courts to conduct an
individualized inquiry into the financial circumstances of
each offender before levying any discretionary legal
financial obligations. The Supreme Court also bestowed
discretion on this appeals court to review the superior
court's award of the financial obligations regardless of
whether the offender objected to their assessment before the
superior court. In City of Richland v. Wakefield,
186 Wn.2d 596, 380 P.3d 459 (2016), the state high court
instructed lower trial courts to carefully review the
pecuniary status of the offender and consider the guidelines
in GR 34 when resolving a motion for remission of
discretionary legal financial obligations based on manifest
and Wakefield departed from a long-standing
jurisprudential view of legal financial obligations as a form
of punishment and from an appellate practice of avoiding
review of the obligations under the constructs of ripeness
and waiver. The two decisions lamented a broken financial
obligations system that disables an offender from
successfully returning to society. Based on Blazina
and Wakefield, financial obligations must no longer
behave as an obsessed and possessed Police Inspector Javert
shadowing the offender for the rest of his or her life.
we must apply principles and guidelines from the two Supreme
Court landmark decisions when determining whether the trial
court erred when failing to directly address Ernest
Sorrell's motion for remission of financial obligations
and when convicting him of intractably refusing to pay the
obligations. In fairness to the trial court, the Supreme
Court had yet to decide Blazina or
Wakefield when it issued its decisions. We reverse
and remand for a new hearing.
2009, a Douglas County jury found Ernest Sorrell guilty of
two counts of third degree child molestation as a result of
sexually abusing his early teen daughter. Based on an
offender score of nine plus, the sentencing court imposed
sixty months' confinement for both counts, with the
counts to run concurrently. In an August 10, 2009 judgment
and sentence, the trial court also imposed $3, 747.25 in
legal financial obligations. The discrete obligations
included a $500.00 victim assessment fee, $200.00 for the
criminal case filing fee, $747.25 for witness costs, $250.00
for the jury demand fee, $450.00 for transcription costs, $1,
000.00 for the cost of a court appointed attorney, a $500.00
fine resulting from a purported violation of the controlled
substance act, and a $100.00 deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)
collection fee. The sentencing court entered a boilerplate
finding that Sorrell had the ability or the likely future
ability to pay the levied legal financial obligations.
August 2009 judgment and sentence ordered Ernest Sorrell to
pay the legal financial obligations at the rate of $25.00 per
month beginning immediately. Consistent with all other
judgment and sentences, Sorrell's sentence imposed
interest at the rate of twelve percent per annum on the
financial obligations. Therefore, interest in the annual
amount of $449.67 and the monthly amount of $37.47 accrued on
the $3, 747.25 in financial obligations. Payment at $25.00
per month would never retire the principal owed.
2009 judgment and sentence directed Ernest Sorrell to report
to the clerk of the court any financial information
requested. The judgment and sentence placed Sorrell on
monetary supervision until he paid all legal financial
obligations, ordered Sorrell to notify the clerk within two
days of any change in his address, phone number or
employer's name, and bade him to report to the superior
court collections officer and to appear before any financial
Sorrell challenged his judgment and sentence. On July 14,
2011, this court reversed and dismissed one of the child
molestation convictions on double jeopardy grounds, and this
court remanded for resentencing. On May 7, 2012, the
sentencing court, on remand, imposed an exceptional sentence
of sixty months for the remaining conviction. The sentencing
court also imposed the same amount of legal financial
obligations. In essence, the judgment and sentence did not
Sorrell appealed again by challenging his exceptional
sentence. On November 22, 2012, and before this court
entertained the merits of Sorrell's second appeal, the
State Department of Corrections (DOC) released Sorrell from
prison. This appeals court, therefore, granted the
State's motion to dismiss the appeal as moot. This court
added $2, 169.35 in appellate costs to Sorrell's
financial obligations, despite dismissal on mootness rather
than on the merits.
of Ernest Sorrell's release from prison on November 22,
2012, DOC filed a closure report on December 18, 2012. The
report stated that Sorrell had paid $89.10 toward the $3,
747.25 in legal financial obligations earlier imposed by the
sentencing court. Sorrell's last payment, on October 4,
2012, amounted to the sum of two cents. With accrued interest
of $1, 388.73, Sorrell owed, on November 22, 2012, the total
sum of $5, 046.88, not including the costs imposed by this
appeals court. The DOC closure report omitted any reference
to appellate court costs. The closure report declared that
the Douglas County clerk assumed the responsibility for
collecting legal financial obligations.
December 24, 2012, the sentencing court confirmed and decreed
the transfer of Ernest Sorrell's legal financial
obligations collection from DOC to the Douglas County
Superior Court. The transfer order assessed $100 in
collection costs on Ernest Sorrell. The order read, in part:
NOTICE: The defendant is ordered to contact the Financial
Collections Officer for Douglas County Superior Court within
seven (7) days of the date of this order by calling (509)
745-8529 ext. 5 or Direct line and voicemail 509-888-6433.
Failure to contact the Financial Collections Officer as
ordered will result in the issuance of an Order to Show Cause
for your appearance in Court. Failure to appear at any court
ordered hearing could result in the issuance of an arrest
Failure to make payments and notify of any change of address
could result in the filing of a probation violation and
imposition of up to sixty (60) days in jail per violation.
Clerk's Papers (CP) at 92 (boldface omitted).
Worthen, financial collections officer for Douglas County,
scheduled a financial review hearing for Ernest Sorrell's
case for June 3, 2013. Sorrell had not paid any legal
financial obligations since his release from prison a half
year earlier. He then owed $7, 706, which presumably included
costs imposed on appeal. Worthen scheduled the hearing
because Sorrell failed to respond to her request to verify
Sorrell, without legal counsel, attended the June 3, 2013
financial review hearing. During the hearing, financial
officer Tristen Worthen acknowledged that Sorrell had
contacted her by monthly e-mail and that Sorrell's
unemployment prevented him from paying. The sentencing court
asked Sorrell to predict when he might obtain employment.
Sorrell could render no prognostication.
the June 3 hearing, Ernest Sorrell orally motioned the court
to dismiss all financial obligations. Sorrell disavowed any
future ability to pay. He mentioned the difficulty in
obtaining employment when employment applications required
him to disclose any convictions for a crime and the nature of
any crimes. Sorrell specifically uttered and the trial court
DEFENDANT: -have any idea. I'm trying, Your Honor.
I'd move the Court to dismiss the fines because I . . .
The way things are standing, I don't see any future
ability to pay.
THE COURT: Well, what we're going to do at this
particular time, Mr. Sorrell, is we're going to continue
this for about three months-
of Proceedings (RP) (June 3, 2013) at 4-5. The sentencing
court did not directly address Sorrell's motion and
continued the hearing three months. The court directed
Sorrell to monthly notify the county financial officer of his
job search efforts. During the following eighteen months and
during four additional review hearings, neither Sorrell nor
the trial court mentioned Sorrell's motion for remission
of legal financial obligations.
September 9, 2013, Ernest Sorrell appeared again without
counsel for a financial review hearing. Sorrell announced to
the sentencing court that, in July, he gained employment
cleaning portable toilets for thirty hours a week. The
distasteful occupation was the only work he could find. He
mentioned that he moved to Toppenish, the locus of the
employment. Sorrell added that child support garnished half
of his wages. According to Sorrell, after the garnishment, he
received only a couple hundred dollars to pay rent,
utilities, and food. He borrowed money for travel expenses to
Waterville for the financial review hearing.
the September 9 hearing and after Ernest Sorrell described
his circumstances, the following colloquy occurred between
Sorrell, the State's attorney, and the sentencing court:
THE COURT: Alright. So when can we start making some payments
and how much can we make?
DEFENDANT: Well, I, I can't really say that, Your Honor.
I have about three years left on this child support with them
taking half my wages, and until then I, I really can't
THE COURT: Well, I don't understand how child support
takes half your wages. Why don't you go get it modified?
DEFENDANT: I've attempted to that; several occasions.
. . . I actually had it-
. . . .
DEFENDANT: - stopped while I was in prison, and then as soon
as I got out all the back support caught up to it.
THE COURT: How much-
DEFENDANT: I've attempted to have it completely wiped out
because it's not a duty owed to the State, it's owed
to Mrs.-my ex.
THE COURT: Okay. Well, we're going to have to have some
payments sometime, so tell me what you can make and when.
DEFENDANT: (no audible response)
THE COURT: Start you with $10.00?
DEFENDANT: I, I just don't see having that. I have to
eat; I have to be able to go to work. I, I'm . . .
I'm going under as it is. I . . .
THE COURT: Mr. Biggar [State's Attorney]? Ms. Worthen?
MS. WORTHEN: His balance is $7, 706.00-
. . . .
MR. BIGGAR: How much is your rent?
DEFENDANT: My rent is 475.
MR. BIGGAR: And how much do you bring home a month?
DEFENDANT: In the last two months I have brought home $1,
500.00, $1, 586.00. I made-
. . . .
MR. BIGGAR: How much does support take?
DEFENDANT: Support is taking 200-or taking $500.00 a month.
MR. BIGGAR: $500.00 a month?
DEFENDANT: More than my rent.
MR. BIGGAR: So that's . . . If my math is correct, that
leaves you about 550 after rent and support for everything
DEFENDANT: For two months.
. . . .
THE COURT: I think the 1, 500 was for two months.
MR. BIGGAR: Oh, for two months.
THE COURT: So you average about 750 a month?
DEFENDANT: I, I'm left with about 650 a month, and I
still have auto insurance, food-
THE COURT: Alright. Mr. Sorrell, you know, sooner or later
we're going to have to start getting some payments, but
why don't we knock this over 'til December sometime,
see how he's doing then?
MR. BIGGAR: I'm fine with that, Your Honor. The problem
for Mr. Sorrell is, of course, interest is accruing, but . .
. . . .
MS. WORTHEN: His principal is $5, 827.50 and his interest is
approximately 1, 819.
THE COURT: Alright. There's some rules, Mr. Sorrell, that
I can do with interest, but you have to start making
payments, they have to be consistent and all of those kinds
of things, so let's get you on your feet and, and do what
you can to start making some payments.
. . . .
THE COURT: Alright. See you back here January 6th. RP (Sept.
9, 2013) at 8-13 ...