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State v. Catling

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

April 18, 2019

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
JASON MICHAEL CATLING, Petitioner.

          MADSEN, J.

         This case concerns application of the Social Security Act's antiattachment statute, 42 U.S.C. § 407(a), in the context of mandatory legal financial obligations imposed on a convicted felon. Specifically, the issue is whether under the circumstances of this case, the trial court's imposition of mandatory legal financial obligations violates the antiattachment statute. The Court of Appeals held that the particular financial obligations imposed here did not violate the federal antiattachment statute but remanded for clarification of the payment order. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with instructions.

         FACTS

         The facts precipitating this case are as follows. On February 1, 2016, the State charged Jason Michael Catling with two counts of delivery of heroin, a controlled substance. On August 18, 2016, pursuant to a plea deal, Catling pleaded guilty to one count of delivery of heroin in exchange for the State's agreement to dismiss the other drug delivery charge and to recommend a residential drug offender sentencing alternative (DOSA).

         Catling was sentenced on September 23, 2016. During the sentencing hearing, Catling's attorney argued that because Catling's sole source of income was Social Security disability benefits, the trial court should not impose any legal financial obligations (LFOs), including mandatory obligations, based on this court's decision in City of Richland v. Wakefield, 186 Wn. 2d 596, 380 P.3d 459 (2016), which had just issued the day before Catling's sentencing hearing.

         The sentencing court had not yet reviewed Wakefield, took the LFO matter under advisement, and ascertained that Catling's sole source of income was Social Security disability benefits in the amount of $753 per month. Catling had been receiving these benefits for approximately 10 years because of chronic pain and multiple corrective surgeries regarding his congenital bladder condition.

         On September 26, 2016, the trial court issued a written order imposing mandatory LFOs totaling $800 ($500 for crime victims' compensation assessment (per RCW 7.68.035(1)(a)), $200 for criminal filing fee (per RCW 36.18.020(2)(h)), and $100 DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) collection fee (per RCW 43.43.7541)). The order stated, "[T]he mandatory legal financial obligations can be ordered when a person is indigent and whose only source of income is social security disability." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 35. The order directed Catling to pay $25 per month starting January 5, 2017.

         On October 5, 2016, Catling moved the trial court to reconsider its imposition of LFOs, again citing Wakefield and 42 U.S.C. § 407(a). The court denied the motion on October 19, 2016, and Catling timely filed a notice of appeal on October 26, 2016.[1]

         On appeal, the State conceded that the sentencing court erred in setting a payment schedule obligating Catling to begin payment of his mandatory LFOs when the information presented at sentencing indicated that Catling's only source of income was Social Security disability benefits. The State argued, however, that the appropriate remedy was not to strike the LFOs as Catling requested, but rather to strike the payment schedule and require the defendant to periodically present proof to the trial court that he continued to have no source of income except for Social Security disability benefits.

         In a split decision, a panel of Division Three of the Court of Appeals held that although the sentencing court may impose mandatory LFOs on a recipient of Social Security disability benefits, it may not order such a defendant to pay those obligations without first determining the defendant has another source of income. State v. Catling, 2 Wn. App. 2d 819, 820-26, 413 P.3d 27 (2018). The Court of Appeals' dissent expressed concern about the burden on the defendant of continuing court appearances, questioned whether the defendant would ever be able to pay off the LFOs, and opined that such circumstance would ultimately coerce the defendant to invade his sheltered income to pay off the obligations. Id. at 845-47 (Fearing, C.J., dissenting). The dissent would have remanded the matter to the sentencing court to determine whether Catling "will likely receive other income in the indefinite future." Id. at 846.

         The Court of Appeals' majority decision affirmed the imposition of the noted mandatory LFOs but remanded to the trial court to amend the judgment and sentence to specify that LFOs may not be satisfied out of funds protected by 42 U.S.C. § 407(a). Id. at 821, 826.[2] Catling petitioned for review.[3] This court granted review "only on the issue whether the imposition of mandatory [LFOs] on the Petitioner violates the Social Security Act's antiattachment provision." Order Granting Review, State v. Catling, No. 95794-1 (Wash. Aug. 8, 2018).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Ramirez[4] controls portions of this case

         As a threshold matter, this case is partially resolved by this court's recent decision in Ramirez. In Ramirez, this court held that the legislature's overhaul of Washington's LFO provisions in House Bill (HB) 1783, which became effective on June 7, 2018, applied to a pending appeal concerning LFOs. This court explained:

House Bill 1783's amendments modify Washington's system of LFOs, addressing some of the worst facets of the system that prevent offenders from rebuilding their lives after conviction. For example, House Bill 1783 eliminates interest accrual on the nonrestitution portions of LFOs, it establishes that the DNA database fee is no longer mandatory if the offender's DNA has been collected because of a prior conviction, and it provides that a court may not sanction an offender for failure to pay LFOs unless the failure to pay is willful. LAWS OF 2018, ch. 269, §§ 1, 18, 7. . . . It also prohibits imposing the $200 filing fee on indigent defendants. Id. § 17. . . . We hold that House Bill 1783 applies prospectively to Ramirez because the statutory amendments pertain to [financial obligations] imposed on criminal defendants following conviction, and Ramirez's case was pending on direct review and thus not final when the amendments were enacted.

Ramirez, 191 Wn. 2d at 747. "Because House Bill 1783's amendments pertain to costs imposed upon conviction and Ramirez's case was not yet final when the amendments were enacted, Ramirez is entitled to benefit from this statutory change." Id. at 749.

         Here, no restitution was imposed; as noted, the trial court imposed only three LFOs: the criminal filing fee, the DNA collection fee, and the crime victim fund assessment. As for the filing fee, the Ramirez decision explained, "House Bill 1783 . . . amends the criminal filing fee statute, former RCW 36.l8.020(2)(h) [(2015)], to prohibit charging the $200 criminal filing fee to defendants who are indigent at the time of sentencing. LAWS OF 2018, ch. 269, § 17." Id. at 748. RCW 36.l8.020(2)(h) now provides, in pertinent part, "Upon conviction or plea of guilty ... an adult defendant in a criminal case shall be liable for a fee of two hundred dollars, except this fee shall not be imposed on a defendant who is indigent as defined in RCW 10.101.010(3) (a) through (c)." (Emphasis added.) Here, the record indicates that Catling was indigent at the time of sentencing. He received public assistance in the form of Social Security disability benefits and food stamps, thus meeting the criteria for indigency. See RCW 10.101.010(3)(a) (food stamps); CP at 84 (Catling received food stamps); see also CP at 86-88 (order permitting appeal at public expense). Thus, as in Ramirez, "the trial court improperly imposed ... the criminal filing fee." Ramirez, 191 Wn.2d at 748. The appropriate remedy is to "remand for the trial court to amend the judgment and sentence to strike the improperly imposed LFOs." Id. at 750.

         As for the trial court's imposition of the DNA collection fee, that LFO may also be improper. Under HB 1783, the DNA collection fee is no longer mandatory if a DNA sample has been collected from a defendant based on a prior conviction. RCW 43.43.7541 now provides, in relevant part, "Every sentence imposed for a crime specified in RCW 43.43.754 [i.e., any felony] must include a fee of one hundred dollars unless the state has previously collected the offender's DNA as a result of a prior conviction." Laws of 2018, ch. 269, § 18. Since 2002, a felony conviction triggers the mandatory taking of a DNA sample. See RCW 43.43.754; see also LAWS OF 2002, ch. 289, § 2. Here, Catling has three prior adult felony convictions, two of which occurred after 2002. The record does not indicate whether his DNA has been previously collected. If such collection has occurred, the trial court's imposition of the DNA collection fee here is improper. See LAWS OF 2018, ch. 269, § 18; Ramirez, 191 Wn. 2d at 747. We remand to the trial court with direction to determine whether Catling has previously had a DNA sample collected and, if the court so finds, to strike the $100 DNA collection fee. Ramirez, 191 Wn. 2d at 747-48, 750.[5]

         As for the $500 crime victim fund assessment, HB 1783 retains this mandatory LFO. RCW 7.68.035(1)(a) ...


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