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State v. Smith

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3

June 6, 2019

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
BENJAMIN G. SMITH, Appellant.

          PENNELL, A.C.J.

         Benjamin Smith appeals several legal financial obligations (LFOs) imposed at sentencing: a criminal filing fee, sheriffs fee, court-appointed counsel fee, domestic violence penalty assessment, and medical expenses characterized as restitution. Based on recent changes to Washington's LFO scheme, Mr. Smith is entitled to relief from the first three of the challenged LFOs. However, the domestic violence assessment was not impacted by LFO reform. In addition, although the medical expenses should not have been characterized as restitution, LFO reform also does not prohibit recovery of medical costs. We therefore grant Mr. Smith's request for LFO relief in part and remand for further proceedings.

         FACTS

         Benjamin Smith pleaded guilty to six counts of child molestation and one count of child rape. Each count included a domestic violence allegation. Mr. Smith's offenses involved two victims, both of whom lived in Mr. Smith's household. Mr. Smith's guilty plea was supported by a post-arrest confession.

         The court imposed an exceptional sentence, requiring Mr. Smith to serve a minimum term of 347 months of confinement before becoming eligible for release. The court also imposed both mandatory and discretionary LFOs. Those obligations included a $200.00 criminal filing fee, $100.00 sheriff's fee, $750.00 in fees for a court-appointed attorney, a $100.00 domestic violence penalty assessment, and $466.03 in restitution to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. The restitution order pertained to the cost of medication Mr. Smith received while in custody pending adjudication.

         The judgment and sentence was entered on November 1, 2017. Mr. Smith has filed a timely appeal.

         ANALYSIS

         LFOs

         Mr. Smith raises several challenges to his LFOs. Our review of his claims is twofold. Legal issues are reviewed de novo. State v. Ramirez, 191 Wn.2d 732, 741-42, 426 P.3d 714 (2018). But a trial court's ultimate decision of whether to impose LFOs is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Id. As explained below, several of Mr. Smith's legal arguments require amending the trial court's imposition of LFOs. We do not reverse any of the trial court's discretionary decisions.

         Criminal filing fee

         Citing Ramirez, Mr. Smith has filed supplemental briefing requesting we strike the $200 criminal filing fee imposed by the trial court at sentencing. Ramirez was decided after the close of briefing in this case. The decision held that amendments to Washington's LFO scheme enacted in 2018[1] apply prospectively to cases on direct appellate review at the time of enactment. Ramirez, 191 Wn.2d at 747. Among other things, the 2018 statutory amendments prohibit imposition of a criminal filing fee on a defendant who is "indigent" at the time of sentencing as that term is defined by RCW 10.101.010(3)(a)-(c). RCW 36.18.020(2)(h).

         The 2018 LFO amendments adopted a specific definition of indigence. Under the amendments, it is not enough that a defendant is indigent for purposes of appointment of counsel. Instead, a defendant must show one of three types of indigence: (a) receipt of a qualifying form of public assistance, (b) involuntary commitment in a public mental health facility, or (c) an annual income, after taxes, of 125 percent or less of the current federally established poverty level. See RCW 36.18.020(2)(h) (adopting indigence as defined by RCW 10.101.010(3)(a)-(c) but not including RCW 10.101.010(3)(d)).

         Mr. Smith meets the requisite definition of indigence based on his income. See RCW 10.101.010(3)(c). As a result, Mr. Smith's case is controlled by the changes to the LFO scheme and Ramirez. Accordingly, we grant Mr. Smith his requested relief on this issue and direct the trial court to strike the $200 criminal filing fee from Mr. Smith's judgment and sentence.

         The sheriff's and court-appointed counsel fees

         The $100 sheriff's fee and $750 court-appointed counsel fee meet the same fate as the $200 criminal filing fee. The sheriff's fee and the court-appointed counsel fee are both discretionary costs of prosecution imposed under RCW 10.01.160. Under the 2018 LFO amendments, such costs cannot be imposed against a defendant who is indigent, as defined in RCW 10.101.010(3)(a)-(c), at the time of sentencing. RCW 10.01.160(3). Pursuant to Ramirez, Mr. Smith is entitled to the benefit of the current law. Accordingly, the $100 sheriff's fee and $750 court-appointed counsel fee must be struck.

         Domestic violence ...


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