Spokane County to consider forgiving certain court fines

People who have served their criminal sentences but still have unpaid court fees and fines may be able to get relief from some of that debt this April, as Spokane County hosts a Legal Financial Obligation Reconsideration Day.

While the event isn't until April 17, people with unpaid court debts can sign up now to be one of the first 1,000 people who will be considered for debt waivers that day.

Applications should be completed before Jan. 31 and can be found through a Facebook event hosted by the organization I Did the Time, at facebook.com/ididthetime.

Civil infractions like parking tickets will not be considered, but fines from municipal, district or superior court will be.

The day follows the 2018 passage of a Washington law to allow waivers of court fees and fines that aren't restitution and interest that has accrued on unpaid amounts. Some restitution-related interest may also be eligible for a waiver if the underlying restitution amount has been paid in full.

The law was created after it became clear that the 12 percent interest rates on unpaid court fees were stacking up, in particular for poor defendants who couldn't afford their own attorneys, with many people being put in jail again just for nonpayment of court fines. According to the ACLU, the fines and fees on a single case (including misdemeanors) in Washington is $1,128 on average, even for people who are homeless or have little to no income.

With the new law, interest is no longer allowed to be imposed on penalties, fines, bail forfeitures, fees, or costs imposed against a defendant in a criminal proceeding.

"Our judges and county clerk have graciously opened a day to help those who have been burdened by this crushing form of debt to relieve as much as possible," writes Layne Pavey, director of I Did the Time and program director at Revive Reentry Services. "Thousands of dollars will be waived!"