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AGO 1963 No. 14 - February 28, 1963
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


COURTS ‑- JUSTICE COURTS ‑- 1961 ACT ‑- CRIMINAL CASES ‑- FILING FEES ‑- FINE OR PENALTY ‑- SUSPENSION.

(1) In criminal cases in which a filing fee is chargeable in justice courts under § 111, chapter 299, Laws of 1961, the fee is $4.00 notwithstanding the number of separate counts which may be contained in the complaint.

(2) In those cases where (pursuant to § 111) no filing fee is to be assessed or collected other than as part of the fine or penalty imposed upon conviction, the four dollar filing fee is not to be assessed in addition to the ordinary fine for penalty imposed.

(3) In those cases where (pursuant to § 111) no filing fee is to be assessed or collected other than as part of the fine or penalty imposed upon conviction, the court may suspend only that part of the fine or penalty imposed which is in excess of the nonsuspendable four dollar filing fee.

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                                                                February 28, 1963

Honorable John J. Lally
Prosecuting Attorney
Spokane County
Spokane, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 14

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested the opinion of this office on several questions pertaining to the assessment of court costs in criminal and traffic cases by justices of the peace operating under the 1961 justice court act (chapter 299, Laws of 1961).  Specifically, you have asked questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) Referring to the $4.00 filing fee chargeable in certain criminal cases under § 111, chapter 299, Laws of 1961, in the event two or more counts are contained in a single traffic or criminal complaint must the $4.00 fee be charged for each separate count contained in the complaint?

            (2) In those cases where (pursuant to § 111) no filing fee is to be assessed or collected other than as a part of the fine or penalty imposed upon conviction, is the $4.00 filing fee to be assessed in addition to the ordinary fine or penalty imposed?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (3) Assuming a negative answer to question (2), may the court suspend all of the fine or penalty or only that amount in excess of the $4.00 filing fee?

            We answer your first two questions in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.  Your third question we answer in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            By chapter 299, Laws of 1961, our state legislature enacted a comprehensive statute designed to effectuate a substantial reorganization of such courts of limited jurisdiction as are located in class AA and class A counties of this state, with the additional proviso that ". . . The provisions of this act may be made applicable to any county of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth class upon a majority vote of its board of county commissioners."  Section 2, chapter 299, Laws of 1961.  The constitutionality of this legislation was upheld by the Washington supreme court inLong v. O'Dell et al., 160 Wash. Dec. 152 [[60 Wn. (2d) 151]], 372 P.2d 548 (1962).

            The particular sections of the act to be considered in answering your questions are §§ 105 and 111, providing, respectively, as follows:

            Section 105:

            "The court may at the time of sentencing or at any time thereafter suspend a portion or all of a fine or penalty except that costs of the action shall not be suspended:  Provided, That the court may suspend costs in the case of juvenile or indigent defendants.  'Costs' for the purpose of this section, does not include jury fees, witness fees or sheriff's fees."

            Section 111:

            "Except in traffic cases wherein bail is forfeited to a violations bureau, and except in cases filed in municipal departments established pursuant to chapter 5 of this act, in every criminal action filed by a city for an ordinance violation the city shall be charged a four dollar filing fee.  In all other criminal actions, no filing fee shall be assessed or collected:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Provided, That in such cases, for the purposes of section 105, four dollars of each fine or penalty shall be deemed filing costs."

            Your first question involved a circumstance in which two or more counts have been joined in a single traffic or criminal complaint.  It is apparent that the filing of a criminal complaint, irrespective of the number of counts alleged therein, constitutes the commencement of a single criminal action as that term is ordinarily used.  See, definitions appearing in State ex rel. Calderwood v. Schomber, 23 Wash. 573, 63 Pac. 221 (1900).

            Accordingly, in the case of criminal complaints filed by a city for an ordinance violation (except in traffic cases where bail is forfeited to a violations bureau, and except in cases filed in municipal departments) a single $4.00 filing fee is chargeable.

            Section 111, chapter 299, Laws of 1961, supra, then provides:

            ". . . In all other criminal actions, no filing fee shall be assessed or collected:  Provided, That in such cases, for the purposes of section 105, four dollars of each fine or penalty shall be deemed filing costs."

            The pertinent portion of section 105 is that which reads:

            "The court may at the time of sentencing or at any time thereafter suspend a portion or all of a fine or penalty except that costs of the action shall not be suspended: . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            It is our opinion, consistent with the conclusion that a single $4.00 filing fee only is payable in the case of a criminal complaint filed in justice court by a city for the violation of a city ordinance irrespective of the number of counts alleged in the complaint, that in "other criminal actions" there is to be but a single nonsuspendable $4.00 cost item per criminal action (i.e., single complaint) irrespective of the number of counts contained in the complaint upon which convictions have been obtained.  In thus concluding, we recognize the possibility of argument in support of a contrary conclusion based upon the premise that separate fines or penalties may be imposed for each separate crime of which the defendant is convicted.  However, reading the language of § 111, supra, in its entirety, we regard the true intention of the legislature to be that there should be chargeable only one $4.00 filing fee for each criminal action whether paid upon filing by the complaining party (as in the case of actions filed by a city for an ordinance violation) or  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] upon conviction by the defendant as in other criminal cases.

            Therefore, we answer your first question, above stated, in the negative.

            Your second question is also answerable in the negative.  In those criminal actions wherein, under §§ 111 and 105, supra, the single $4.00 filing fee is chargeable against the convicted defendant as a nonsuspendable part of the fine or penalty imposed upon conviction, it is clear to us that the $4.00 filing fee is not to be charged in addition to the ordinary fine or penalty but rather merely as a part thereof.  Again, the key language of § 111, supra, is:

            ". . . That in such cases, for the purposes of section 105, [i.e., nonsuspension of costs] four dollars of each fine or penalty shall be deemed filing costs."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            From this conclusion that, in the class of criminal action with which we are presently concerned, the $4.00 filing fee is simply a nonsuspendable part of the fine or penalty imposed (rather than a charge made in addition to the ordinary fine or penalty), it follows that under the express language of § 105,supra, the court may suspend only that part of the fine or penalty imposed which is in excess of the nonsuspendable $4.00 filing fee.  This, then, is our answer to your third question.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Assistant Attorney General

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