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AGO 1985 No. 9 - June 19, 1985
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

COURTS ‑- JUSTICE ‑- FINES ‑- PUBLIC SAFETY AND EDUCATION ASSESSMENT

Where a district justice court imposes a fine and then suspends a portion of that fine pursuant to RCW 3.62.010 and/or RCW 3.66.086 [3.66.068], the public safety and education assessment provided for in RCW 3.62.090 is only to be based upon the portion of the fine which is not suspended.

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                                                                   June 19, 1985

Honorable James R. Larsen
Administrator for the Courts
1206 South Quince, EZ-11
Olympia, WA 98504

Cite as:  AGO 1985 No. 9                                                                                                                  

 Dear Sir:

             By letter previously acknowledged you requested our opinion on the following question:

             "Does the public safety and education assessment, required in RCW 3.62.090, apply to thetotal fine imposed by a court or, in cases where a portion of the fine has been suspended as allowed in RCW 3.66.068, only to the amount actually collectible from the defendant?  For example, if a judge imposes a fine of $1,000 and suspends $800 of the fine, does the public safety and education assessment apply to $1,000 or to the $200 unsuspended portion?"

             We answer your question in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                      ANALYSIS

             RCW 3.62.090, which you have first cited, is a part of the state law governing receipt and distribution of income by courts of limited jurisdiction.  That statute codifies what was enacted as § 337 of chapter 258, Laws of 1984.  RCW 3.62.090 reads, in full, as follows:

                          [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

"There shall be assessed and collected in addition to any fines, forfeitures, or penalties assessed, other than for parking infractions, by all courts organized under Title 3 or 35 RCW a public safety and education assessment equal to sixty percent of such fines, forfeitures, or penalties, which shall be remitted as provided in chapters 3.46, 3.50, 3.62, and 35.20 RCW.  The assessment required by this section shall not be suspended or waived by the court."

             RCW 3.66.068, which you have also cited, is one of the statutory provisions governing the scope of jurisdiction, venue and sentencing in courts of limited jurisdiction.  That statute codifies what was enacted as § 2 of chapter 175, Laws of 1969, as amended by § 2 of chapter 156, Laws of 1983.  RCW 3.66.068 reads, in full, as follows:

             "For a period not to exceed two years after imposition of sentence, the court has continuing jurisdiction and authority to suspend the execution of all or any part of its sentence upon stated terms, including installment payment of fines."

             Similarly, RCW 3.62.010, as amended by § 305, chapter 258, Laws of 1984 (the same act by which RCW 3.62.090, supra, was last amended) provides that:

             "The district court may at the time of sentencing or at any time thereafter suspend a portion of all of a fine or penalty."

             The question posed in your letter must be answered on the basis of well settled principles of statutory construction.  One such principle is that the legislature is presumed to be familiar with its prior enactments when it enacts a new statute.  Baker v. Baker, 91 Wn.2d 482, 588 P.2d 1164 (1979).  It is also to be understood that the entire sequence of statutes enacted by the same legislative authority, relating to the same subject matter, should be considered in placing a construction upon any one of the enactments.  In re Marriage of Little, 96 Wn.2d 183, 634 P.2d 498 (1981).  In addition, where there are two legislative enactments relating to the same subject matter, and the subsequent act does not expressly repeal the former, the two acts will be read together and, if possible, each will be given meaning, force, and validity.  Olympia State Bank and Trust Co. v. Craft, 56 Wn.2d 546, 354 P.2d 386 (1960).  Also, inconsistency between statutes upon a given  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] subject is never presumed, but such interpretation or construction should be adopted as will harmonize all acts upon the subject, if reasonably possible.  Lindsey v. Superior Court of King Co., 33 Wn.2d 94, 204 P.2d 482 (1949).  Likewise, in this regard, statutes standing in parimateria (i.e., relating to the same basic subject matter) are to be read together as constituting a unified whole, to the end that a harmonious, total statutory scheme evolves which maintains the integrity of the respective statutes.  State v. Wright, 84 Wn.2d 645, 529 P.2d 453 (1974).  And finally, it is of course axiomatic that absurd, incongruous or unjust consequences are to be avoided in the construction of a statute.  Yakima First Baptist Homes v. Gray, 82 Wn.2d 295, 510 P.2d 243 (1973).

             Your question recognizes that, insofar as they delineate what portion of a penalty can be suspended by a court of limited jurisdiction, RCW 3.62.090 and RCW 3.66.068 (as well as RCW 3.62.010) have a common subject matter.  Applying the foregoing rules of construction to those statutes we therefore conclude that the public safety and education assessment required by RCW 3.62.090 should be computed based only on that portion of the fine which was not suspended.

             The converse,i.e., basing the assessment on the total fine‑-including the portion which was suspended‑-would produce consequences which, as a practical matter, might well eliminate the use of the suspended fine sentencing option provided in RCW 3.66.068 and RCW 3.62.010.  For example, the public safety and education assessment on the total fine, suspended and unsuspended, in the hypothetical case you posed in your letter, would be $600.  Thus, the public safety and education assessment would be three times greater than the unsuspended, actual, fine that the court in your hypothetical imposed as punishment for the offense.  Such a result, on the other hand, would not occur if the public safety and education assessment is based only on that portion of the fine that is not suspended‑-and the probationary sentencing option provided by RCW 3.66.068 and RCW 3.62.010 would not be impaired by such a construction.

             In short, construing RCW 3.62.090 as applying only to that portion of a fine which has not been suspended harmonizes and gives meaning to both RCW 3.62.090 and RCW 3.66.068 (as well as RCW 3.62.010) while maintaining the integrity of each.  Additionally, such a construction avoids absurd consequences which, as above noted, are to be avoided in the construction of a statute.  Yakima First Baptist Homes v. Gray, supra.  Accordingly, in direct answer to your inquiry, we conclude that the subject public safety and  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] education assessment is only to be based upon that portion of a fine which is not suspended.

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

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General 

JERRY A. ACKERMAN
Assistant Attorney General

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