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AGO 1967 No. 1 - January 16, 1967
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


COURTS ‑ SUPERIOR - FEES - FEE CHARGEABLE TO DEFENDANT APPEALING FROM JUSTICE COURT CRIMINAL CONVICTION.

RCW 36.18.020 does not require the collection of two fees from a defendant who appeals from a justice court criminal conviction; rather, the only fee chargeable against such an appellant pursuant to this statute is a fee of $15.00 upon conviction or plea of guilty or upon failure to prosecute the appeal, as provided by subsection (15) thereof.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                 January 16, 1967

Honorable George A. Kain
Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney
County Court House
Spokane, Washington 99201

                                                                                                                   Cite as:  AGO 1967 No. 1

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have asked two questions relative to the fees chargeable to a defendant who appeals from a justice court criminal conviction.  We paraphrase your questions as follows:

            (1) Does RCW 36.18.020 require the collection of two fees from a defendant who appeals from a justice court criminal conviction, one for the filing and another if he fails to proceed or is convicted?

            (2) If so, may the first of these fees be collected in advance?

            We answer question (1) in the negative for the reasons stated in our analysis; consideration of question (2) is therefore unnecessary.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 36.18.020 is the codification of § 1, chapter 304, Laws of 1961.  This statute, by which the legislature established a comprehensive new fee schedule for clerks of superior courts, reads in material part as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "Clerks of superior courts shall collect the following fees for their official services:

            ". . .

            "(2) Any party filing the first or initial paper on an appeal from justice court or on any civil appeal, shall pay, when said paper is filed, a fee of fifteen dollars.

            ". . .

            "(15) Upon conviction or plea of guilty or upon failure to prosecute his appeal from a lower court as provided by law, a defendant in a criminal case shall be liable for a fee of fifteen dollars.

            ". . ."

            Also bearing on your questions is RCW 10.10.060, which reads as follows:

            "The appellant in a criminal action shall not be required to advance any fees in claiming his appeal nor in prosecuting the same; but if convicted in the appellate court, or if sentenced for failing to prosecute his appeal, he may be required as a part of the sentence to pay the costs of the prosecution.  If the appellant shall fail to enter and prosecute his appeal he shall be defaulted of his recognizance, if any was taken, and the superior court may award sentence against him for the offense whereof he was convicted in like manner as if he had been convicted thereof in that court; and if he be not then in custody process may be issued to bring him into court to receive sentence."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            It is apparent that subsection (15) of RCW 36.18.020, supra, is applicable to a defendant appealing a justice court criminal conviction to superior court.  It is equally apparent that this fee is not collectible in advance and, hence, is  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] consistent with the mandate of RCW 10.10.060,supra.

            Your first question, then, relates primarily to whether subsection (2) of RCW 36.18.020,supra, is also applicable to a defendant who appeals from a justice court criminal conviction.

            As you have pointed out, it is well-settled law that the clerk's fee schedule applies to criminal cases.  See,State v. Armstrong, 29 Wash. 57, 69 Pac. 392 (1902); andKing County v. Seattle, 195 Wash. 293, 80 P.2d 838 (1938).  Furthermore, it must be noted that subsection (2) of RCW 36.18.020,supra, does not represent a substantial departure from the language of prior acts which apparently formed the basis for this inclusion of clerk's fees in the costs imposed against an unsuccessful criminal defendant.  Compare § 1, chapter 130, Laws of 1893; and § 1, chapter 56, Laws of 1907.  However, to construe this substantially comparable provision of the 1961 act as being applicable to criminal defendants appealing from justice court convictions is to ignore certain fundamental tenets of statutory construction.

            Unquestionably, the only object of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature.  In attempting to ascertain this intent, it is a rule of construction that where one section of an act deals specifically with a subject, it will prevail over another section which deals with the subject less specifically. See,United States v. Jackson, 143 Fed. 783, 19th Cir. (1906); also, AGO 51-52 No. 8.

            Here, obviously, subsection (15) of RCW 36.18.020, supra, deals with the precise situation described in your question.  Subsection (2), on the other hand, deals generally with appeals and is concerned not only with justice court appeals, including civil appeals, but is concerned with all manner of appeals including, apparently, appeals from the decisions of administrative tribunals.

            Another fundamental maxim of construction is that a statute will be construed so as to harmonize it with all other statutes relating to the same subject, if possible.  State v. Bell, 59 Wn.2d 338, 368 P.2d 177 (1962).  Manifestly, were subsection (2) of RCW 36.18.020, supra, held to be applicable to a defendant who appeals from a justice court conviction, the statute would conflict with that portion of RCW 10.10.060,supra, which permits the appellant to prosecute his appeal without advancing any fees.  Furthermore, if subsection (2), were construed as requiring the payment  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] of a fee by such an appellant but deferring the payment thereof until after the appeal was dismissed or the appellant was convicted, both subsection (2) and subsection (15) would, in effect, say the same thing; subsection (15) would thereby be rendered superfluous or it would create an absurdity.  A statute will not be construed so as to result in such an absurdity.  Alderwood Water Dist. v. Pope & Talbot, 62 Wn.2d 319, 382 P.2d 639 (1963).

            That such a result is absurd is best illustrated by comparing the new (1961) clerk's fee statute with former clerk's fee statutes.  The first thing to be noted upon comparison is that the 1961 act (RCW 36.18.020,supra) represents a substantial departure from previous fee acts in that it does away with the old method of collecting clerk's fees on a piecemeal basis in litigation matters.  For example, § 5, chapter 51, Laws of 1951, the prior effective fee act, authorized the clerk (as did all previous fee acts) to collect (1) a filing fee from the first party filing a paper, (2) an appearance fee from the first party appearing as a defendant, and (3) a judgment fee in varying amounts, depending upon the type of judgment taken, from the party entering the judgment.  Section 1, chapter 304, Laws of 1961 (RCW 36.18.020), supra, changed all of this.  In place of this procedure, the legislature, by this new statute, substituted an approach under which the clerk is to collect only one fee, usually from the party first filing a document.  Notably, the fee to be thus paid is fifteen dollars, or slightly more than the sum of all three fees authorized previously‑- in a typical case.  We think that the manifest intent of the 1961 act was to simplify the fee schedule by making one fee, and one fee alone, collectible in litigation matters handled by superior court clerks.

            Accordingly, for the reasons stated above, we conclude that subsection (2) of RCW 36.18.020,supra, is not applicable to a defendant who appeals from a justice court conviction.  Instead, the only fee chargeable to a defendant who appeals from a justice court conviction is the fee provided for by RCW 36.18.020 (15), supra‑-and it is not collectible in advance.  See RCW 10.10.060,supra.

            In further elaboration of this conclusion, we should point out that clerk's fee statutes in effect prior to 1961, contained no provision similar to subsection (15) of § 1 of the 1961 act.  The inclusion of this special provision covering criminal appellants from justice court convictions seems to us to have been simply a consequence of a legislative decision to specify what fee an unsuccessful criminal defendant  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] should be liable for in the event costs are imposed against him.  While, as we have noted, it was quite clear that the prior fee acts applied in criminal cases (see,State v. Armstrong, supra), it was not so clear which fees were applicable to the unsuccessful criminal defendant.  See, also,King County v. Seattle, supra.  For example, in theArmstrong case, the court apparently held that the defendant, against whom costs had been imposed, was liable for a filing fee, but no mention was made of an appearance fee or a judgment fee.1/

             It therefore seems logical to conclude that subsection (15) of RCW 36.18.020, supra, was designed to remove whatever dispute may have previously existed regarding which clerk's fees were to be assessed in the event of an imposition of costs against an unsuccessful criminal appellant.  In other words, in the event that costs are imposed against an unsuccessful criminal appellant, in accordance with the discretionary provisions of RCW 10.10.060,supra, subsection (15) of RCW 36.18.020 makes it clear that, in so far as the costs represent clerk's fees, the amount of the costs to be imposed shall be fifteen dollars.2/

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

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Indeed, this question of just exactly what fees a criminal defendant was liable for in the event of the imposition of costs has been the subject of two prior formal opinions of this office.  See, AGO 1915-16:230, and AGO 51-53 No. 496.  In addition, this office has apparently issued at least four informal opinions on the question.

2/In thus concluding, we are not unaware that collection may present a problem for the clerk, particularly in the case of an appellant who fails to prosecute his appeal, since justice court criminal rule 6.03, as promulgated by the supreme court, requires the clerk to return the appeal bond to justice court and makes no provision for the payment of clerk's fees in the event the bond is forfeited.  However, since in our view subsection (15),supra, represents a basis for computing costs, it follows that the statutes governing the collection of costs, as contained in chapter 10.82 RCW, are applicable.

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