Category: News & Updates

“Can I Vote?” Flowcharts to Help You Understand Voting Rights

The Washington State office of the ACLU has posted helpful “Can I Vote?” flowcharts to help people with criminal convictions figure out if they are eligible to vote.  The flowcharts are written in seven languages–English, Chinese, Korean, Oromo, Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese.  A person convicted as an adult of a felony in Washington State loses their right to vote and is also ineligible if they are serving a sentence for any felony conviction from another State or federal court.  The right to vote is automatically restored once the person is no longer under the supervision of the Washington State Department of Corrections.  Read the English language version of the “Can I Vote?” flowchart here.

New Washington State Service Animals Law Takes Effect on 1/1/2019

This past session, the Washington State Legislature passed SHB 2822, Chapter 176 of the Laws of 2018, to address growing problems with people misrepresenting ordinary animals as service animals.  In addition to changing the definition of “service animal”, the new law also creates a civil penalty for misrepresentation of a service animal of up to $500.  WashingtonLawHelp has published a guide related to this new law here.

K & L Gates Creates Pro Bono Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project

K & L Gates has founded a pro bono project to help victims of “revenge porn” or nonconsensual pornography defend their “cyber” civil rights.  Assistance is available to victims both within the United States and abroad.  To contact the Cyber Civil Rights Project and K & L Gates, use this link.  For more information about cyber civil rights, see the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative’s web site.

Sociologist Says Public Libraries are the Bedrock of a Civil Society

The disconnect between the perceived value of public libraries–particularly in the eyes of influencial policy-makers–and the vital role they play in supporting the social infrastructure of a civil society is real.  And it’s something that anyone concerned about equity, open access, and diversity should be prepared to confront.  So says sociologist Eric Klinenberg, in his recent New York Times opinion article, To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library.

For more information about the recanted Forbes article about the value of public libraries, see this QZ article.

New KCBA Volunteer Legal Services Records Project

King County Bar Association’s Volunteer Legal Services program has launched a new service for low-income people trying to vacate criminal conviction records.  The ultimate goal is to reduce the barriers to employment and housing created by convictions.  To be eligible to participate, you must be low-income and your most recent conviction must have been from a court within King County.  Download this flyer for more information.

 

Warrant Outreach at Seattle Municipal Court

Seattle Municipal Court is sponsoring a warrant outreach program on Thursday, August 9th from 10:00am to 4:00pm at the Lake City Community Center.  The Warrant Outreach event is a partnership between the Seattle Municipal Court, King County Department of Public Defense, Seattle City Attorney’s Office, Seattle Police Department, Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Seattle Human Services Department.

Anyone with outstanding warrants is welcome to attend and learn about options for resolving warrants and/or outstanding tickets.  Court staff will be on hand to answer questions about court processes and provide additional information.  For more information about the event, visit the City of Seattle’s news web site. or contact Gary Ireland, Public Information Officer at gary.ireland@seattle.gov.

Affordable Legal Help from the Northwest Consumer Law Center

The Northwest Consumer Law Center offers programs to provide affordable legal help with foreclosure, bankruptcy, debt collection, credit reporting issues, automobile purchases and student loan issues.  To be eligible for this assistance you must be a Washington State resident and your total household income – before taxes, expenses, deductions, etc. – must be at or below a limit based on the current Federal Poverty Guidelines.

For more information and to determine if you qualify, visit the Get Help section of NWCLC’s web site or call their intake telephone line at (888) 978-3386, extension 1722.

 

New Forms for Grandparents and Relatives Seeking Visitation Rights

During the 2018 Regular Session, the Washington State legislature passed Senate Bill 5598, Chapter 183 of the Laws of 2018, which adds a procedure for grandparents and other relatives to petition the court for visitation rights.  The new law amends RCW 26.10.160, repeals 26.09.240 and adds a new chapter to Title 26.  For more details about the new law, see the Final Bill Report.  Forms for the new procedure can be found on the State Court’s web site under the section titled Visits with Children.

New Law Reduces Harsh Impacts of Criminal Debt (LFOs) for Defendants Living in Poverty

Indigent people can be spared court fees that result from a criminal conviction and cannot be sanctioned for their inability to pay restitution and fines, under the new Washington Legislature Bill E2SHB 1783. This bill will ensure that poor people are not unfairly jailed or tied for years to the criminal justice system because they are unable to pay court-imposed debts known as Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs).

LFOs are fees, fines, costs, and restitution imposed by courts on every person convicted of a crime in Washington. The average LFO in Washington on a single case is $1,128, including misdemeanors. Poor people lack the resources to pay LFOs; according to the Administrative Office of the Courts, only 23.8% of LFOs are paid statewide. Even people who are homeless or who rely on public assistance payments to meet basic needs are forced to pay LFOs and interest. As a result, people with limited finances face insurmountable debt and remain tethered to the criminal justice system for years. And while jail is supposed to be reserved for individuals who willfully refuse to pay their LFOs, all too often courts have locked up poor people who were simply unable to pay, resulting in modern-day debtors’ prison. In one Washington county, approximately 20% of people in custody on a given day were serving time for non-payment of court-imposed debt.

Starting July 1, LFOs will be restructured in Washington, according to E2SHB 1783. Here is a comprehensive list of the changes enacted by E2SHB 1783:

  • Prioritization of Victim Restitution: The bill prioritizes victim restitution by clarifying that this obligation must be paid out before any other LFOs when an LFO payment is submitted. Court costs, fines, and other assessments are to be paid after all victim restitution is completed.
  • Ending the practice of jailing people who are unable to pay LFOs: The law clarifies that a court cannot jail a person who fails to pay LFOs unless the failure to pay is willful. People who are homeless or mentally ill cannot be found to have willfully failed to pay.
  • Clearer standards for indigence and ability to pay: Judges will no longer be allowed to impose certain costs on defendants, such as the cost for his or her public defender if they meet certain income requirements created by the bill that render the individual indigent (someone at 125% of the poverty level).
  • Reducing the Number of Mandatory LFOs: Many mandatory LFOs become discretionary, meaning the court can waive them upon a finding of indigence (someone at 125% of the poverty level).
  • Elimination of Interest: The courts can waive interest rates on unpaid LFOs, which are currently at 12%.
  • Set-Up Payment Plans: The courts can set up payment plans for costs and fines if the person is homeless, mentally ill, or indigent (someone at 125% of the poverty level).
  • Community Service Creation: Several provisions allow for the court to convert some LFOs to community service if the defendant is too poor to pay.
  • Protecting Public Assistance: The bill prohibits forced collection of funds received from needs-based public assistance programs.

Supporters of the new law said in legislative hearings that LFOs, with their high interest rates, create an endless financial web for poor offenders after they are released from prison, keeping some in poverty and unable to return to society. It will remove some of the hurdles that make it difficult for some people to “get back on their feet” after incarceration, Gov. Jay Inslee said.

“This law ensures a person’s ability to pay is considered when LFOs are imposed, and enables people with limited resources who have served their time to move on with their lives… No one should serve jail time simply because they are too poor to pay.” – Prachi Dave, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Washington.

For comprehensive information about the impacts of LFOs, see Modern-Day Debtors Prisons: The Ways Court-Imposed Debts Punish People for Being Poor, a report issued by the ACLU of Washington and Columbia Legal Services: https://www.aclu-wa.org/docs/modern-day-debtors-prisons-washington. Community advocates, including the ACLU-WA, Columbia Legal Services, and the Statewide Poverty Action Network (Poverty Action), have been seeking changes to the LFO system for the past several years. You can read their reactions to this new law here: