Deferred Prosecution for Indigent Defendants

 

On January 17, 2013, the Washington Supreme Court en banc, recently decided that Washington law does not require the court to pay for an indigent defendant’s treatment while in deferred prosecution.

RCW 10.05.130 is relevant statute and states that:

“[F]unds shall be appropriated from the fines and forfeitures of

the court to provide investigation, examination, report and treatment plan for

any indigent person who is unable to pay the cost of any program of

treatment.”

The case arose out of two separate cases that were consolidated for review by the court.  The petitioners argues that the language of the statute stating that funds shall be appropriated for a “treatment plan for any indigent person,” should be interpreted as not only meaning the deferred prosecution plan  but the treatment as well.  A deferred prosecution treatment plan is an initial evaluation by a treatment provider that outlines a plan for the defendant that would comply with the law.  This treatment plan must be shown to the judge in order to enter into the deferred prosecution program.

Washington’s deferred prosecution program was created by the legislature to allow for treatment as an alternative to jail in cases where it is shown that the cause of the crime was a mental health, substance abuse or alcohol issue and there is a probability that similar conduct will occur in the future if the issue is left untreated.   The treatment plan for deferred prosecution must be at least two years long, and therefore can be very expensive.

The petitioners in this case argued that interpreting the language to allow for public funding of only the deferred prosecution treatment plan but not treatment does not make sense because if the defendant cannot afford the initial deferred prosecution evaluation and treatment plan, they certainly cannot afford treatment.  The Washington Supreme Court disagreed, they ruled that the statute is clear and unambiguous and therefore should not be interpretted more broadly.  Further, they stated that the law has been on the books for 37 years and courts have rarely granted funding to indigent defendants for their treatment anyway.

 

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