The best-known goal of the criminal justice system is to mete out the appropriate punishments for individuals who break the law. But another objective is to assist the victims of crimes and help them regain what they lost. This second purpose is most commonly seen in property crimes where the judge orders the convicted person to provide restitution to the victim. This restitution is often referred to as the offender's legal financial obligations (or LFOs).
In most cases, Washington law dictates that the state has ten years from the date of conviction to collect LFOs from a felony offender; but during the ten-year period, the state can ask that the time be extended if the LFOs have not been met to the state's satisfaction.
One such case involving LFOs took center stage earlier this month. Back in October of 1992, Frank Havens was convicted on assault charges, received a 12-month prison sentence, and was ordered to pay almost $3,900 in restitution. In 1999, a bench warrant was issued for Havens because he allegedly wasn't making the proper payments (Havens did not attend court to address the warrant because he was in an Idaho prison at the time). Then in December of 2002, the trial court extended the LFO period for an additional ten years because the debts had not been repaid. Havens appealed the extension, saying it was issued two months after the ten-year LFO period expired.
The state argued that the bench warrant tolled (i.e., stopped the clock on) the original LFO period, and the trial court agreed. But earlier this month, the Washington Court of Appeals Division III rule 2-1 that the law did not permit a bench warrant to toll the LFO period. As a result, the trial court's decision was reversed, and Havens was released from his LFO obligations.