The Tri-City Herald reported July 4 that the Benton County Clerk’s Office had requested a warrant for the arrest of Jaclyn Rae Slater for failure to schedule a hearing to explain why she had fallen behind on payments to the Benton County Superior Court for legal financial obligations, or LFOs.
The state Court of Appeals ruled that the arrest warrant issued was invalid. A judge must determine the defendant’s willfulness to violate their payment obligations before an arrest warrant can be issued.
The ambiguity in the laws governing imposition, monitoring and enforcement of LFOs, and in the legal concepts of “hardship,” “indigent,” and “willful” gives court officials wide discretion in decisions about the citizens with whom they interact. A paternalistic, pay-or-appear policy ensures that defendants will experience strict scrutiny and surveillance from court officials, repeated bench warrants, arrest for nonpayment and ongoing admonishment for noncompliance with court orders, whatever their financial circumstances.
Benton County’s monetary sanctions remain a system of legal and moral judgments that disproportionately affect the poor. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a March 16, 2016, Justice News release said, “The consequences of the criminalization of poverty are not only harmful — they are far-reaching.”
Mickey Beary, Richland