Indigent Defendant Should Not Have to Pay Thousands for Withdrawn Appeal

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Washington Supreme Court has ruled in favor of an indigent who could not pay thousands of dollars in costs for an appeal that was withdrawn.

In State v. Stump, Mr. Stump was convicted of possession of a controlled substance. His original public defender filed a notice of appeal in order to preserve Mr. Stump’s right to appeal the conviction.

Then his appellate public defender determined there were no viable legal issues to appeal. So, as is constitutionally required, she filed an Anders brief asking to withdraw from the case; an Anders brief is a mechanism that preserves a person’s right to appeal if he decides to get another attorney to appeal the case instead of the court-appointed appellate attorney. The appellate court commissioner granted the request.

The prosecution then hit Mr. Stump with a bill for more than $3000 in costs. After the court granted this request, Mr. Stump appealed the decision.

The ACLU of Washington, along with allies, filed an amicus brief challenging the practice of charging an indigent individual thousands of dollars to preserve the constitutional right to appeal. The brief pointed out that the courts did not analyze whether Mr. Stump had the ability to pay, although the fact that he was represented by a public defender clearly indicated that he could not do so.

Further, the brief pointed out that the Washington Supreme Court (in State v. Blazina) has made it clear that imposing costs on an indigent person has far-reaching effects, as it reduces their chances of successful reentry. Imposing costs on indigent individuals requires them to carry a debt for far longer than their wealthier counterparts (who can pay it off). And in the meantime, the debt impacts their credit rating and can prevent them from getting housing and employment.

In late April, the Supreme Court reversed the appeals court and found that “to serve the ends of justice,” the state could not impose the appellate costs on Mr. Stump.