Under Washington state law, legal financial obligations (LFOs) are assessed to people that “use” the criminal legal system across the state. State courts have ruled on how taxes, fees, and user charges are assessed upon residents; however, imposition of LFOs is predominantly at judicial discretion and under a broad statutory scheme of criminal punishment for victim restitution and government revenue generation. State jurisprudence of taxes and user charges offers clarity to how LFOs can be more equitably and efficiently organized and imposed by courts across Washington. This paper expands on the history of fines in Anglo-American law to outline the development of the dual purpose of criminal monetary sanctions: punishment and government revenue. This paper uses the statutory and other legally-determined characteristics of taxes and user charges to characterize and categorize how the courts and the legislature should structure the assessment of LFOs and consider how local and state programs generate revenue from the criminal legal system. By applying non-criminal taxes, regulatory fees, and user charges jurisprudence to the criminal legal system fines and fees structure, this analysis considers shifting the statutory sentencing and assessment structure of LFOs to a day fines structure and limiting the LFOs that are imposed upon people during their interaction with the criminal legal system.

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