No Summer Resolution to Big Dispute Over Paying Court Costs in Michigan

By Associated Press

July 25, 2022

DETROIT—The Michigan Supreme Court signaled Friday that there will be no summer decision in a high-stakes dispute over whether people convicted of crimes can be ordered to pay to keep the lights on and cover other operating costs in local courts.

The court heard arguments in April and subsequently asked the parties to file more briefs addressing certain issues.

The law, which raises millions of dollars each year, expires Oct. 1, though there’s a bill in the Legislature to extend it until fall 2025.

In its latest order, the Supreme Court said it will hear more arguments on three points in the months ahead, including whether judges assessing costs creates a potential for bias.

Critics argue that it’s unconstitutional for a judge to oversee a criminal case and also have power to order someone to pay a share of keeping the building clean and office supplies stocked.

“The simple fact is that courts are not a private enterprise. Criminal defendants are not a special class of citizens upon whom the expenses of state government should be levied,” said the Detroit Justice Center, which represents low-income Detroit residents.

The money goes to a court’s local government, but only people convicted of crimes must pay, not others who use the courts. Nothing is deducted from the budget of prosecutors who lose cases.

From 2018 through 2020, courts collected $108 million statewide, 75% of it in District Courts, which handle traffic tickets, drunken driving cases and other misdemeanors mostly committed by people who can least afford to pay.

Costs can vary by community. Some judges don’t order them.


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