Paying for Court in Michigan

2014 was a pivotal year for courts in the state of Michigan. Until that year, local court administrators were charging those convicted in their systems with hefty “court costs”—essentially, fees to help cover the costs of operating the courts, to include building maintenance fees and salaries of court staff members.

If you are convicted of intoxicated driving in Michigan, the penalties could include substantial monetary fines and court costs. But what exactly are you paying for when you are ordered to pay these “court costs?” Learn more here.

The Costs of the Court System

Public court systems cost money to operate. There are salaries to be paid among the judges, prosecutors, clerks, and numerous other staff members that serve in the court system, and funding is also needed to support the many programs that the court operates, such as veterans’ court and drug court.

One major source of revenue for these expenditures is the court costs that criminal defendants are required to pay upon conviction.

Court Costs Challenged

Local court administrators continued to hit convicts with substantial charges—sometimes up to $1,600—until the practice was challenged in the 2014 case ofPeople v. Cunningham. This case made its way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which ultimately decided that local courts did not have the authority to impose costs to convicts as they saw fit; rather, local courts could only impose costs that were specifically set forth by statute.

Legality of Court Costs in Michigan

It did not take long for Michigan lawmakers to respond to this ruling. Later that same year, House Bill 5785 swiftly passed through both chambers of the Michigan legislature, thereby making it legal for local courts to impose any “reasonable” costs to people convicted in their systems—including salaries, maintenance fees, and operation costs.

Until the passage of House Bill 5785 in 2014, Michigan courts were only allowed to charge defendants with costs that had been incurred from prosecuting their particular cases. For example, the costs of any emergency responders or investigators that had worked on the case could be recouped through the defendant’s court costs.

However, HB 5785 made it legal for courts to impose any “reasonable” costs on convicted persons, including expenses for the maintenance and operation of public court facilities, any goods or services needed for the court’s operation, and salaries and benefits for court staff.

“Allowing the jail to collect from the convicted creates a potential conflict of interest, not unlike that which exists in civil forfeiture law,” says Michigan defense attorney Patrick Barone.

HB 5785 is set to expire in 2017, at which time Michigan lawmakers will once again take up the debate over court costs.