Michigan Supreme Court rules against court cost fines

Daniel Pepper, Staff Writer

A Michigan Supreme Court decision issued June 18 means courts cannot charge defendants court costs after convictions.

The case began in Allegan County in 2011 when Judge Margaret Zuzich Bakker assessed $1,000 in court costs to Frederick L. Cunningham, who’d pleaded guilty to obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. Cunningham, who was sentenced to spend one to four years in prison, challenged the court costs, eventually taking the case to the state supreme court.

Justice Stephen J. Markman wrote a unanimous opinion that stated, in part: “(State law) does not provide courts with the independent authority to impose costs upon criminal defendants.

Rather, it gives courts the authority to impose only those costs that the legislature has separately authorized by statute.”

Various fees are typically assessed by judges on convicted defendants, including certain amounts for the Crime Victim’s Rights Fund, for example.

Allegan County Circuit Court administrator Mike Day said in 2013 approximately $180,000 was fined from convicted defendants in circuit court and Allegan County was not unique.

“Certainly every circuit court I’m aware of and have had contact with do so,” Day said.

He defended the practice of charging court costs to convicted defendants.

“The personnel, the clerk, the deputy; the only reason they’re there is that defendant has allegedly committed a crime and is being tried for it,” Day said.

If the courts remain unable to assess court costs, Allegan County commissioners will have to fix the budget holes generated by the courts no longer being able to charge costs.

Day said he’s optimistic the state legislature will move to restore the charging of court costs.

“I expect we will see legislation introduced to create laws which will specifically deal with the ability of courts to assess costs,” he said.

For full story, pick up a copy of the June 26 issue of The Allegan County News or subscribe to the e-edition.

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