Gov. Whitmer extends law that charges court costs on defendants

DETROIT (AP) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed another extension of a law making people convicted of crimes, typically low-income, responsible for a portion of local court costs.

The law, which makes millions of dollars for local governments, doesn’t apply to others who use Michigan’s court system. It has even been criticized by judges as at least unfair and at worst unconstitutional.

The state Supreme Court heard a challenge last spring from a man sentenced to pay $1,200 in Alpena County. But instead of settling the matter, the court said it would hear more arguments during his 2022-23 term.

Lawmakers voted in September to keep the law in place for another 18 months. Only 17 MPs opposed it. Whitmer, a Democrat, said she signed the extension last week.

R-Springport MP Sarah Lightner acknowledged that there is another “band-aid for this problem” while a long-term funding solution for the court can be explored.

A group called the Fines and Fees Justice Center tracks how states impose fines and fees in court. Co-director Lisa Foster said Michigan stands out because judges handling a criminal case are also given the power to order fines that benefit local government.

Persons convicted of criminal offenses may be ordered to pay part of the salaries of staff and building maintenance. Some judges don’t order it.

“People need to have confidence in a court system without the impression of bias. It’s a constitutional matter,” Foster said.

“The justice system is a core service of the government,” she added. “It’s meant to resolve disputes for the whole community and be paid for by the whole community like we pay for fire safety and police protection and schools, even though we may not have kids in schools.”

From 2018 to 2020, Michigan courts recovered $108 million statewide, 75% of it in district courts that deal with speeding tickets, drunk driving cases and other offenses committed primarily by the least caring can afford. Gov. Whitmer extends law that charges court costs on defendants

Dais Johnston

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