The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to take a second look at a bill that allows the court to collect money from poor criminal defendants. Here’s what you should know.
Money, Money, Money
Courts are permitted to charge lower-class offenders to pay for court fees and other overhead costs. It might not sound like much, but these charges add up quickly and can cost the debtor thousands over time.
Between 2016-2019, Michigan courts collected over $172 million from petty charges and fines alone. In fact, over 75% of the funds came from misdemeanors like speeding or drunk driving. The people who were found guilty of these crimes have no choice but to pay the court or face more fines and fees.
Why Is It a Problem?
Other than the fact that these fees target people who can’t afford to pay them, they represent a more significant issue. According to the Constitution, everyone has the right to a fair trial by an unbiased judge. Many critics of these fines have pointed out that judges may be less inclined to quit these cases if the defendant is paying for the electric bill.
Unfortunately, district judges are often under immense pressure to appease local officials. Part of this pressure is the idea that convictions bring in money which helps with the court’s budget.
The Other Side
On the other side of the issue, many argue that these bills play a significant role in maintaining the court system, and without them, a vital resource could be lost.
Courts utilize a lot of resources from clerks to filing systems and, of course, the building costs. Other than taxes, courts get the bulk of their money from traffic fines, court fees, and other petty costs to the defendant. Without them, Michigan courts could face financial issues, which also affect the administration of justice.
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Charging poor offenders isn’t right, but many district courts rely on financial penalties to provide revenue and satisfy budgetary concerns. The Michigan Supreme Court will reevaluate the matter, but as of now, it’s unclear what officials would do to solve the problem.