court fines | Michigan Radio
WUOMFM

court fines

pile of one dollar bills
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Civil asset forfeiture. Court fines and fees. Property tax foreclosure laws.

All are things local governments in Michigan use to operate and fund themselves. And all could be changed by a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The case had to do with whether police in Indiana could seize a man’s car after he was charged with selling heroin.

Even though the man was convicted, the court ruled the seizure was illegal because the car was worth many times more than the maximum fine for the crime. In other words, it was an excessive fine or fee—the kind prohibited by the Constitution’s 8th Amendment.

Scott / FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

What is the most appropriate way to pay for criminal courts in Michigan? That's the essential question before the Michigan Trial Court Funding Commission.

The commission is grappling with how much of the cost of administering justice should be paid for by the people who use the courts, i.e. those who are ticketed and/or arrested -- and how much of the financial burden should fall to citizens, regardless of whether or not they'll ever see the inside of a courtroom.

Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court / court.mi.gov

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether it’s legal for judges to order defendants to pay fees and court costs.

One defendant is challenging the practice, which he says violates the state constitution.

Shawn Cameron Junior was ordered to pay more than $1,600 in court costs after he was convicted of assault. He says that amounts to a tax, and only the legislature can enact taxes. Cameron says courts can also be arbitrary in how they set the charges.

Judge's gavel
Flickr user Joe Gratz / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Peggy Toms can't figure out why so many jurors just aren't showing up lately, but she knows it's getting worse.

The Livingston County Circuit Court Administrative Coordinator says she doesn't think the court's ever had to let an accused person go free because it couldn't find enough jurors, but - “You’d never want it to get to that point,” Toms says of all the no-shows.

prison bars
Flickr user FatMandy / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A suburban Detroit judge accused of sending poor people to jail if they couldn't immediately pay court fines has agreed to end that practice.

Courts aren't allowed to force indigent people to choose between paying a fine they can't afford, or going to jail – a practice that’s called “pay or stay.”

But the ACLU of Michigan says Eastpointe Judge Carl Gerds III was routinely doing just that.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court is proposing a rule that would strengthen the ban on sending poor people to jail if they can't afford to pay fines.

Some District Court judges continue to order so-called pay-or-stay sentences, although the U.S. Supreme Court banned the practice in the 1980s.

The proposed rule says a judge cannot send someone to jail for failing to pay a fine unless the defendant can afford it without significant hardship. Judges could come up with a payment plan or waive all or part of the money owed.

Gavel
Joe Gratz / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Next Idea

Traffic tickets and low-level misdemeanors aren’t supposed to ruin lives and cost taxpayers millions.

For most of these offenses, paying a fine or arguing a case before a judge should be a fairly straightforward, low-hassle matter.

Yet there are plenty of reasons why these minor violations end up as major problems.

via 38th District Court

A low-income Metro Detroit woman who faced jail time over dog license fees got help from a higher court this week.

The Macomb County Circuit Court stepped in to stop an Eastpointe judge from sentencing Donna Anderson.

Anderson told 38th District Court Judge Carl Gerds she couldn’t afford the $455 in licensing costs and court fees.