House backs levying court costs on convicts

Gary Heinlein
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – — The state House voted Thursday to let courts levy operational costs against convicted defendants, approving a bill that would prevent losses of up to $100 million after a June ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia, would restore broader authority for local courts to collect fees. In a decision June 18, the state’s high court ruled that local trial courts cannot impose costs on convicted defendants unless the crime has a specific fee attached to it under state law.

Their ruling came out of a 2011 Allegan County case in which the attorney for a criminal defendant argued financial penalties imposed by courts should relate to the actual costs of trying a case.

The defendant, given a one- to four-year sentence for obtaining narcotics, had been ordered to pay $200 in state costs and a crime victim assessment, plus another $1,000 in unspecified court costs.

Dana Gill, government affairs associate for the Michigan Association of Counties, said since the June ruling, courts no longer can collect assessments on the vast majority of crimes.

“This has become a major budget issue for counties,” Gill said. “Trial courts have been losing money since June 18. We’re looking for a legislative fix to quickly address the issue brought about by the Supreme Court ruling.”

The association said the high court’s decision would result in an annual $1 million revenue cut for Wayne County.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia, would restore broader authority for local courts to collect court-cost fees. The bill passed 95-14 on Thursday would let courts assess for:

■Salaries and benefits of relevant court personnel.

■Goods and services necessary to operate the court.

■Expenses involved in maintaining court buildings and facilities.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, courts would have to make available to the public information about their costs, including an explanation of court costs that are being imposed, the bill specifies.

The Michigan Association of Counties worked with lawmakers and local officials for most of the summer to craft the legislation, spokesman Derek Melot said.

Walsh’s bill now has been sent to the Michigan Senate for consideration.

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