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Court costs declared constitutional by Court of Appeals

The South Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority (SOCRRA) and Madison Heights meet in court May 17.
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Michigan’s method for charging defendants who go through the legal system has been officially declared constitutional by the state Court of Appeals. The issue has been argued for years, but this is the first published opinion by the court.  

Defense attorneys argue the court costs are unfair, especially for poor defendants.

“It’s offensive and unfair to sentence clients to prison and to asses court costs and fines and fees against them that they’re actually never going to be able to pay,” said Marilena David-Martin of the State Appellate Defender’s office.  She says these costs hit poor defendants especially hard.


But advocates say they keep the courts running.

Mark Reene is the president of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Association of Michigan. He says they appreciate the finality of the decision.


“It does talk about, well an individual defendant may not be receiving a benefit from this, but obviously society is and the community is. That’s why what’s being done is constitutional and passes muster,” he said

When deciding what amount a defendant has to pay for court costs, the judge can only look at actual costs reasonably related to the case – like salaries for court employees and expenses for operating and maintaining the court building. The fee can be waived by the judge.   

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R