Judges can't order convicts to pay court costs in all cases

Jun 19, 2014

Judges may not impose court costs on all persons convicted of a crime, says Michigan Supreme Court.
Judges may not impose court costs on all persons convicted of a crime, says Michigan Supreme Court.
Credit Joe Gratz / Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court says judges can’t order people convicted of a crime to pay the costs to the legal system – unless it’s been specifically allowed by the Legislature.
   
It’s been routine in Michigan for judges to order defendants to pay prosecution and court costs as a part of sentencing.

In this case, Frederick Cunningham was convicted in Allegan County of a prescription drug offense. The judge ordered Cunningham to pay $1,000 in unspecified “court costs.” But Michigan’s prescription drug law doesn’t mention court costs.

Cunningham sued, and lost in lower courts. But the state Supreme Court said although there are instances where the Legislature has authorized judges to impose fines to recoup costs to the legal system, if that permission isn’t specifically outlined in the law defining the crime, the court can’t simply impose it on its own.

The decision was unanimous – with the court’s five Republicans and two Democrats in agreement.