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Should the law consider local court costs 'illegal taxes?'

Nobody likes to go to court for a criminal matter, and more importantly, nobody likes to be convicted. Then, to add insult to injury, most criminal courts will levy exorbitant court costs against the defendants they convict. Unfortunately, most low-income criminal defendants can't afford to pay these costs, and the money owed can cause problems for defendants later on down the road -- even resulting in further jail time.

Nevertheless, the law is the law, and if we've been convicted of a crime, we have to pay, right? Maybe not. According recent Michigan Supreme Court case, it's possible that imposing court costs on criminal defendants is unlawful.

According to the strong legal arguments presented in the Supreme Court case, the costs that local judges order are actually "illegal taxes." As it stands, Michigan law states that convicts can be forced to pay for part of the operating expenses the court incurred while trying their cases, but this recent case argues that such requirements are unconstitutional and that they unfairly treat those convicted of crimes by making convicts shoulder a larger burden than the rest of society.

The convicted man at the center of this case was found guilty of assault with the intent to cause bodily harm, resulting in the assessment of $1,600 in court fees along with other fines and fees. If the Supreme Court rejects his appeal, he will likely be forced to pay the fine like everyone else. If he prevails, it could change the requirements for others convicted of crimes in the state.

Whether this man will have to pay his fee remains to be seen. However, if the court removes these court cost requirements for people convicted of crimes, it will represent an incredible step forward for the inherent human rights of all individuals convicted of crimes in our state.

Source: Michigan Watchdog, "Michigan Supreme Court to decide if local court costs are ‘illegal taxes’," Bethany Blankley, March 20, 2018

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