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Court Costs May Only Be Ordered For Defendants If Allowed By Legislature

Jun 19, 2014

MI Supreme Court: Judges can't impose fines for court costs on their own

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.

Michigan Hall of Justice.
Credit wikimedia commons

It's been routine in Michigan for judges to order defendants to 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 a thousand dollars 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 there are instances where the Legislature has authorized judges to impose fines to recoup costs to the legal system. But, the opinion says, 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.