Funding the Criminal Justice System By Charging the Poor

October 15, 2014

When Frederick Cunningham was convicted of a drug offense, he was also charged $1000 in unspecified court costs. Allegan County used the money it collected from people like Cunningham for general operating costs, such as courthouse maintenance and an employee fitness center.

The ACLU of Michigan, along with the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan (CDAM), filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Michigan Supreme Court in March 2014, arguing that imposing costs on indigents to fund general court operating expenses is illegal and unfairly burdens those least able to pay. In a unanimous decision in June 2014, the Supreme Court held that imposing such costs was not authorized under Michigan law.

Unfortunately, the legislature then passed a bill to negate the court decision and authorize such costs. However, the ACLU was able to successfully advocate for a provision prohibiting individuals from being incarcerated for inability to pay such costs.

(People v. Cunningham; ACLU Attorney Miriam Aukerman and Legal Fellow Sofia Nelson; Christopher Smith for CDAM)

To view the full 2014-2015 Legal Docket, click here.

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