Michigan Supreme Court Orders a New Trial for Mother Jailed For Being Too Poor to Pay Child Support

August 01, 2012

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and University of Michigan Innocence Clinic is pleased that the Michigan Supreme Court ordered a new trial yesterday for a Detroit woman who was convicted of a felony for being too poor to pay more than $1,100 a month in child support. However, the ACLU expressed concern over the standard the Court adopted that would make it virtually impossible to prove that an individual is unable to pay.

In 2005, Selesa Likine was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. After a lengthy hospital stay, she was terminated from her job and has not been able to work since. In 2007, despite the fact that her only income was the $603 a month she received in Social Security benefits, the court increased her child support payments from $181 to $1131 a month.

The Friend of the Court mistakenly recommended the larger amount because of a commission Likine received in a one-time transaction selling real estate. It was her only sale and her real estate license lapsed in 2006 because she couldn’t pay for renewal and continuing education costs. Likine was later arrested and jailed for more than 40 days because she could not afford the assessed amount of child support.

Since then, a judge has adjusted Likine’s child support payments to $25 a month; however, she still owes tens of thousands of dollars in back payments.

The following can be attributed to Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director:

“Our most vulnerable members of society, like Ms. Likine, deserve our compassion and support. While we are pleased that the Michigan Supreme Court is allowing Ms. Likine to prove she cannot pay at a new trial, this decision does not go far enough to bring Michigan in line with the rest of the country. The “impossibility” standard adopted by the Court is inconsistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent and fails to take into account the realities facing poor people in Michigan. It’s likely that the “impossibility” standard will be impossible to meet.”