The Michigan Supreme Court must reconsider the constitution of the law that forces low-income defendants to pay court bills

The Michigan Supreme Court will pass a law that allows judges to charge defendants to cover the costs of running the courts.  - SHUTTERLOCK

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  • The Michigan Supreme Court will pass a law that allows judges to charge defendants to cover the costs of running the courts.

The Michigan Supreme Court will reconsider a controversial state law that allows judges to force low-income criminal defendants to cover the costs of running the courts.

The case involves Travis Johnson, who was sentenced to pay $ 1,200 for a couple of convictions in 2017.

Opponents of the law claim it is unconstitutional and creates a conflict of interest for judges, which could ease budgetary pressure with a conviction. The costs also fall disproportionately on people who can afford the least.

A key focus of the case is whether the law “deprives criminal defendants of their right to appear before an impartial judge.” Associated Press first reported.

Between 2016 and 2019, the law allowed the courts to raise $ 172 million to pay for salaries, utilities and other services. Nearly three-quarters of the costs were generated in the district courts, which deal with relatively minor cases such as traffic fines and drink-driving.

The Supreme Court first took up the case in 2019, when opponents of the law made another argument – that the costs of the case constituted an illegal tax. The judges joined an appeals court that upheld the law.

At the time, Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack said the court could rule differently if the law is challenged for other constitutional reasons.

“Assigning judges to play tax collector erodes trust in the judiciary and can seriously jeopardize a defendant’s right to a neutral and detached judge,” McCormack said in a statement with Judge Richard Bernstein.

Since then, two more Democrats have been added to the court.

Governor Whitmer and state legislators extended the law until October 2022, but the Democratic governor, who is a lawyer, asked the legislature to develop a new system that “does not come at the expense of judicial independence and individual rights.”

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