Although the court system is a public service, like schools, roads and libraries, the costs of the court system fall disproportionately on those least able to afford it: low-income criminal defendants.
Typically, public services are funded through taxes, reflecting the fact that the state provides those services for everyone’s benefit. Courts, however, are treated differently from other public services: they obtain much of their funding from the fines, fees and costs they impose on people who are indigent. As a result, even the smallest of offenses can result in an enormous and financially crippling bill.
In March 2018 the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about whether certain court costs are unlawfully imposed because they are a tax. The ACLU of Michigan joined the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan (CDAM) and the Legal Services Association of Michigan (LSAM) in filing a friend-of-the-court brief, arguing that the costs are an impermissible tax and emphasizing the inequity of the current system for court funding. The outcome of the case could significantly affect how Michigan’s courts are funded.
(People v. Cameron; ACLU Attorney Miriam Aukerman; Anne Yantus of CDAM and Robert Gillett of LSAM.)