MI Supreme Court Helping People Who Can’t Afford Court Fees - WLNS TV 6 Lansing - Jackson | Your Local News Leader

MI Supreme Court Helping People Who Can’t Afford Court Fees

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(WLNS) - If you've ever been through the court process you know court fees and fines can be pricey. Over time they've only become more expensive.

But did you know it's unconstitutional to put someone in jail if they can't afford those fees and they miss their payment? 6 News Joe Khalil reports it still happens in Michigan.

They say crime doesn't pay, but often criminal defendants do, hundreds, sometimes thousands in court fees.

"On a number of occasions, almost always, they have to ask for a payment plan. We're talking about significant amounts of money."

Defense attorney Andrew Abood says he sees it all too often, defendants unable to pay their fees and fines. He says if they miss one payment without notifying the court they could end up behind bars.

"Generally what they say is you're going to go to jail if you miss your payment,
 said Andrew Abood.


 "You can't put someone in jail because they can't pay their fees,” said John Nevin, Communications Director, Michigan Supreme Court.

Technically federal law says that's unconstitutional. But John Nevin, administrator with the state supreme court says it happens.

"A judge has to decide, can they pay or are they willfully not paying,” said Nevin.

But that decision will soon have more concrete guidelines. Michigan's Supreme Court has put together a statewide workgroup, tasked with creating clearer rules for paying court fees.

Defendants will be punished if they break the law, not if they break their bank.

Nevin says the work group is made up of a number of judges from different courts, as well as attorneys, clerks and court administrators. He says they want to have as many voices as possible and as many different viewpoints as they can on the table to correct this problem the best way they can.

"That's what the rule of law is all about, making sure everyone is treated the same and no one is above the law or no one’s treated differently because they might be poor and not able to pay,” said Nevin.

He's not sure what those new rules will look like yet, but Nevin says they'll be fair. The work group has only met once so far.

Nevins says they'll soon decide whether to implement their new rules through the court system or through the state legislature.
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