A person convicted of drunk driving in Michigan will be ordered to pay both fines and costs as part of his/her punishment. The maximum fine is set by law; for example, a first offense drunk driving has a maximum fine of $500.00. The same is not true however of the maximum costs that a Michigan drunk driver might be ordered to pay. Costs in drunk driving cases can vary considerably from court to court, and even from judge to judge within the same court.
Judges in the Michigan Supreme Court recently looked at this question of costs and decided that Michigan law[i]provides courts only with the independent authority to impose costs specifically allowed and enumerated by statute. This question was presented because the defendant was ordered to pay $1,000.00, but there was no indication in the court’s order as to the basis for these costs. Because the trial judge never indicated the basis for the $1,000.00, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that they were not consistent with Michigan law.
In order to “fix” this problem, Michigan legislators have drafted house bill 5785. If this house bill became law, Michigan drunk drivers could literally be ordered to pay a pro-rata share of the judge’s salary and benefits, as well as those of the prosecutor and police officer. This is because the bill provides for drunk drivers, and those convicted of other crimes, to pay the “salaries and benefits for relevant court personnel.” The bill also provides for payment of “necessary expenses for the operation and maintenance of the court buildings and Facilities.”
This law is an about-face of the prior law in Michigan. Previously, the court found that costs do not include “the maintenance and functioning of governmental agencies that must be borne by the public irrespective of specific violations of the law”[ii].
This new bill, if passed, will essentially amount to a “user pays” system, which is contrary to our general system of jurisprudence and governance. For example, if you are divorced in Michigan, you will not be asked or required to pay for the court’s time and resources. Even a surgeon sued for malpractice will not be required to pay for the court’s time, or the judge’s salary and benefits. This is true even if the doctor’s malpractice resulted in serious injury, loss of a body function or even the loss of life.
Unfortunately, this proposed bill follows others that have already been enacted, and these laws place on those often least able to pay; Michigan’s citizens convicted of various crimes.
[i] MCL 769.1k(1)(b)(ii).
[ii] People v. Teasdale, 335 Mich. 1, 6 (1952).