For many offenses, especially misdemeanor offenses in a District Court, a judge will order a Defendant to pay various fines, costs, and expenses as part of a sentence and probation. This is true throughout all of Michigan’s courts. When a judge imposes those costs which are “legal financial obligations” or “LFO’s,”

a judge will typically allow the defendant to pay those during a certain period of time, or if the defendant is unable, automatically order that the defendant spend so many days in jail.

It is absolutely unconstitutional and illegal for a state court judge to put someone in jail because they are unable to pay a fine or a cost. A state court can not punish someone for being poor. It violates the Equal Protection of Due Process clause of the U.S. Constitution. This has been a black letter law since the Supreme Court addressed the issue in a case called Bearden v Georgia, 461U.S. 660, 672-673 (1983).

In fact, there are several Michigan state laws which require a sentencing judge to actually conduct a hearing to determine if a defendant is unable to pay before the judge throws that poor defendant in jail for failure to pay. See MCL 780.766(14); MCL 769.1F(7); MCL 769.1(a)(14); MCL 771.3(a); MCR 1.110.

A court may incarcerate a defendant for “willful” none payment, but not because they lack the resources to actually pay. It is a violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights to put a defendant in jail for failure to pay without conducting a proper hearing.

Recently, the Michigan State Court Administrative Office issued a final report and recommendations to the state court judges on how to handle this type of matter so poor people are not being put in jail for being poor.

If you have a criminal matter, then please contact our office for free consultation.

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