You Cannot Be Jailed for Failing to Pay Fines You Cannot Afford

The Michigan Supreme Court recently made changes to the Court Rules which brings them in line with caselaw about a person’s ability to pay fines, fees, and costs. This is wonderful news as the courts long ago determined that jailing someone for failing to pay fines without first determining whether the individual has the ability to pay is a violation of the his or her constitutional rights. Bearden v Georgia, 461 US 660 (1983).

This change is an important re-write of MCR 6.425, which now says that “The court shall not sentence a defendant to a term of incarceration, nor revoke probation, for failure to comply with an order to pay money unless the court finds, on the record, that the defendant is able to comply with the order without manifest hardship and that the defendant has not made a good faith effort to comply with the order.” To make this hardship determination, the court has to consider criteria such as the person’s employment status, earning ability, and the intention of the person who has not paid. It must also consider the person’s other financial resources and obligations. If the court does find hardship, it may either impose an alternative penalty or waive the costs all together. This is a valuable and important change to because it lends support to what many have been arguing for years: The courts cannot punish people for failing to do something that they cannot actually do. This is a step toward a better understanding of people’s situations when they are before a judge and eliminating the idea of a debtor’s prison in Michigan. The courts now have specific guidelines about hardship determinations where they didn’t before. This should help all courts better evaluate situations where jail is not appropriate for someone before them. This also gives attorneys more leverage in situations where clients simply cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars in fines and costs. This new regulation reaffirms that I you cannot pay, there are options for you to pursue. If you are facing criminal charges or financial review and think that this regulation may be important to you in your matter, contact an experienced attorney who can help you decide how to raise this issue before the court. Collis & Griffor primarily serves the cities of Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Canton, Saline and Belleville and the counties of Wayne and Washtenaw, although we extend our legal services throughout the State of Michigan. If you are looking for an attorney in Ypsilanti MI, call Collis & Griffor, PC today at 734.827.1337 or contact us to set up an appointment for a consultation.

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