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We need court cost reform

A Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that an Alpena County defendant must pay for the state’s costs in administering his court case is now precedent.

By publishing their opinion, the appellate justices said their ruling that Travis Johnson must pay $1,200 in court costs can be used as case law when attorneys make future arguments about defendants’ obligation to repay the courts for convicting them.

We don’t begrudge the justices for their opinion. They just followed what the Legislature had written.

But we agree with Johnson’s attorneys’ argument that charging defendants court costs can incentivize courts to convict so they can recoup their expenses.

We also believe the problem goes beyond that. Crime and poverty go hand-in-hand, and charging defendants for the cost of putting them in jail or prison (where they can’t earn a living, anyway) can put them or their family further behind on their bills, which could only encourage more crime. Sometimes, defendants end up back in jail for failing to pay court costs, thereby creating new court costs and a vicious cycle that keeps people behind bars.

Society has decided criminal justice a worthwhile endeavor to keep our streets safe. We have to be willing to pay for it.

The Legislature has discussed court financing reforms for years, but have made little headway.

We encourage lawmakers to finally enact changes to the way we fund our courts, to take it off the backs of the impoverished, which only makes society worse.

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