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What if You Can’t Afford Fines & Costs?

Clarkston Legal June 5, 2016

Debtor’s Prison apparently has been eliminated in Michigan following a significant change to the applicable court rule. Now, prior to sending a convicted defendant to jail for failing to pay fines and court costs, defendants have an opportunity to establish a “manifest hardship”.

The process to assist indigent criminal defendants started two years ago and culminated last week when the Michigan Supreme Court adopted new court rules regarding the payment of fines. Following a comment period and a hearing, Michigan Court Rule 6.425 was amended to require judges to conduct an inquiry as to the defendant’s ability to pay prior to incarceration for a failure to pay.

That same inquiry must be made before a judge can revoke a defendant’s probation. A defendant can be incarcerated and can be judged in violation of their probation when the failure to pay fines and costs is due to the lack of a good faith effort to pay in the absence of a “manifest hardship” regarding their finances.

As an alternative to fines and costs, a judge can impose a payment plan, community service, or waiver of monies owed.

In determining whether a manifest hardship exists, the judge shall consider the following criteria:

(i) Defendant’s employment status and history.

(ii) Defendant’s employability and earning ability.

(iii) The willfulness of the defendant’s failure to pay.

(iv) Defendant’s financial resources.

(v) Defendant’s basic living expenses including but not limited to food, shelter, clothing, necessary medical expenses, or child support.

(vii) Any other special circumstances that may have bearing on the defendant’s ability to pay.

If you or a family member are facing fines and costs that you are unable to pay, be sure to request a hearing to allow you to establish a hardship based on the above criteria.