June 18th, 2104: People v. Cunningham comes before the Michigan Supreme Court, and the Court comes to the decision that Michigan courts are not legally allowed to impose costs that are not authorized by existing statutes.

The law in question is MCL 769.1k(1)(b)(ii), which simply says “The court may impose…any cost in addition to the minimum state cost set forth in subdivision (a).”  It might sound like ‘any cost’ is pretty open-ended, and would allow the Michigan courts to create whatever sort of fee they believe is appropriate to the case at hand on the fly — but that’s not how the state Supreme Court took it.

Instead, they opined that because (ii) was not the end of the section, which indeed goes on in sections (iii), (iv), and (v) to name other specific costs like the defendant’s legal expenses, that (ii) was never intended to actually refer to “any” cost. They decided that “any cost” was limited to any cost that any other law would allow them to impose.

In People v. Cunningham, a man accused of acquiring controlled substances through the use of a forged prescription was handed a court-imposed bill for, among other things, $1,000 of unspecified “court costs” above and beyond what the statues normally allowed for things like state costs.  While there are several statutes that do give the courts authority to impose several different kinds of scopes of fines, this kind of completely arbitrary cost is no longer legal in the state of Michigan — a big victory for defendant’s rights.