People v. Jackson

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Citation769 N.W.2d 630,483 Mich. 271
Docket NumberCalendar No. 2.,Docket No. 135888.
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Harvey Eugene JACKSON, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date10 July 2009

Michael A. Cox, Attorney General, B. Eric Restuccia, Solicitor General, Eric J. Smith, Prosecuting Attorney, Robert Berlin, Chief Appellate Attorney, and Mary Jo Diegel, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for the People.

State Appellate Defender (by Valerie Newman) for the defendant.

Brian A. Peppler, Kym L. Worthy, Timothy A. Baughman, and Marilyn A. Eisenbraun for the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.



This case presents us with several questions regarding the process by which Michigan trial courts impose attorney fees on convicted criminal defendants who have used court-appointed attorneys. Specifically, we first asked whether People v. Dunbar, 264 Mich.App. 240, 690 N.W.2d 476 (2004), correctly decided that, before imposing a fee for a court-appointed attorney, a trial court must make a presentence articulation of its conclusion that the defendant has a foreseeable ability to pay the fee. We conclude that Dunbar was incorrect to the extent that it required a court to conduct an ability-to-pay analysis before imposing a fee for a court-appointed attorney, and we hold that such an analysis is only required once the imposition of the fee is enforced. Further, we hold that once an ability-to-pay assessment is triggered, the court must consider whether the defendant remains indigent and whether repayment would cause manifest hardship. Finally, we conclude that remittance orders of prisoner funds, under MCL 769.1l, generally obviate the need for an ability-to-pay assessment with relation to defendants sentenced to a term of imprisonment because the statute is structured to only take monies from prisoners who are presumed to be nonindigent.


Before May 4, 2006, defendant, Harvey E. Jackson, did odd jobs around the home of an acquaintance, Cosma Agrusa. On that day, however, defendant broke into Agrusa's home and assaulted her. He then gathered various pieces of Agrusa's property, pulled the telephone line from the wall, and left the home. Eventually, defendant was charged with several crimes for these actions. As a result of his indigency, defendant was given court-appointed counsel, who negotiated a plea with the prosecutor. Hence, defendant pleaded nolo contendere to first-degree home invasion,1 assault with intent to rob while unarmed,2 and tampering with telephone lines.3 On December 14, 2006, defendant was sentenced to an eight-year minimum prison term, which was in accordance with the plea agreement. In addition, the trial court imposed various costs and fines, including $725 for "Initial Defense Costs," i.e., his court-appointed attorney's fee. The trial court did not articulate whether it evaluated defendant's foreseeable ability to pay the attorney fee. Defendant then began serving his prison term.

On January 17, 2007, the trial court issued an order to remit prisoner funds for fines, costs, and assessments. This order allowed the Department of Corrections to begin taking money from defendant's prisoner account to satisfy the various fees and costs imposed by the trial court.

Defendant requested appellate counsel, and the State Appellate Defender Office (SADO) was appointed.4 On defendant's behalf, SADO moved the trial court to correct defendant's sentence, arguing (among other things) that the trial court incorrectly imposed the attorney fee without considering defendant's ability to pay it. The trial court denied the motion, and SADO filed a delayed application for leave to appeal in the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal for lack of merit. SADO requested leave to appeal in this Court, and we granted leave. People v. Jackson, 483 Mich. 884, 759 N.W.2d 401 (2009).


Defendant challenges the constitutionality of the procedure used to impose and enforce a fee for his court-appointed attorney. This presents a question of constitutional law, which is reviewed de novo. Sidun v. Wayne Co. Treasurer, 481 Mich. 503, 508, 751 N.W.2d 453 (2008).5


In this case, defendant relies on People v. Dunbar to contend that his constitutional rights were violated when the trial court imposed a fee on him for his court-appointed attorney without expressly contemplating his foreseeable ability to pay the fee. To evaluate this claim we must assess (a) the United States Supreme Court's opinions on other states' attempts to recoup fees for court-appointed attorneys; (b) Dunbar's interpretation of those opinions; (c) Michigan's recoupment procedure for fees for court-appointed attorneys; (d) the validity of Dunbar's presentence ability-to-pay rule, and (e) the constitutionality of Michigan's recoupment procedure for attorney fees.


In 1963 the United States Supreme Court delivered its seminal decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S.Ct. 792, 9 L.Ed.2d 799 (1963), which held that the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that all criminal defendants be afforded legal counsel during trial. This constitutional requirement applies to the states, and it requires them to provide legal counsel to indigent criminal defendants who request an attorney. Id. at 342-345, 83 S.Ct. 792. Since Gideon, numerous states have instituted various procedures in an effort to recoup the costs of providing indigent defendants with legal counsel. Some defendants have challenged the propriety of specific recoupment procedures, which has given the United States Supreme Court occasion to evaluate the constitutionality of those procedures.

First, in James v. Strange, 407 U.S. 128, 92 S.Ct. 2027, 32 L.Ed.2d 600 (1972), the Court held that a Kansas statute requiring payment of fees for court-appointed attorneys was unconstitutional because it did not give defendants who owed the state a debt the same debtor exemptions that civil debtors received under the state's laws. Specifically, a defendant who owed the state of Kansas for his court-appointed attorney could only exempt his homestead from collection, whereas the normal civil debtor had a host of other exemptions. Id. at 130-131, 92 S.Ct. 2027. James held that the difference in the laws' application to indigent defendants and other civil debtors violated equal protection principles. Id. at 140-142, 92 S.Ct. 2027.

Second, in Fuller v. Oregon, 417 U.S. 40, 94 S.Ct. 2116, 40 L.Ed.2d 642 (1974), the Court reviewed a recoupment statute that gave the trial court the discretion to impose a fee for a court-appointed attorney only when the defendant was convicted and, at the time of sentencing, adjudged to have a foreseeable ability to pay the fee. Id. at 44-45, 94 S.Ct. 2116. The recoupment statute also allowed the defendant the opportunity to request a remission of the earlier-imposed fee when payment would impose a manifest hardship. Id. at 45-46, 94 S.Ct. 2116. The statute also proscribed punishing the defendant for lack of payment, unless he was able to pay but simply refused. Id. The Court took special notice that the statute was "quite clearly directed only at those convicted defendants who are indigent at the time of the criminal proceedings against them but who subsequently gain the ability to pay the expenses of legal representation." Id. at 46, 94 S.Ct. 2116. Further, "those [defendants] upon whom a conditional obligation is imposed are not subjected to collection procedures until their indigency has ended and no `manifest hardship' will result." Id.

The Fuller Court did not accept the defendant's claim that the statute violated equal protection requirements because the statute was objectively rational and was not based on invidious discrimination. Id. at 46-50, 94 S.Ct. 2116. The Court also rejected the defendant's claim that the statute infringed his constitutional right to counsel, noting that "[t]he fact that an indigent who accepts state-appointed legal representation knows that he might someday be required to repay the costs of these services in no way affects his eligibility to obtain counsel." Id. at 53, 94 S.Ct. 2116. Accordingly, Fuller affirmed the constitutionality of Oregon's recoupment statute. Id. at 54, 94 S.Ct. 2116.

Finally, in Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 103 S.Ct. 2064, 76 L.Ed.2d 221 (1983), the Court considered a trial court's decision to revoke a defendant's probation, and remand him to prison, for his inability to pay a fine, which was imposed as part of his probation sentence. Id. at 662, 103 S.Ct. 2064. Relying on notions of due process and fundamental fairness, the Court held that in order to punish a defendant for "failure to pay a fine or restitution, a sentencing court must inquire into the reasons for the failure to pay." Id. at 672, 103 S.Ct. 2064. "If the [defendant] willfully refused to pay or failed to make sufficient bona fide efforts legally to acquire the resources to pay, the court may revoke probation...." Id. But simply punishing a defendant for his lack of payment, without analyzing his fault in the lack of payment, "would deprive [him] of his ... freedom simply because, through no fault of his own, he cannot pay the fine." Id. at 672-673, 103 S.Ct. 2064. "Such a deprivation would be contrary to the fundamental fairness required by the Fourteenth Amendment." Id. at 673, 103 S.Ct. 2064.


In Dunbar, our Court of Appeals was faced with a criminal defendant's argument that a trial court could not impose a fee for a court-appointed attorney without indicating that it had assessed his present and future capacity to pay the fee. Dunbar, 264 Mich.App. at 251, 690 N.W.2d 476. At the time, Michigan...

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