Michigan Court of Appeals Holds Probation Fee Improper

On April 21, 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals held in a criminal case that a trial court erred in ordering defendant to pay a $100 probation enhancement fee. 

In People v Juntikka, Docket No. 318300, the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed another appeal involving a challenge to a trial court's order to pay certain fees and costs at the conclusion of a criminal case. 

The Court first recited the facts of the case.

On January 23, 2013, defendant pleaded guilty to one count of failing to register as a sex offender, MCL 28.729. The trial court sentenced defendant to a five-year probationary term and 12 months in the county jail. The court additionally ordered defendant to pay several financial charges, including a $100 probation enhancement fee.

On August 6, 2013, defendant filed a motion for resentencing, contending, among other things, that the $100 probation enhancement fee was improper because it was an unauthorized assessment. The court denied defendant’s motion, explaining that the probation enhancement fee covered items including “gloves so that the probation agents may test bodily fluids more safely” and “cell phones so that [agents] can quickly respond to issues that may arise.” The trial court concluded that because defendant was on probation, the fee rendered him a potential benefit and so fell within the ambit of MCL 771.3(2)(d) . . . .

The Court's analysis of whether the trial court committed error in ordering defendant to pay a $100 probation enhancement fee at sentencing followed.

In People v Teasdale, 335 Mich 1, 6; 55 NW2d 149 (1952), our Supreme Court held that an order of costs against a convicted defendant “excludes expenditures in connection with the maintenance and functioning of governmental agencies that must be borne by the public.” Likewise, in People v Newton, 257 Mich App 61, 69-70; 665 NW2d 504 (2003), this Court affirmed that “[t]he payment of salaries and overtime pay to the investigators, the purchase of surveillance equipment, the purchase and maintenance of vehicles, and other similar expenditures” could not be imposed against a defendant in a restitution order because they were general costs of investigation. Id. at 69 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). This Court further explained that costs are general in nature if they “would have been incurred without regard to whether [the] defendant was found to have engaged in criminal activity.” Id.

In this case, the probation enhancement fee was not specific to defendant, but instead accounted for general operating costs incurred by the probation department. The trial court explained that the probation enhancement fee was used to fund the purchase of equipment such as gloves and cell phones that enabled probation officers to perform their duties more efficiently. Because the court was not independently authorized to impose any assessment under MCL 771.3(2)(d), the $100 probation enhancement fee was not separately authorized by statute, and the fee imposed was not a cost “specifically incurred” in defendant’s case under MCL 771.3(5), the trial court erred in imposing the probation enhancement fee upon defendant . . . .