Here’s how it’s supposed to happen. The defendant gets arrested. Defendant’s mommy/daddy/parish priest posts bail on their behalf. Defendant eventually pleads guilty. The court assesses fines and costs. Defendant pays the fines and costs. Mommy/daddy/parish priest gets their bail money back.
Yeah, that’s not what the 86th District Court was doing. When bond was posted by mommy/daddy/parish priest, and the defendant eventually pleaded guilty, the court kept their money. Essentially, mommy/daddy/parish priest was paying the defendant’s fines and costs for the defendant because the court seized their bond money. That was the case even if the mommy/daddy/parish priest didn’t know that was the Grand Traverse way.
This came to light when the ACLU sent a demand letter to the 86th District Court telling them to stop. Only a day after the story broke on Upnorthlive, the 86th District Court released a statement saying that they were going to stop the practice.
Was it illegal for the 86th District Court to keep third party bond money?
Yes, it was illegal for the 86th District Court to keep third party bond money. First, Michigan Court Rule 6.106(I)(3) says that money must be applied to fines, costs and statutory assessments if the bond is executed by the defendant. Second, US federal law 28 USC 2044 says that payment of a fine with bond money shall not apply to any third party surety.
And finally, and most clearly, People v. Brow, 253 Mich 140 (1931) said that the surety’s obligation to guarantee the defendant’s presence in court ends at sentencing unless the third party consents otherwise.
In other words, the 86th District Court has been violating case law that has been known since 1931.
Here’s what bothers me.
The 86th District Court said – okay, you got us, we’ll stop — very fast. The letter from the ACLU is dated February 18. The response from the District Court came out on February 19. So no need to talk to Kit? Rethink the policy? Ask around other courts? The short turnaround from the court tells us that Judges Stepka and Cooney knew that they were doing wrong.
Second, there are many, many other instructive sources that told the court what they were doing was wrong long before a letter from the ACLU showed up. Here’s a source from SCAO about how the courts process a misdemeanor case. The outline says that third-party bail gets returned to the poster. Here’s a source from Isabella County stating that third-party bonds get returned to the poster. Here’s a memorandum from the Michigan Supreme Court. In addition, the response from Judge Stepka says that they’re going to follow practices from other courts in the state. How did you work out in just one day what the court practices are in other courts throughout the state?
I want to hear from the judges how they could have possibly not known that what they were doing was wrong. If we’re presumed to know the laws, aren’t you presumed to know the laws, especially about how to run your own court? Do you plan to refund fines and costs that were paid by third parties? What if the third parties specifically request that the money be returned? Are you aware of any other courts who made the same “mistake?” If not, why were you the only court that we know of that made that “mistake” that just happened to enrich yourselves (the court) at the expense of individuals not charged with crimes?