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People v. Cameron

Court of Appeals of Michigan

April 4, 2017

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SHAWN LOVETO CAMERON, JR., Defendant-Appellant.

         Washtenaw Circuit Court LC No. 13-001315-FH

          Before: Beckering, P.J., and O'Connell and Borrello, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         In this criminal proceeding, defendant Shawn Cameron, Jr., comes before this Court in an appeal of right for a second time. At issue in the instant appeal is whether the imposition of court costs under MCL 769.1k(1)(b)(iii) constitutes an unconstitutional tax. Defendant is not the first person to challenge the constitutionality of MCL 769.1k(1)(b)(iii) on this basis; however, there are no published opinions on the issue. We conclude that although it imposes a tax, MCL 769.1k(1)(b)(iii) is not unconstitutional, and we affirm the trial court's assessment of court costs.

         I. PERTINENT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A jury convicted defendant of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, MCL 750.84, based on his role in an attack on a woman over a dispute regarding the payment of babysitting fees. The trial court sentenced him as a fourth habitual offender, MCL 769.12, to serve 13 months to 20 years' imprisonment. The court also ordered defendant to pay certain costs and fees, including $1, 611 in court costs.

         Defendant appealed by right, arguing that the trial court lacked the statutory authority to impose court costs, and that the Legislature's retroactive grant of such authority was unconstitutional. Relying on binding precedent, a panel of this Court disagreed. People v Cameron, unpublished opinion per curiam of the Court of Appeals, issued July 28, 2015 (Docket No. 321387). However, the panel remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of whether the court costs imposed were "reasonably related to actual costs incurred by the trial court, " as required by MCL 769.1k(1)(b)(iii).

         On remand, the trial court explained the basis for the imposition of $1, 611 in court costs:

The Washtenaw County Trial Court previously established a factual basis for the court costs it has imposed on each felony case at the time of sentencing. The costs were computed based on the ten year average annual total court budget of $16, 949, 292 multiplied by the average annual percentage of all filings which are felonies, i.e., 22%, which revealed the average annual budget for the Washtenaw Trial Court's handling of all of its criminal felony cases. This amount was then divided by the average annual number of felony filings over [the] last 6 years (2, 217) which resulted in the average court costs of handling each felony case as $1, 681. The state costs were subtracted ($68) as well as an additional $2, resulting in the sum of $1, 611 being assessed per felony case.

         On this basis, the court concluded that the amount of court costs imposed on defendant was reasonably related to the actual costs incurred by the trial court.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Defendant argues that the court cost assessment provision set forth in MCL 769.1k constitutes a tax, as opposed to a fee, because it raises revenue and criminal defendants do not pay court costs voluntarily. Defendant maintains that the costs cannot be considered a proportionate fee for services because criminal defendants are not being provided a service when they are subjected to prosecution in a court of law. As a tax, defendant contends that MCL 769.1k(1)(b)(iii) is unconstitutional because it violates Const 1963, art 4, § 32, which provides that "[e]very law [that] imposes, continues or revives a tax shall distinctly state the tax." Moreover, defendant claims that there is no limit on the amount of costs that might be imposed under the statute. Defendant also argues that MCL 769.1k violates the separation of powers provision of Const 1963, art 3 § 2.

         A. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         "Whether a charge is a permissible fee or an illegal tax is a question of law." Dawson v Secretary of State, 274 Mich.App. 723, 740; 739 N.W.2d 339 (2007) (quotation marks and citation omitted). This Court reviews constitutional questions de novo.[1] People v Conat, 238 Mich.App. 134, 144; 605 N.W.2d 49 (1999). "Statutes are presumed to be constitutional and must be construed as such unless it is clearly apparent that the statute is unconstitutional." In re RFF, 242 Mich.App. 188, 205; 617 N.W.2d 745 (2000). "[T]he burden of proving that a statute is unconstitutional rests with the party challenging it." In re Request for Advisory Opinion Regarding Constitutionality of 2005 PA 71, 479 Mich. 1, 11; 740 N.W.2d 444 (2007).

          B. APPLICABLE LAW

         The assessment of court costs against a convicted defendant is governed by MCL 769.1k(1)(b)(iii), which provides:

(b) The court may impose any or all of the following:
(iii) Until 36 months after the date the amendatory act that added subsection (7) is enacted into law, any cost reasonably related to the actual costs incurred by the trial court without separately calculating those costs involved in the particular case, including, but not limited to, the following:
(A)Salaries and benefits for relevant court personnel.
(B)Goods and services necessary for the operation of the court.
(C)Necessary expenses for the operation and maintenance of court buildings and facilities.

         As defendant points out in his brief, separate panels of this Court have come to different conclusions in unpublished opinions with respect to whether court costs imposed under MCL 769.1k(1)(b)(iii) constitute a fee or a tax. Upon review of the issue, we agree with the analysis and conclusions set forth in People v Bailey, ...


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