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What is the discharge date when a defendant is sentenced to only fines and costs?

Question as originally presented: How do you apply the ten-year-gap rule in a situation where the defendant is sentenced to fines and costs and the case is left open for the payments. Is the date that the trial court closes the case the “discharge date” for purposes of the ten-year-gap rule?

There is no binding legal authority specifically addressing the scenario you describe; accordingly, it is a question of law for the court to decide. 

For purposes of applying the ten-year-gap rule, discharge date is defined as “the date an individual is discharged from the jurisdiction of the court or the department of corrections after being convicted of or adjudicated responsible for a crime or an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult.” MCL 777.50(4)(b). Further, “[i]f a discharge date is not available, add either the time defendant was sentenced to probation or the length of the minimum incarceration term to the date of the conviction and use that date as the discharge date.” MCL 777.50(3).

Based on your question, it is not clear if the defendant remained on probation or otherwise under the jurisdiction of the court while the case remained “open” for the defendant to pay the fines and costs. The fact that the court classified the case as “open” does not impact the analysis under the ten-year-gap rule; the important question is whether the defendant was under the court’s jurisdiction. Accordingly, if the case being “open” means the defendant was under the court’s jurisdiction until it was closed, such as if the defendant was on probation until the fines and costs were paid, then the closure date is the date you should treat as the discharge date for purposes of the ten-year-gap rule.

It is not clear from the statute or from any binding caselaw whether simply owing fines and costs alone gives the court continuing jurisdiction over a defendant for purposes of the ten-year-gap rule. While a court can exercise its contempt power in response to a person’s failure to pay fines and costs, see MCL 600.1701(e), binding legal authority does not address whether this is the type of “jurisdiction” intended by the ten-year-gap rule; similarly, it is also not clear whether the court has jurisdiction over someone who owes fines and costs but is making all payments in conformity with the court’s original order. 

Note that in People v Cuellar, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued October 13, 2015 (Docket No. 319872), p 5-6, the defendant argued that his conviction date should be considered his discharge date where he was only sentenced to fines and costs; however, the Court rejected that argument because the defendant was in prison at the time he committed the crime for which he was sentenced to pay only fines and costs, and accordingly, the date he was discharged from prison was properly considered his discharge date. The Court did not address the defendant’s argument regarding the proper discharge date in a situation where a defendant is convicted and sentenced only to fines and costs. Id. Unpublished opinions are not precedentially binding. MCR 7.215(C)(1).

Tags: Ten-Year Gap Rule

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