Sometimes, crime pays

At a time when Minnesota counties are digging under the couch cushions for spare change, the Minnesota Supreme Court today put a crimp in one of the Legislature’s revenue-generating plans — charging people for the cost of their incarceration in county jails.

The Court today upheld a 2008 law that allows counties to charge people for their confinement, but limited it to only the time they serve after they’re convicted of a crime.

In overturning a lower court ruling, the high court agreed with Andrew Jones, who was arrested and charged in Olmsted County with three counts of aggravated robbery, that he shouldn’t have to pay the $25 a day (total of $7,150) for the 286 days he was held in the Olmsted County jail before he pleaded guilty to all of the charges. Jones couldn’t make bail after his arrest.

The court wrestled with trying to figure out what the Legislature meant when it passed this part of the law:

(a) A county board may require that an offender convicted of a crime and confined in the county jail, workhouse, or correctional or work farm pay the cost of the offender’s room, board, clothing, medical, dental, and other correctional services.

Simple, right? A person isn’t an offender until he’s convicted. But did the Legislature mean that the costs couldn’t be recouped until the person is convicted? Or did it mean that the costs to be passed on are only those after a person is convicted?

The court decided on the latter

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