By Shaker Heights Municipal Court Magistrate Anne Walton-Keller
Recently the Supreme Court of Ohio decided that a trial court, pursuant to R.C. 2941.51(D), may order a criminal defendant to pay his or her court-appointed-counsel fees without first articulating explicit findings about the defendant’s ability to pay. State v Taylor, 2020-Ohio-6786. Taylor was ordered to pay $130 to the assigned-counsel-budget fund, which was listed in both “financial obligations” and the “reimbursement payable” sections of Taylor’s sentencing entry, along with the supervision fee and court costs. The case found its way to the Supreme Court of Ohio due to a conflict amongst the appellate districts.
The Court held that the trial court has the authority to impose court-appointed-counsel fees when a defendant reasonably may have the means to pay some part of the cost of the representation provided. The Court also determined that R.C.2941.51(D) does not require the trial court to make explicit findings on the record prior to the assessment of those fees. The Court explained that the court-appointed-counsel fees cannot be imposed as a part of a defendant’s sentence. However, those fees, if assessed, should be ordered at the time of sentencing and may be listed separately in the sentencing entry as a civil matter. The Court noted that the best practice is to include such fees in a separate entry. Additionally, court-appointed-counsel fees are not limited to a person convicted of a criminal charge. Rather, they can be imposed regardless of the dispositions of a person’s case.
The trial court in Taylor appropriately assessed the fees at the sentencing hearing but improperly characterized the fees as “financial obligations” and as “reimbursement” in the sentencing entry. Court-appointed-counsel fees cannot be “reimbursement” in the criminal context, because reimbursement refers to “costs.” See R.C. 2929.18(A)(5)(a). R.C. 2941.51 plainly states that court-appointed-counsel fees shall not be assessed as costs.
Counsel might wish to add the forgoing to the long list of items he or she can inform the client of during the course of representation. That list includes the effect of a certain plea, the possible consequences of conviction related to non-citizen status, potential penalties, enhancement of punishment or degree of offense for similar offenses, restitution for economic loss, failure to show proof of insurance in a traffic matter, sealing of records, and denial of entry to another country for certain convictions.