Michigan Jails During Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an overhaul of our daily activities, and how many things are viewed. The normal routines for the operation of the Michigan prison system and county jails have seen monumental change. In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reserve jail and prison for those who commit violent crimes, a huge number of inmates have been released. In mid-March, there were nearly 18,000 people in the overall jail population statewide. In about six weeks, that number was reduced by approximately 10,000 people in which about 8,000 remained. Wayne County reduced its jail population by 40%, Ingham County by 30%, and Genesee by about 25%. While these numbers are significant, the most glaring statistic that has emerged during this period is the significant decrease in new criminal case filings, and that the State of Michigan has generally not seen those released re-offend in any way to end up back in jail. This decrease in crime even while so many have been released from jail has strengthened the calling for jail and prison reforms from various groups. Local groups such as the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration have pushed for reform, while national groups such as the Vera Institute of Justice have helped lead the way nationally with their research and statistical analysis. index2-300x129

Advocates Seek Change to System

Original Case Details

In Sanford v Michigan, a then 15-year-old Davontae Sanford pled guilty to the killing of four men back in 2007. Police misconduct and the confession of a professional hitman cast serious doubt on the plea from the then-teenager. Sanford spent nine years in prison appealing his wrongful convictions and was released in 2016. Sanford’s mother insisted that the teen could barely read or write back in 2007 and was also blind in one eye. His mother also stated that her son only confessed to the murders to please the police officers who had been interrogating him. Upon his release, he was entitled to money from the state due to his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. In the state of Michigan, a person who is exonerated from a crime is entitled to payments of $50,000 for every year they wrongfully spent behind bars. In the case of Davontae Sanford, his wrongful conviction and imprisonment led to compensation in the amount of just over $408,000 for the 8 years and 61 days that he spent in a state prison. Sanford, However, was seeking more. He was also seeking an additional $27,000 for the nearly 200 days he spent in custody awaiting his trial. He was denied this additional money at the trial court level and at the Michigan Court of Appeals. Sanford appealed the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court who recently issued their decision. young_offender

Supreme Court Decision in Sanford v Michigan

Original Case Details

Back in June of this year, an Amazon delivery driver had an altercation with a Warren police officer that was caught on camera. The altercation apparently started when the Amazon driver illegally parked his delivery van while delivering packages. An officer pulled up and informed the driver of his violation in parking the van illegally. The driver allegedly did not move the vehicle when instructed by the officer and continued to deliver packages. This resulted in the officer demanding to see the driver’s identification and driver’s license. The video captured by a witness showed the officer holding the man down on the ground after the man refused to show his driver’s license to the officer. This video was seen as excessive force by many, it sparked protests and resulted in the officer being put on administrative leave while the officer’s conduct was investigated. The Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office first declined to authorize any charges against the man, a position they have now reversed on, deciding to charge the man with refusing to obey a lawful order by a police officer and operation a motor vehicle without an operator’s license on his person. shutterstock_89594548-300x200

Criminal Charges Involved

Conviction Integrity Unit Explained

The Conviction Integrity Unit is a department within the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office that seeks to investigate claims of innocence among those who have been convicted and imprisoned for a variety of serious crimes. The Conviction Integrity Unit looks to determine if there is new evidence that is clear and convincing that the person convicted was not the person who committed the alleged crime. The Conviction Integrity Unit has three attorneys working full time, two part time, as well as a full-time investigator and full-time administrative staff member. Since its inception in 2018, the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit has granted 20 exonerations to those wrongly convicted and imprisoned. Among them is Richard Phillips, a man who spent the longest time in prison before being exonerated after 45 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Various groups such as the University of Michigan Law School Innocence Project have been instrumental in investigating and helping bring claims forward for those who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. iStock_000013714975_Double-2-300x217

Prosecutor Seeks Additional Funding

Public Demand for Transparency

In the wake of the heinous death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, the American public has made its opinion known about their demand for police accountability and transparency. Millions have taken to the streets around the world in an effort to help make change in how police interactions with people are handled. Police brutality and accountability are at the top of the list for proposed changes to the system as a whole. It is currently an incredibly high burden to charge police criminally, as well as sue them in civil court for money damages for their harmful conduct and behavior. In response to this outcry, some police departments and prosecutors’ offices have looked to make change in policies that are unfair to the public at large. One such program that was in place before the George Floyd murder was the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit, which has re-opened old cases where there was questionable evidence due to alleged police misconduct. This department has helped secure the release of a number of people who were wrongly convicted and have been sitting in prison for crimes they did not commit. The success of this program has led Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy towards other programs aimed at showing transparency within Wayne County and its police agencies. 13673792_s-300x200

Wayne County Program

“8 Can’t Wait” Explained

“8 Can’t Wait” is an organization and campaign to bring immediate and necessary change to police departments all over the country. 8 Can’t Wait is in favor of more restrictive policies for police when dealing with the use of force. 8 Can’t Wait is based on the implementation of 8 specific policies that research shows could save lives and reduce the amount of people killed at the hands of the police. The 8 policies that are the backbone of 8 Can’t Wait are: iStock_000002709890_Large-2-300x200

1. Banning Chokeholds and Strangleholds: Banned in all situations.

Current Laws and Practice

People enter the criminal justice system in fairly typical ways; they are accused of a crime and convicted either by trial or by plea bargain. Did you know that people also enter the criminal justice system in because they are unable to pay their fines or traffic tickets? Every year hundreds of thousands of Michiganders lose their driver’s license due to low-level offenses and/or not being able to come up with the money to pay their fines, tickets, and court fees. Drivers are often unaware that their driver’s license had been suspended and then get pulled over for a civil infraction such as speeding and end up getting arrested on the misdemeanor charge of driving while license suspended. This typically results in at least one day of jail while they wait to see a judge, along with the car getting impounded. Of course, the costs in getting the car out of impound will be significant, as will the new fine that will be added because of the outcome of the driving while license suspended criminal misdemeanor. In this case, simply being unable to pay fines and court costs led to an unexpected entry into the criminal justice system. iStock_000000687101_Large-2-300x200

Changes Sought by Lawmakers

Makeup of Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court is the highest court in the state of Michigan. It is made up of seven justices who are elected to serve eight-year terms on the bench. The Court is located in the state’s capitol, in downtown Lansing. Justices run as non-partisan candidates that are supported by political parties. While they don’t actually run with a party affiliation next to their names, political ads on all sides make it clear what side of the political aisle they are in line with. It is common to see multiple judges together in ads in an effort to elect multiple justices together when it is possible. If a Supreme Court justice is not able to complete their term for any reason, then the sitting governor will appoint a justice who will serve out the remainder of the term, however long it is. Once that term ends, the seat opens up again, but the appointed Justice gets the honor of running as an incumbent candidate. Running as an incumbent is often seen as a huge advantage in judicial elections, where incumbents usually win. There are two seats on the Michigan Supreme Court that are going to be available for this coming election time. One belongs to Chief Justice Bridget Mark McCormack who is seeking re-election, and the other belongs to Justice Stephen Markman, who will not be seeking re-election because of his age. The Michigan Constitution does not allow judges to seek re-election once they have hit the age of 70. If they turn 70 during their term, they are allowed to finish out that term. Grabel04a-2-300x146

Attorney Profile

Original Case Details

Mubarez Ahmed was convicted back in March 2002 of the murders of Lavelle Griffin and LaTanya White in a drive-by shooting on the west side of Detroit. He was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of 60 years for his convictions. He since served 17 years of his convictions before new evidence came to light that the officer on the case, Sgt. Ernest Wilson, fabricated evidence against Ahmed and lied under oath at his trial. An investigation by the University of Michigan Law School Innocence Clinic and the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit resulted in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office recommending that Ahmed’s murder charges being dismissed, resulting in his release from state prison on September 6, 2018. Ahmed has since filed a lawsuit against both officer Ernest Wilson personally, as well as the city of Detroit for their actions which led to his improper incarceration for 17+ years. iStock_000011602905_Large-2-300x200

Qualified Immunity Generally

Original Case Details

In the case of United States v Trice, the defendant Raheim Trice entered a conditional plea to one count of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute under federal law. His plea was conditioned on his ability to appeal the warrant that was issued to search his apartment and uncover the illegal drugs seized. In Trice’s case, police set up a hidden camera disguised as a smoke detector in a common area hallway in the apartment building where Trice lived. The camera had a motion sensor which was set to activate every time the door to Trice’s apartment opened. This camera recorded a number of videos showing Trice entering and exiting his apartment. This information was used to support an affidavit for a search warrant. Police were granted the search warrant based on this and other information. Police executed the warrant and found drugs and other paraphernalia this is common in the distribution of drugs. Trice contended that the use of the camera by the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights of search and seizure. iStock_000022833496_XXXLarge-225x300

Court of Appeals Decision

Contact Information