Articles Posted in Legal

Michigan Department of Corrections Response to COVID-19

Jails across the state of Michigan saw a significant decrease in prisoner population due to early releases due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of inmates across Michigan’s County Jails decreased by more than half during this time; starting at a jail population of about 18,000 and now down to about 8,000 inmates. The Michigan Department of Corrections (Michigan’s prison system) saw significant decreases as well as both jails and prisons alike face significant challenges in keeping the prisons sanitized and safe from COVID-19. COVID-19 has infected more than 4,100 Michigan prisoners and 420 employees. 68 prisoners who were infected died along with three Michigan Department of Corrections employees. When an inmate tests positive for the virus, it can pose a significant challenge for that prison to contain the spread. Quarantining in a prison is also the same as solitary confinement, which is usually reserved for the most dangerous offenders and serves as a type of punishment for bad behavior in the prison system.

Current Situation Involving 35 Prisoners

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.

Advocates Seek Change to System

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

Attorney Profile

The Current Court Makeup

The Michigan Supreme Court is made up of seven justices who are elected for eight-year terms. Judges technically run for office as people without political affiliation. They are, however, nominated by political parties so their philosophical leanings are usually found to be in line with political viewpoints. Four of the seven current Michigan Supreme Court Justices were nominated by the Republican party while three of the seven were nominated by the Democratic Party. The current 4-3 Republican nominee majority might be in jeopardy this fall in the next elections. The last time that Democratic nominees held a majority on the Michigan Supreme Court came in 2010. If openings on the Michigan Supreme Court become available in the middle of a term for whatever reason, then the governor will appoint a Justice to serve out the remaining time on the term. The Justice will then have to run for election at the end of that term.

Available Seats

Original Case Details

A Detroit man is free after spending 8 years behind bars for a cocaine conviction that he was wrongfully convicted of. Darrell Chancellor is now fighting back as he has filed a federal lawsuit against a former member of the Detroit Narcotics team for framing him. This former narcotics officer, Stephen Geelhood, is currently under investigation for allegedly framing innocent people and taking bribes from known drug dealers. Chancellor accuses Geelhood of lying in affidavit where Geelhood claimed that he saw Chancellor selling drugs. The affidavit got a search warrant approved, which resulted in the raid of Chancellor’s mother’s house. Cocaine was found at the home and Chancellor was sentenced to a minimum 14 years and three months in state prison as a habitual offender, fourth offense. Chancellor served 8 years of that sentence before the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit realized that he had been wrongfully convicted based on a false affidavit, which resulted in Chancellor’s exoneration.

The Lawsuit

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