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
A bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing for a change in how cases like the one above are handled. A litany of bills have been introduced in Michigan’s congress at both the Senate and the House of Representatives that will decriminalize minor infractions, eliminate mandatory minimum jail times, and stop driver’s license suspensions for countless drivers each year.
The bills that have been proposed will:
• Lower the quantity of offenses that could lead to a suspended or revoked license.
• Reduce or remove mandatory jail time from several driving offenses and allow officers to simply write tickets for the infractions instead of making arrests. Driving a car without registration for instance is a criminal misdemeanor which can and does lead to arrests. If this misdemeanor charge was made into a civil infraction, then the officer would need independent grounds to arrest the driver.
• Ease punishments for low-level infractions on those who are on probation or parole.
• Push for sentencing that does not include jail for low-level offenses.
A lawmaker has stated that, “in Michigan, the purpose of jail has gotten a bit muddled.” The lawmaker described how jail is good for certain reasons such as removing a dangerous person from society. But jail is too-often used to punish people for low-level nonviolent offenses or minor violations.
What Happens Next?
These bills will now look to work their way through both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Senate before they actually become law. It would seem that there is some real possibility for change in how these low-level criminal infractions can be handled. The fact that there is bipartisan support for such measures is a promising start. Hopefully these bills can be passed to help raise the bar in what it takes to find yourself in the criminal justice system. The way that the current law is being enforced has led to far too many people finding themselves in handcuffs for offenses that have no victim. This change would be significant, as it would affect countless people in the present and the future.
Any Further Questions?
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime or being investigated for one, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Grabel & Associates, our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience in successfully defending criminal cases all over the state of Michigan. This experience extends not only to adult cases, but also to juvenile charges. We are not a general practice firm. We are a team of criminal defense attorneys; it’s all we do. We offer a FREE consultation to anyone with questions relating to a possible or existing criminal charge against them or a loved one. Feel free to contact us on our 24/7 defense line at 1-800-342-7896. You can also contact us online or come visit us at one of our three statewide locations. We can also come to you.