SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.

Whitmer signs bills lightening traffic offense penalties, shortening jail, parole protocol

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a series of criminal justice reform bills Monday that would expand Michigan shields over young offender records, decrease the number of non-driving-related crimes punishable by a driver's license suspension and reduce probation and parole in some cases. 

The legislation, Whitmer said, was born out of the research and collaboration of the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which studied Michigan's criminal justice and jail systems to determine why the jail population had tripled in fewer than 40 years. 

The bipartisan task force, based on its research, made recommendations, many reflected in the 20 bills signed by Whitmer on Monday and make the state "a national leader on criminal justice reform." 

"Today proves that it is possible to make tremendous progress to improve our state when we work together to get things done," Whitmer said in a statement. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a series of criminal justice reform bills Monday, Jan. 4, 2020.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack chaired the task force, which still has additional recommendations it hopes to advance in the coming session. 

“Our courts and justice system belong to the people, and these reforms reflect a consensus-based process that brought together all who share our commitment to fairness, accountability, transparency and efficiency," McCormack said. 

Gilchrist also celebrated the changed laws, which address some of the driving factors pushing non-violent offenders into jails. The factors include violations of probation and suspended licenses. 

“Before Gov. Whitmer and I took office, the system didn’t work for families, communities or our state as a whole, but we made a conscious effort to make our state a national leader in reform, and the results speak for themselves," Gilchrist said. 

The initiative is a good example of "putting people before politics" by adopting "smart reforms like these to hold people accountable without setting them up to fail," said former House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering. 

"This is not reactionary policy — it’s thoughtful and purposeful,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “These bills are rooted in data, informed by research, and built on the consensus and compromise of a diverse group of stakeholders.” 

The bills signed by Whitmer Monday include seven House bills and a concurrent resolution that would eliminate some provisions that require licensing sanctions for non-driving related offenses, including drug offenses. 

The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration found last year that the third most common reason people were in jail in Michigan was because they didn't have a valid driver's license, in part due to earlier offenses that triggered licensing loss.

Another package of five bills would make changes to law that would avoid arrests for non-violent offenses and decrease probation and parole mandatory time periods and conditions.

Specifically, the bills would allow police to issue an appearance ticket for certain misdemeanors instead of an arrest, a summons in place of a warrant in non-assault cases, expedited arraignments for people who voluntarily report, and a 48-hour grace period between a failure to appear and the issuance of a bench warrant.

The legislation also would extend the eligibility age for the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act from 18 to 23 years old, allowing young offenders in some cases to have their convictions dismissed and files closed to public inspection upon successful completion of probation.

Another six bills would reclassify traffic misdemeanors as civil infractions and eliminate mandatory minimum jail sentences for certain offenses.

Other criminal justice reforms

Whitmer on Monday also signed other criminal justice reform bills that fall slightly outside the recommendations of the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration. 

Ten separate bills — the Good Moral Character Package — adjust sections of Michigan's occupational licensing laws to place limits on licensing boards or agencies considering "good moral character."

Essentially, the bills put limits on licensing boards and agencies from considering past criminal convictions or civil judgments when considering licensure so the past offenses do not create undue burdens on licensing opportunities. 

Whitmer also signed two Senate bills from Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and former Sen. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, that would expand shields on juvenile court records and allow greater opportunities for expungements of youth traffic offenses. The bills include automatic expungements for certain offenses two years after the end of court supervision or when an individual turns 18. 

The legislation comes two years after the passage of a "Raise the Age" package that will raise later this year the age to be tried as an adult from 17 to 18. The change ensures 17-year-olds, in most cases, go through the adjudication process in family court, not an adult trial. 

Another bill would designate $24 million from the $33 million medical marijuana registry fund to pay for the development of an automatic expungement system. The funding is a key part of "Clean Slate" legislation passed in October that would allow for automatic expungement for certain crimes after a seven- to 10-year waiting period. 

eleblanc@detrointews.com