Rep. Jones pleads guilty to drunken driving, jail infraction

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Howell — State Rep. Jewell Jones on Wednesday pleaded guilty to several charges related to an April drunken driving case and September jail infraction, bringing some closure to a case that was scheduled to go to trial next week.

Jones, 26, pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors and two felony charges, while the judge dismissed several other charges. He will take part in a youth sentencing program in relation to the two felony charges and a weapons charge so that, upon successful completion of probation, his two felony charges would appear as dismissals instead of convictions. 

Jones, an Inkster Democrat, also was required to write two letters to the troopers involved in his case, which he posted to Instagram Tuesday.

Under the charges he pleaded guilty to, Jones faces a maximum sentence of two years and, under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, Jones faces a minimum of two years probation. 

Livingston County Judge Michael Hatty made clear that the HYTA minimum "does not limit me on any potential jail sentence.” Sentencing is scheduled for March 17.

In an interview with reporters after the hearing, Jones acknowledged that he'd made some mistakes, but he was thankful to be walking out the front door instead of the back — a reference to a September bond hearing that ended with him being taken to jail.

State Rep. Jewell Jones walks into the courtroom of Judge Michael Hatty for his hearing at Livingston County Circuit Court, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2022, in Howell, Mich. Standing in back is his attorney, Byron Nolen.

Jones was hopeful about avoiding jail time, he said, and hoped to have some of his tougher bond restrictions lifted after sentencing.

“For a long time I was so focused on trying to prove my innocence or trying to fight the system, but at some point in time you just need to, you know, craft some winning strategies with different people and figure out we can all come together," Jones said.

"This is the system we all agree to live under. As a resident here in this state, this is something that is not new to me. It's not new to anybody else. We all live under the same laws," he added.

"If you can make the law work for you, you make the law work for you. If you can’t, you can’t.”

Jones pleaded guilty to two felony counts of resisting and obstructing police officers and four misdemeanors: Operating while intoxicated, possession of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving and escape of lawful custody.

His resisting and obstructing and weapons charge are eligible for eventual dismissal under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, with the consent of a prosecutor. The program essentially allows those up to age 25 to keep their convictions private upon successful completion of sentencing and parole.

The plea agreement would include the dismissal of two other resisting and obstructing counts, operating a motor vehicle with a high blood alcohol content, bringing a weapon into a county jail and an escape attempt. 

A charge of resisting and obstructing police — the most serious charge Jones faces — carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison. Misdemeanors typically are subject to a maximum of up to 93 days in jail.

State representative Jewell Jones addresses the medai after his hearing at Livingston County Circuit Court, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Howell, Mich.

Jones was arrested April 6 after his black Chevy Tahoe drifted in and out of lanes along Interstate 96 before pulling off the shoulder and into a ditch, according to Michigan State Police reports. His blood alcohol content was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08, according to the police report. 

He was accused of struggling with troopers after the crash and allegedly told officers that he'd call the governor and that he had oversight of the Michigan State Police budget.

Jones, who was 25 at the time of his initial April arrest, joined 79 other House lawmakers in December 2020 to expand the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act to benefit people through the age of 25.

In the months since his arrest, Jones has been brought before the court on three bond violations. The third violation led to him being taken into custody Sept. 14 for a total of 60 days in jail. 

On Sept. 15, he was charged with two additional counts related to his alleged smuggling of a handcuff key into the jail a day earlier. The key is alleged to have been found taped to Jones' foot when he was being processed upon entry to the jail. In mid-November, a judge reinstated bond with conditions, and Jones was released. 

On his Instagram page, where he has more than 40,000 followers, Jones posted two letters Tuesday to the troopers with whom he interacted at the scene of his arrest. The letters on House letterhead included apologies for his "inflammatory language" and actions on April 6. He said he'd rather work with law enforcement to foster a "safe and beneficial" environment for all than feud with them. 

"Though I believe things were mishandled that day on I-96, I played a role in the fiasco," Jones wrote in one letter. In another, he wrote: "I've forgiven you, and hopefully you can forgive me."

He posted the letters with the message: "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better. Not only did I accept a plea...I wrote two sincere letters of apology."

He added: "Nothing in life is final. #HOLLA"