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New Michigan Law Seeks to Minimize Unnecessary Terms of Probation

Effective March 24, 2021, there’s a new presumption in Michigan law against jail or probationary sentences for persons convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses.     

Senate Bill 1048 (2020) is part of criminal justice reform efforts across the country providing uniform standards for the probation system and ultimately reducing the number of citizens subject to unnecessary jail and probationary terms.  

For years, District Court dockets have been clogged with probation review and violation hearings involving individuals who have been convicted of minor crimes. Probationary terms have been viewed by the courts as necessary to ensure that those convicted of virtually any misdemeanor completed certain requirements, paid fines and costs, and stayed out of trouble for a period of months or years. This system required individuals to pay additional “probation supervision fees” to the court and make regular check-ins with a probation officer. This “one size fits all” approach was often implemented with a “zero-tolerance” mindset, resulting in frequent hearings to address minor technical violations such as missing a scheduled check-in with a probation officer.

Senate Bill 1048 is designed to reduce the entanglement of typically law-abiding citizens convicted of minor offenses with the court system.  It’s now presumed that a person who is convicted of a non-serious misdemeanor should not be sentenced to jail or probation unless there’s evidence presented by the prosecution to the contrary.  Serious misdemeanor offenses are enumerated in MCL 780.811 and include domestic violence, child abuse, and certain offenses involving a firearm.

Prior to this law, a probationary term was almost virtually automatic for first-time offenders convicted of Operating a Motor Vehicle while Intoxicated (OWI).  This is no longer the case. A conviction is only considered a “serious misdemeanor” if the violation involves an accident resulting in injury or property damage.  MCL 780.811(1)(a)(xiv).  

Courts can still order a person convicted of a non-serious misdemeanor to pay fines, provide community service, or other requirements – but the practice of subjecting an otherwise law-abiding citizen to the unnecessary and unrelenting rigors of probation may be in the rear-view mirror thanks to this common-sense legislation. 

We help our clients understand and navigate the criminal process. If you’ve been charged with a crime and need advice, reach out to our expert criminal defense attorney in Ann ArborSteven Tramontin. Call us at 734-665-4441 or email Steven at stramontin@psedlaw.com.

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