Chippewa County Prosecutor addresses recent social media concern regarding sentencing guidelines

Did you know?

It has become apparent through the questions on various posts that many members of the community wish to have a better understanding of what goes into determining sentences in criminal cases. Sentencings, whether they occur in Circuit, District or Probate Court (Juvenile Defendant), are imposed by a Judge. The reality is that this is a very complex and nuanced system, and I am going to start presenting brief outlines on the Criminal Justice System. I intend on explaining more in the future, but hopefully the following explanations will be helpful in understanding the basics as I truly believe Knowledge is Power.

The Michigan criminal justice system is divided into 2 parts: misdemeanors and felonies. A misdemeanor is a crime punishable by 1 year or less in county jail. Sentencing for a misdemeanor is very straightforward, and there are no guideline considerations. A District Court judge simply issues an appropriate sentence that cannot exceed the maximum punishment outlined in the statute.

Punishments may range from a fine, to probation, to a term of jail. However, recently the criminal Justice reform Public Act 395-2020 was passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Whitmer, and went into effect on March 24, 2021. This reform has drastically changed how misdemeanors are treated. This statute creates a rebuttable presumption that the court shall sentence an individual convicted of non-serious misdemeanor with a fine, community service, or another non-jail or non-probation sentence. A judge may only depart from this presumption if there exist reasonable grounds for such departure and such grounds are stated on the record.

What counts as a serious misdemeanor as opposed to a non-serious misdemeanor?

A serious misdemeanor is defined under William Van Regenmorter Crime Victim’s Right Act, MCL 780.811, and includes the following:

• Assault and battery, including domestic violence under MCL 750.81

• Assault; infliction of serious or aggravated injury, including aggravated domestic violence under MCL 750.81a

• Breaking and entering, or entering without breaking under MCL 750.115

• Child abuse in the fourth degree under MCL 750.136b

• Contributing to the neglect or delinquency of a minor under MCL 750.145

• Using the internet or a computer to make a prohibited communication under MCL 750.145d

• Intentionally aiming a firearm without malice under MCL 750.233

• Discharge of a firearm intentionally aimed at a person under MCL 750.234

• Discharge of an intentionally aimed firearm resulting in injury under MCL 750.235

• Indecent exposure under MCL 750.335a

• Stalking under MCL 750.411h

• Injuring a worker in a work zone under MCL 257.601b

• Leaving the scene of a personal injury accident under MCL 257.617a

• Operating a vehicle while under the influence of or impaired by intoxicating liquor or a controlled substance, or with an unlawful blood alcohol content, if the violation involves an accident resulting in damage to another individual’s property or physical injury or death to another individual under MCL 257.625

• Selling or furnishing alcoholic liquor to an individual less than 21 years of age, if the violation results in physical injury or death to any individual under MCL 436.1701

• Operating a vessel while under the influence of or impaired by intoxicating liquor or a controlled substance, or with an unlawful blood alcohol content, if the violation involves an accident resulting in damage to another individual’s property or physical injury or death to any individual under MCL 324.80176

• A violation of a local ordinance substantially corresponding to the violations listed above.

• A violation charged as a crime or serious misdemeanor but subsequently reduced to or pleaded to as a misdemeanor

Some examples of outcomes Criminal Justice reform has lead to:

Our county had a Sobriety Court in the 91st District Court prior to the Criminal Justice Reform. The sobriety court had participants who were in the program for charges ranging from operating while intoxicated/ or impaired, use of control substances and other types of charges where either a control substance or alcohol was a significant factor in the crime. After this statute went into effect, defendants were no longer interested in this program or the services that this program provided as there was now a presumption of no jail and no probation. Defendant’s would rather just pay a fine and not have to get treatment. This has resulted in the program disbanding due to lack of participants. The end result is less treatment, and an increase in second and third drunk driving’s convictions, which in turn results in an increase in dangerous roads across the state.

Also under this reform, retail frauds are treated as non-serious offenses under the Criminal Justice reform which has resulted in a significant increase in theft for businesses across the state. This has caused some businesses to increase prices to cover their loses due to theft or even go out of business. In our community alone we have seen a significant increase in retail frauds and my office continues to work with Law Enforcement and community partners to protect our businesses and in turn protect our community from increased prices brought on by theft. My standard request to the court with regards to these types of crimes is that if there are is not reasonable grounds necessary for some jail, I request the court order the defendant to do community service, as if you get caught taking from our community, you should be ordered to give back to our community. Also, local businesses trespass these individuals which prohibits them from entering onto the businesses property and doing so will result in trespass charges. I have seen an instance where someone was banned from Walmart until 2050 because of their reoccurring theft.

Even with the State legislature and governor pushing to diminish penalties for crime and turn a blind eye to the true effect crime has on the victims and communities across this state, me and my staff will continue to fight to protect our community within the confines of the rules set out by the State legislature and signed on by the governor.

Robert L. Stratton
Chippewa County Prosecuting Attorney
325 Court Street, Suite 103
Sault Ste. Marie MI 49783

One Comment

  1. Lynn Farnquist

    Why have other counties kept their sobriety courts and view them as not only a deterrent to further criminal behaviors, but a source of treatment for a possible SUD problem that has a potential for ruining lives – that of the accused and that of the family members? These courts can keep families together while helping the person with charges seek help. Does it take some time and effort? Indeed, it does, on the part of the judicial system and the accused. Is it worth it? Well, how much is it worth to get a person help and keep a family together? One wonders if certain cases – such as a recent murder/suicide – might have been avoided had the case been handled with the option of a sobriety court. How much were the lives of that mom and her babies worth?

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