First Wave of Criminal Justice Reforms Going Into Effect March 24, 2021

Approved criminal justice reforms begin March 24, 2021 in Michigan. The first wave of changes affects non-serious misdemeanor sentences, intermediate sanctions for felonies, and HYTA. Many of the changes are showcasing a shift in focus from incarceration to non-jail sentencing.

Amended MCL 769.5 creates a rebuttable presumption against jail or probation for non-serious misdemeanors. While this does not cover serious misdemeanors defined by the Crime Victim’s Right Act, it does include many misdemeanors including: Retail Fraud, OWIs without Accident or Injury, Trespass, Public Intoxication, Theft, and Driving Misdemeanors just to name a few. This new change supports utilizing non-jail and non-probation sentencing including just fines and costs, community service, or other appropriate sanction. Low level offenders can complete their interaction with the criminal justice system earlier, and not be exposed to potential probation violations that can extend the original sentence.

In addition to the changes in misdemeanor sentencing, the first wave of changes shows a disposition against incarceration for certain felony sentencing. Amended MCL 769.31 alters the definition of “intermediate sanction” to mean probation or sanction other than imprisonment. Prior to this amendment, “intermediate sanction” included jail, jail with probation, and jail with work/school release. Now, if the upper end of the sentencing guidelines is 18 months or less, the court shall impose an intermediate sanction, which under the new definition is a non-jail sentence. This directive can be overcome if the court states reasonable grounds on the record for deviating from a non-jail sentence, but the change in definition is an encouraging step for many defendants.

Changes to HYTA (Holmes Youthful Trainee Act) are also included in the new legislation going into effect on March 24, but will not impact defendants until October 1, 2021. According to amended MCL 762.11, beginning in October of this year HYTA eligibility changes from 17-24 to 18-26. This change will allow more young defendant’s the opportunity to access the benefits of HYTA status.

These changes are a strong start to modifying Michigan’s criminal justice system to focus on rehabilitation and not retribution. For more information check out this guide to Michigan’s 2020 Jail Reforms.