Michigan driver's?license laws make national spotlight

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has included an in-depth article on Michigan’s 2022 driver’s license reforms in its new Trends in State Courts publication. 

The article, “Michigan: Auto State or State of Suspension?,” delves into the process that led to the policy recommendations from the Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Reform (Task Force) after studying why jail populations in Michigan had tripled while crime rates dropped to record lows. NCSC annually publishes this peer-reviewed publication to highlight innovative practices in state courts and serve as a guide for developing new initiatives, programs, and policy decisions.

“The world knows Michigan as the auto state. But what the world does not know—and Michigan did not know until recent years—was that driving without a valid license was the third most common reason for jail admission in our state,” explained Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Elizabeth T. Clement. “This is the kind of eye-opening data that led to our groundbreaking jail reforms, which stand as a model for other states.”

Data-driven decision making was a hallmark of the bipartisan, multi-stakeholder Task Force created by the governor in 2019 that included judges, legislators, law enforcement, the criminal defense bar, legal aid, survivor groups, academic experts, and local officials. 

The Pew Charitable Trusts provided critical technical assistance collecting and analyzing data for this first-of-its-kind task force charged with taking a statewide look at who was coming into Michigan’s jails, how long they were staying, and for what reasons.

In addition to reviewing the process that led to the new laws, the article includes feedback from Judge Derek Meinecke, of 44th District Court in Royal Oak, who started a program called Operation Drive in 2016: “Ensuring that punishments are right-sized and appropriate is the next frontier for trial courts. Judge Derek Meinecke said this in 2019 when addressing the pervasive issue of driver’s license suspensions as a means of punishment in Michigan, as well as a catalyst for other problems in the criminal justice system.”

Also weighing in on the laws is Court Administrator/Magistrate James McGrail, of 41B District Court in Clinton Township, who despite some initial concerns with implementation, is “pleased with the reforms overall. 

‘They have enabled defendants who are not a danger to the public to maintain their licenses and still be productive members of society.’”