Michigan Sobriety Court
Understanding Michigan’s Sobriety Court
Well the sobriety court really sort of picks up, I think, where the super drunk law left off. And what I mean by that is we just talked about how the super drunk only applies to first time offenders. What I haven’t told you is that there is a driver’s license sanction that, again, is very much of an enhanced drivers license sanction and it falls in between the first offense and the second offense.
Host: Well that is for the super drunk.
Yes, the super drunk.
Host: And what does that enhance?
For the super drunk law, instead of a 180 day suspension--150 days of which is restricted for a 1st offense--it is a one year suspension with no driving at all for the first 45. The remaining 320 days is on an ignition interlock device and it is a restricted driver’s license. If it’s a 2nd offense, it’s an absolute revocation for a year. So again, it sort of fits between the two different types of offenses. The reason that’s significant is because the sobriety court law, as I said, it sort of picks up where the super drunk law left off. For second offenders, which the super drunk law doesn’t apply to at all, for second or subsequent offenses, if the license if revoked, the sobriety court allows the offender the opportunity to get their license back. If that happens, it is 45 days without a license followed by 320 days of restricted driving privileges with an ignition interlock device. It’s exactly the same as the super drunk. The difference is that for the sobriety court law, the court is actually monitoring and overseeing the license process, whereas with the super drunk law, it’s done by the secretary of state and its done automatically. With sobriety court, the court itself, the court within which the offense occurred, the sentencing judge, has to monitor the offender and report back to Lansing that the person is satisfactorily completing the sobriety court. If they’re not, they don’t get a license.
Host: I know every community is different. The sobriety court that’s part of the law took effect last year. How widely is sobriety court actually coming into being?
I think the legislative intent was to encourage sobriety courts and, in general, I think sobriety courts put the emphasis in the right place, meaning it puts the emphasis on sobriety and on rehabilitation rather than punishment. The problem is partly funding and partly personality, I think, of the various judges. Some judges don’t really have the interest in being what is effectively a social worker. Because the sobriety court requires the judge to sit on the bench not in an adversarial, the judge is never in an adversarial position as such, but what’s happening in the court room is not adversarial, the judge is just sitting there assisting what is really almost like a group recovery meeting.
Host: Well that’s interesting. Judge Sosnick, and some other judges in Oakland County, have been doing a drug court, and that sound like sobriety court. And they are saying it has a phenomenal track record and they are believers in it.
It is, and if Sosnick was still at 40th district court, more than likely he would run a sobriety court, because that’s where his mind is at. Other types of judges, for whatever reason, they don’t want to do that or maybe they don’t believe in it. But the statistics--from what I understand, and I haven’t scrutinized them--but from what I understand, the repeat behavior or the recidivism of drunk drivers that have been involved in sobriety court is far lower than those that have not been involved with it. So it appears that, again, it provides or protects the societal interest of making sure that people don’t reoffend.
Host: Can you name a few communities that do have a sobriety court in the area?
The sobriety court is common actually in Ann Arbor (Kent County), for example. There are several judges in Ann Arbor that have traditionally had sobriety courts. There is a judge in the Rochester District Court that has a sobriety court. In Clarkston, they’ve had a sobriety court for many, many years and they have really done a nice job with it. So it really depends on the judge. By the way, the 51st district court probably has the most intact, or the most functioning sobriety court. They really emphasize it there.
Host: That’s the one in Clarkston?
The one in Waterford.
Host: And are there statistics to compare the difference between those courts that have them and those that don’t?
There are, and those are kept at the federal level. I don’t have the statistics available so I can’t recite them for you or for the viewers, but the statistics that I’m aware of do show that there is less repeat behavior for those that have been involved in sobriety court.
Host: But is also sounds like--from your perspective as a defense attorney--if there is a jurisdiction office of a sobriety court, it give you another avenue, another outlet, something you can do for your client that you can’t do in a jurisdiction that doesn’t have it.
That’s absolutely true, and it’s one of the problems we have when we have an offender in Court A that doesn’t have a sobriety court and an offender in Court B that does have a sobriety court. Even though the offense might be exactly the same, their background may be exactly the same, I can’t get them the same result unless they have a sobriety court. Now, there are some drawbacks to a sobriety court especially from a defense attorney perspective
Host: What are they?
Generally speaking, because as I said its sort of a non-adversarial position, the emphasis is on getting the person to plead guilty as soon as possible and get them into the sobriety court, which takes away from me the ability to do what I think to appropriately defend the case. What I would refer is to get due process for my client. That’s the drawback. The best sobriety courts are the ones that emphasize the sobriety court on the front end, but if you step back and let the judge know, ‘wait a minute, I want to look at the discovery, I want to at least see and explore the opportunity for a defense before we make that decision’--in the best sobriety courts, they are fine with that. There are some sobriety courts--like the one up in the 86st district court, which is Traverse City--where if you want to defend, the court sobriety court is not available and that’s where I think there’s a problem.
Host: So what you are saying is you could put someone into the sobriety court, review all options go through discovery, and then tell your client ‘look at I really think the best thing is to work out a plea’? So continuing along these lines, we have the plea on the other hand, if you feel there are some flaws from the prosecutor’s standpoint, you can have some of the sobriety court, and I guess change horses midstream so to speak.
Well, actually, sobriety court is only available for people who have been convicted. So, it’s a post conviction remedy if you want to call it. It’s part of a sentence. Now, you kind of put your finger on one of the issues that a court might have with this, which is what happens when they’re on bond. How do I, as the judge, monitor them appropriately to make sure that they’re not going to reoffend? They think that the best way to do that is sobriety court. I would say let’s put them on significant bond restrictions if that’s what you want to do. We can even mimic sobriety court, but give me the opportunity to defend the case and make the right decision.
Host: Will judges do that?
Most of them will, but not all.
Host: What about this district, in the 48th?
The 48th district court, to my knowledge at this time, does not have a sobriety court available.
Host: Well it sounds to me that, in many respects, it’s an illness and should be treated like that, and that’s why the idea of sobriety court sounds like a great idea.
Exactly and that’s why I said in most instances I think sobriety court puts the emphasis in the right place, which is on recovery.Submit a Free Online Case Questionnaire For Immediate Legal Support.
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