A package of new laws allows some of Michigan’s repeat drunk drivers to possibly avoid mandatory minimum jail sentences. As a result of these changes, mandatory minimum sentences have been modified or removed from Michigan’s drunk driving statute, and this means that Judges may now sentence a drunk driver to any term of imprisonment, from zero days up to the maximum otherwise provided for the offense. The new law does not change the applicable fines or maximum possible terms of imprisonment, it only eliminates the mandatory aspects of the minimum sentences, making it possible for some repeat DUI offenders to avoid incarceration.
Legislative History of the New Michigan DUI Laws
These changes arose out of House Bill 5845, which was introduced in June 2020. The proposed law went through several permutations until it was approved by both houses by a vote of 506 to 38 in December 2020. Shortly thereafter it was introduced to Governor Whitmer. The Bill was signed into law by the Governor on January 4, 2021 and becomes effective on March 24, 2021.
What Drunk Driving Offenses Are Impacted by New DUI Laws?
Michigan’s drunk driving laws are set forth in Michigan Compiled Laws 257.625, et. seq. A review of the amended law suggests that it applies to the following DUI offenses:
- First Offense Child Endangerment DUI cases pursuant to MCL 257.625(7)(a)(i)(A),
- Felony Child Endangerment pursuant to MCL 257.625(7)(B)(ii), defined as one prior Child Endangerment within prior 7 years or 2 priors at any time (lifetime look back).
- Second Offense DUI cases pursuant to MCL 257.625(9)(b)(i) or 11(b).
- Felony DUI under either 257.625(9)(c) or 11(c).
What Are Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Michigan’s drunk driving laws provide for minimum periods of incarceration that a Judge must impose for certain offenses. For a second offense drunk driving, meaning the new offense is committed within 7 years of a prior offense, a judge must impose at least 5 days and up to one year of incarceration. For felony drunk driving, meaning two prior offenses at any time, the minimum mandatory sentence is 30 days of incarceration. These minimum mandatory sentences still exist, but the mandatory aspect has been loosened, because and offender can avoid incarceration if they agree to enroll in and successfully complete a specialty court program. The one minimum mandatory sentence that was removed by the new law is the five day minimum sentence previously applicable to child endangerment.
Avoiding Incarceration Requires both Participation and Successful Completion of Specialty Court Program
The new Michigan DUI laws modifying the mandatory requirement of minimum sentences provide that the only way to avoid the minimum mandatory period of incarceration is for the offender to agree to participate in and successfully complete a specialty court program. Newly added MCL 257.83 indicates that the phrase “specialty court program” means a Drug Treatment Court, DWI/Sobriety Court, any hybrid of the two, a Mental Health Court or a Veteran’s Treatment Court. Simply being enrolled in a specialty court program is not sufficient, the DUI offender must successfully complete the program to earn the benefit of avoiding incarceration.
Actual Impact of the New DUI Law on Sentences for Repeat Drivers
The statute specifically reads that a minimum mandatory term of imprisonment may not be suspended unless the person being sentenced goes into and then successfully completes the specialty court program. It does not indicate by its terms how much of the sentence may or must be suspended, nor does it indicate that a person sentenced to the alternative court may or must not be sentenced to any term of incarceration. It appears to only remove the mandatory aspect of the sentence. In other words, the Judge’s discretion relative to sentencing is relatively unchanged.
For example, a felony DUI offender in Michigan can still be sentenced to 30 days or more with no specialty court alternative. Also, it seems that a Judge could suspend only a portion of the otherwise mandatory minimum sentence. For example, on a felony DUI case a Judge could give the offender 30 days in jail, and only suspend 15 days of the sentence for successful completion of the specialty court program.
Also, it will take some time for the changes under this new DUI law to be fully effectuated because many of Michigan’s district and circuit courts don’t have any specialty courts or have specialty courts for which a DUI offender may not quality.
If you are a repeat DUI offender in Michigan then you should discuss your case, and your sentencing options, with one of the Michigan DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm. As part of your free no obligation consultation we will discuss with you whether the law will apply to you, and what to expect if you are convicted. Remember, however, an arrest is not a conviction. Sentencing can only happen after you have plead guilty or have been found guilty after a trial before a judge or jury.