By State Rep. Mike Mueller, of Linden
As a sheriff’s deputy, my goal was always to help people. Now, as a state representative, my goal is no different. One of the most important ways we can help people is to ensure that good citizens do not end up stuck in the criminal justice system. That means reexamining the way we penalize minor infractions in Michigan.
When I worked in law enforcement, I saw countless instances where an upstanding individual who couldn’t afford to pay a parking or speeding ticket gets their license suspended or revoked, causing them to lose their job because of lack of transportation, or get arrested for driving with a suspended license. Once someone gets into the criminal justice system, it’s very unlikely they will ever get out.
There are countless other infractions that can result in a suspended license. In fact, driving with a suspended license is the third most common reason for jail admission in Michigan – even though many licenses suspensions result from violations completely unrelated to driving.
Too many good, well-intending people have faced the possibility of severe penalties for making minor mistakes that unintentionally violate our state laws. Good people don’t belong in our criminal justice system. Our law enforcement, courts, jails and tax dollars can be better used to fight real criminals who present a danger to society. It’s time we restructure the system.
The Michigan House recently approved my plan to change the way we penalize good citizens for minor offenses and ultimately save law enforcement resources.
A first-time offense for driving while your license is suspended is currently a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and/or up to $500 in fines, and a second or subsequent such offense is currently a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
If my plan is enacted, a first offense for anyone whose license was not suspended for dangerous driving would become a state civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $150. A second offense would become a state civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $250. And finally, a third or subsequent such offense would become a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to 93 days and/or a fine of up to $500.
Additionally, the plan would carry a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment up to 93 days and/or a fine of up to $500 if the individual’s license was suspended due to dangerous driving activity such as operating while intoxicated, reckless driving, or a violation that causes the injury, death, or serious impairment of another individual.
This plan is about helping keep good people out of the criminal justice system and putting taxpayer resources to better use by our law enforcement. It’s important to regularly evaluate our state’s criminal justice system and continually work to make it better. I’m honored to be in a position to help make necessary improvements to better serve the people of Michigan and the law enforcement officers that help keep our citizens safe.