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Rep Joseph Bellino
Rep. Bellino: More flexibility needed to help end over-criminalization of Michigan residents
RELEASE|September 10, 2020

Plan eliminates mandatory minimum punishments to give judges discretion

A criminal justice reform plan spearheaded by state Rep. Joe Bellino received broad support Wednesday during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

Bellino, of Monroe, said the bipartisan plan would eliminate mandatory minimum jail sentences for several low-level crimes, giving Michigan judges flexibility to determine the most appropriate punishment for each unique situation.

“All too often, mandatory minimum sentences mean people get thrown in jail for low-level offenses – even when the circumstances surrounding their particular case are not very severe,” Bellino said. “Rather than top-down, one-size-fits-all penalties we must give the judges in our communities the discretion they need to weigh each crime individually.”

The plan was introduced to address recommendations from the Michigan Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which was formed last year to study the state’s criminal justice system. The task force found Michigan’s jail population had tripled in just 35 years, and most admissions were for misdemeanors and low-level offenses. Currently, about 50 of Michigan’s nearly 2,000 misdemeanors require a mandatory minimum jail sentence, ranging in length from two days to six months.

Bellino’s legislation, House Bill 5844, would eliminate the mandatory minimum sentences for misdemeanor violations of the Public Health Code. Other parts of the plan remove mandatory minimum sentences for numerous driving offenses, hunting and fishing violations and other misdemeanors.

“Right now, a struggling single mom who is found guilty of failing to comply with school attendance requirements is required to serve a mandatory minimum of two days in jail,” Bellino said. “How is locking a mother up for two days really going to help the situation? It’s more likely to result in the loss of her job, leaving the family worse off. In situations like these, there is often an underlying issue that needs to be addressed – and the judge is in the best position to make a determination about what’s beneficial for everyone involved.”

Bellino noted that judges would continue to have discretion to sentence people to serve time in jail for misdemeanor offenses when they feel it is appropriate.

The plan remains under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee.

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