Don’t Settle

BY ERIN K. DOERING

As I sit here, doing battle with my eternal enemy known as insomnia (and not being able to beat the final level in my latest video game foil) whilst my husband-to-be snoozes in the other room, I am struck with an idea for a post – a post about the Michigan Secretary of State’s little secret.

Over the weekend I met with a young person who had been pulled over and was facing a traffic misdemeanor. Unfortunately, she had already plead ‘guilty’ to the misdemeanor so there was not a whole lot I could do but it got me thinking (a very dangerous thing) once again about how there are a set of criminal laws and then we have the Secretary of State and their rules and regulations. Most people who pick up a ticket for driving while license suspended or with expired insurance do not realize that these infractions are misdemeanors – misdemeanors with lasting consequences because of how criminal law and the Secretary of State are seemingly at odds with each other in Michigan.

Unlike most any other misdemeanor in Michigan, traffic misdemeanors follow you forever. FOREVER. Michigan law prohibits the expungement of traffic misdemeanors. Similarly, none of the diversion or conviction suppression methods such as the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (for first time offenders within a certain age group) or 7411 (division and special probation for first time drug offenders) are available to a person with a traffic misdemeanor on their record.

In short – once you have been convicted or plead ‘guilty’ to a traffic misdemeanor in Michigan you have a ‘friend’ for life. Our current system does not permit these misdemeanors to be treated in the same way as other misdemeanors – you carry them through your life like a scarlet letter and anyone who runs a background check on you or looks at you driving record will see them.

Years ago, no one cared about misdemeanor convictions. Now, they can make all the difference – between getting that job you really want and getting a rejection letter. Employers in Michigan are increasingly using misdemeanor convictions as a means to cull applicant pools. While the best advice is to not break the law to begin with sometimes life happens and Mr. Policeman comes a-callin’.

If you are a first time offender you often have options and ways to avoid a traffic misdemeanor conviction. In my humble opinion you should never plead ‘guilty’ to a misdemeanor or felony which may be related to driving without first consulting with an attorney licensed by the state in which the offense occurred. Most attorneys offer free or low cost consults so there is no reason not to reach out to someone and explore your options.

Of course, all of my advice and comments are for information purposes only. This blog is not about legal advice and there is no attorney client relationship here. However, I believe the general public needs to know more about how traffic offenses can impact their lives for years to come and perhaps there is a need for change with regard to how we handle traffic offenses in Michigan.

My two cents worth. Take them as you will.

Warehousing the Problem

BY ERIN K. DOERING

For a long time I have been told that I should write about my work as an attorney. I have been told I am something of a good storyteller. I will leave you, the reader, to decide at to whether I am able to weave a good yarn or my words are more appropriately associated with ‘yawn’.

One thing this blog will not be is organized. I plan on writing here as I think – many tabs open at the same time and random thoughts abounding.

Any ways –

An attorney’s stock and trade is in language. Our use of language – spoken or written – is why we are paid. We are looked at by non-attorneys as ‘smarty pants’. But are we worthy of this praise? The answer to that question depends on who you ask (and whether or not you are answering the question while behind jail bars). I have found that opinions on attorneys become far more favorable the when one’s liberty is at stake than when one is sitting in the comfort of their own home, surfing the internet. Is this unfair? To my way of thinking the change of opinion depending on the circumstances is not unfair or unreasonable. People don’t go to the doctor (generally) unless something is wrong – the same may be said of attorneys.

So what is the point of the random statements above? They are my observations. This blog is not going to tell you how to get out of a parking ticket or how to write a land contract. The purpose of this blog is and will be to make the reader think. This blog will consist of my musings and observations along with the occasional bit of story time. Sure, I’ll also throw in general advice here and there but this will not be a solely educational blog.

As to the name of this blog – Warehousing the Problem –

I picked this name because it reflects what I see all too often as a criminal defense attorney – we warehouse problems in jail and prison. We are forever kicking the proverbial can down the road when all we do is react to bad things happening – in this case, criminal behavior. What if we invested time on the front end and educated young people about what happens when they get pulled over or get caught drinking underage or get caught smoking pot? Or what if we decided that once people are in the system for whatever criminal offense you want to think of we try to figure out the best way to keep that person from coming back to the system?

Problem-solving courts in Michigan are steps in the right direction but I believe we can and should do more. Most people who have criminal records are not bad people – they just made bad choices. What good do we do when we saddle a young person with a criminal record for a minor offense and they become unemployable? A criminal conviction slams a lot of doors in the face of a lot of people. When a person cannot see a light and only ever hears ‘no’ then they get desperate. Desperate people do desperate things including more criminal behavior and more criminal behavior equals more crime victims.

At the end of the day we are still warehousing people in jail and prison because we don’t ask why those people are in jail or prison to begin with. Sometimes the first time someone gets connected with proper physical and mental healthcare is when they enter the criminal justice system. We have to do something with that. Most inmates will eventually get out of jail or prison. The convicted do not go away forever – most of them will eventually be back in our communities and we need to figure out how we are going to keep them from further criminal behavior once they are free.

We cannot continue to think that incarceration is the way to prevent criminal behavior. We must punish bad behavior but then we must also make attempts to rehabilitate. If we continue as we have in the past – just putting people in jail or prison and leaving the problem of their release for another day or generation – we will merely be warehousing the problem instead of solving the problem.