Column by State Rep. Graham Filler
Throughout my life and my career as an assistant attorney general, I have always believed strongly in the concept of proportional penalties – the idea that our laws should be fair and just, and any penalties handed down should accurately reflect the severity of a crime.
This philosophy is one of the driving forces behind many of the recent criminal justice reforms I have helped initiate in the Michigan Legislature. Most recently, it influenced bipartisan legislation to reduce penalties for certain low-level crimes.
The plan would turn several low-level misdemeanors into civil infractions, creating more appropriate penalties for offenses many people believe we have been over-criminalizing our citizens for committing. We’re not talking about violent crimes, but minor violations anyone could commit – things like license plate violations, improperly displaying a snowmobile registration or failing to attach a name and address to a fishing tip-up, hunting blind or tree stand.
These crimes are all currently misdemeanors punishable by time in jail and/or fines. If our plan is enacted, they would become civil infractions punishable by fines of up to $150.
Not only is a fine a more proportional penalty for the offenses in question, it will also reduce the burden for people who are required to show up in court for a misdemeanor, rather than simply paying a fine and moving on with their lives as they could with a civil infraction.
It’s not uncommon for a Clinton or Gratiot county resident to get a misdemeanor ticket Up North and have to return a month or two later for a hearing, even though the majority of these cases are pleaded down to civil infractions anyway. It’s a waste of time and resources for everyone involved. Making these reforms will free up prosecutors, judges and law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes.
A Jackson County man who testified earlier this year before the House Judiciary Committee is the perfect example of why this legislation is important. The man had placed the registration for his snowmobile on the back of the vehicle, rather than the front, after having two other decals placed in the correct location fall apart from the elements. He was trying to protect the sticker by changing its placement – and learned the hard way that placing it on the back of his snowmobile was unacceptable.
The man had purchased three registration decals in three years, even though one registration is valid for three years. He was clearly trying to comply with the law, yet he still faced a misdemeanor, which would have been detrimental to his career. He had to pay substantial attorney costs simply to keep his job and his livelihood.
This is just one example. All too often, people in Michigan unintentionally break the law and end up facing harsh, unfair penalties. With this legislation, I’m fighting to get the government off people’s backs and increase civil liberties for all Michigan residents.
The House approved our plan last month, and it is now awaiting further consideration in the Senate. I am hopeful my colleagues in the Senate will support these measures to end the over-criminalization of our citizens.
State Rep. Graham Filler of DeWitt is serving his first term in the Michigan House representing residents of Gratiot and Clinton counties. A former assistant attorney general, he now serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
State Rep. Graham Filler today issued the following statement after Gov. Whitmer signed legislation he spearheaded to protect businesses, universities, non-profit organizations and other Michigan job providers from becoming the target of frivolous lawsuits related to COVID-19: