Owosso police car

An Owosso police car is shown in this Sept. 29, 2017.

LANSING — A new Michigan law gives police officers across the state leeway in whether or not to arrest people for non-violent misdemeanors — including drunken driving — and instead issue a notice to appear in court, a change that has led to some uncertainty.

Public Act 393 of 2020, effective April 1, is not a “get out of jail free” card, officials said, and local police agencies will still be performing arrests for felonies and serious misdemeanors.

Michigan State Police Special Lt. Kimberly Vetter, the Third District Public Information Officer, said troopers will make arrests on OWI offenses in many cases.

“The caveat is that if the person is a danger we have the ability to lodge them,” Vetter said. “Most people arrested for impaired driving aren’t in a position to care for themselves. We don’t want someone to jump back in a car and hurt someone.”

Vetter added the new law is something troopers and other police officers are still learning, but she understands it’s part of police reform.

“There’s a lot of questions about the law and we’re working through this,” Vetter continued. “This happens a lot with new laws. It’s part of criminal justice reform. We’re not lodging people for simple traffic misdemeanors. What it does do is make sure we’re not lodging people for a suspended license or no insurance, which is a step in the right direction. Policing isn’t a perfect science. We’re going to keep the public safe.”

Departments did not provide statistics on what percentage of OWI or other misdemeanor suspects are being lodged or ticketed and released since the law changed.

Shiawassee County Prosecutor Scott Koerner said while individual officers will have to make the final judgment call on whether or not to make an arrest, he strongly urged doing so for OWI offenses.

Sheriff Brian BeGole agreed with Koerner and plans to have deputies lodge OWI suspects.

“The Michigan Legislature amended several statues April 1, 2021, which requires law enforcement to issue appearance tickets for misdemeanor offences not exceeding one year in jail,” BeGole said via email. “This doesn’t apply to assaultive crimes, domestic violence, PPO violations, child abuse, firearm offenses, stalking, etc. There are exceptions written into the statue that allows a law enforcement officer to lodge someone when the arrested person presents an immediate danger to themselves, or any other reason the officer deems reasonable to arrest the person, but that reason must be articulated in the police report.”

Owosso police Lt. Eric Cherry said rules for lodging arrestees changed during the COVID-19 pandemic because of risks to public health, and jails were not booking inmates for misdemeanor offenses.

“I don’t think much has changed procedurally for us, we’ve adapted to COVID anyway,” Cherry said. “It essentially mirrors that. It’s discretionary for officers.”

For example, Cherry said forced entry-type crimes, even if charged as a misdemeanor, will still result in an arrest and incarceration.

Appearance tickets will not be issued — and arrests will still be made — for individuals accused of assaultive crimes.

Arrests also are likely if people refuse to follow “reasonable instructions” from police or provide identification, if there is a chance the offense would continue or resume, a person presents an immediate danger to themselves, if the person requests to be taken before a magistrate, or other reason deemed reasonable by the arresting officer.

In addition, the new law requires any person who is arrested to be charged no later than 3 p.m. the following day during which arraignments can be performed. For more information, visit legislature.mi.gov/(S(sq0thfx1gzh24hts3u5hiqjp))/mileg.aspx?page= BillStatus&objectname=2020-SB-1046.

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