Oakland Prosecutor Quits Sobriety Courts and Rejects “Impaired” Pleas
Jessica Cooper has demonstrated a top-down command structure since taking over the prosecutor’s office in January. One of the commands from the top is that first-time drunk drivers are no longer offered the customary plea reduction to operating while “impaired”. This new policy may result in unnecessary jury trials.
Having an Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) charge reduced to “impaired” provides two advantages: less stringent mandatory driver’s license sanctions ordered through the Secretary of State (60-90 day restricted license compared to a 6-month hard suspension), and a lower driver responsibility fee ($500 for two consecutive years, compared to $1000 each year). Other fines, costs and attorney fees are also higher in the OWI context.
Even for first-time offenders, a reduction to impaired is not always offered in cases where the blood-alcohol level (BAC) far exceeds the legal limit. With the proscutor’s new policy, however, there are no apparent exceptions, even where the BAC is relatively low.
The new policy has been informally acknowledged by numerous Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys over the past several weeks. Defense attorneys are now considering jury trials, where a simple plea to impaired would have resolved the case.
For repeat offenders, alcohol abuse treatment is mandatory and other punishments are increased. Sobriety or “drug courts” have sprang-up in the past several years to address the problem.
In another important policy development from Cooper’s office, the Oakland County Prosecutor will no longer participate in these sobriety courts, now spread throughout Oakland County. A sobriety court emphasizes drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation over incarceration. Such courts utilize a team approach to manage the intensive probation process. Obviously, the “team” includes the prosecuting attorney, along with a therapist, probation officer, defense attorney, and judge.
The statistics emerging from these courts have forged a consensus among professionals throughout Michigan, and the nation; sobriety-style courts are effective in dealing with drug and alcohol abuse crimes. The Oakland County Prosecutor’s office should be participating in society’s effort to address irresponsible addictions. The end-result is safer public roadways.