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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Oakland Prosecutor Sticks with Decision to Quit Sobriety Courts

From its inception in 2003 until January 2009, this Blogger (Timothy Flynn) was a member of the 52/2nd District's Sobriety Court.  This post is an update on a blog our firm posted back in May 2009.

In the earlier post, The LawBlogger addressed the situation with the Oakland County Prosecutor refusing to participate in sobriety courts across the county.  Jessica Cooper has stuck to this decision and she has been receiving much (negative) attention from discrict court judges and now, the Oakland Executive, Brooks Patterson.  Click here for the full article from the Oakland Press. 

In the article, Cooper makes clear that she does not think the sobriety court program is worth the expenditure.  Her comments, however, seem more directed to the Oakland Circuit Drug Court, which was a recent victim of budget cuts.  The statistics she cites (i.e. only 10 graduates) do not apply to the hugely successful district sobriety courts; they graduated thousands of defendants, sustain sobriety throughout the community and may have saved dozens of lives.  No one was ever sitting around singing "kumbaya" as Cooper imagines.  Rather, her APAs were working day after day, session after session, keeping people sober and out of jail.  I often found myself in discussions where I would be arguing for more jail time than the APA.

Here is the original post:

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 charged with operating while intoxicated (OWI) are no longer offered the customary plea reduction to operating while "impaired". This new policy may result in unnecessary jury trials.

Having an OWI 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's responsibility fee ($500 for two consecutive years, compared to $1000 each year). Other fines, costs and attorney fees are 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.

Post Script: The public should not be confused by Cooper's blunt commentary regarding sobriety and drug courts. In the felony context, theraputic courts are dealing with a much tougher customer; in most cases such defendants are three-time felons with serious drug addictions. In the district courts, most defendants are simply struggling with alcohol and overall, have less troubling criminal records.

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Anonymous tight waddie said...

would you just get off it. when people commit crimes, they need to go to jail, no matter what offense they commit. as a taxpayer, i don't want any county money going to bs programs like this

September 20, 2009 at 7:34 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a graduate of sobriety court, in Novi, and it changed my life. Keep those courts going.

September 24, 2009 at 10:49 PM 
Anonymous Joe Blow said...

Very few people graduate from the programs, maybe six people a session. Very beneficial to those six, but for the rest of society? Not sure. The expenses I saw, from staff, to bagels, to expensive catered lunches can't possibly help add to the heafty drug court costs. Everyone else is cutting back, why not the cut the program that helps six drunks a year?

November 23, 2009 at 3:46 AM 
Blogger Timothy P. Flynn said...

Dear Mr. Blow:

Having participated in the sobriety court in Clarkston, I can relate that there were at least six grads each session. Sometimes we had 12-15, and we had two graduations per year. Novi graduated about 20 per year, as did Waterford. Over time, the numbers were building. Hundreds graduated from the Clarkston in the time I was there; thousands spread-out across the county.

Yes, times are tough and budget cuts are everywhere. I thought demonstrably safer roads would have been a higher priority. The sobriety court goes way beyond helping six drunks a year. That now-sober driver may have driven past you or me on some night this year; if so, then we have benefitted from the program as well.

November 23, 2009 at 5:44 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am currently in sobriety court through oakland county 52-1. I'm 60 days in and if you ask me its all about money! Phase 1 consists of testing daily pbts and you have a color for your drug screening which you call every morning between 6am and 7:30. You have to pay $2 a day to blow and $4 a day to drop so there is $6 dollars a day for that. You take a monthly ETG which costs $16 dollars which is pointless since were all ready drug testing and blowing! An ETG detects alcohol from what i hear back up to two weeks but what does that matter if your already testing daily. I have counceling that i pay for once a week. I pay smart start $95 dollars a month to have a camera in my car to watch me blow which is also pointless, bc i am already testing daily anyways. So anyways I pay 150 a month for testing 95 a month for smart start we will say 100 a month for counseling on top of my 2000 dollar driver responsiblilty, in a few month I will get my court fines and costs, which i have already paid 800 of which will probably be 800 more. So tell me how it isnt about money? and is really helping us? because its not, it is not a treatment program we do NOTHING but test like normal people in jams do it just costs more and we just have to show up on time otherwise you get commuinty service or go to jail. Oh and you have to go to AA daily, which is honistly to much maybe 4 times a week would actually do some good because you get tired and bored of going bc ppl tell the same story everyday and you get sick of telling your EVERYDAY. So theres what it is from "the toughest" 52-1 district court (NOVI) Oakland county

January 10, 2013 at 5:23 PM 

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