Home News Center New Year, New Legislation: Michigan Legislature Passes Two Key Reforms

New Year, New Legislation: Michigan Legislature Passes Two Key Reforms

January 10, 2013

As 2012 came to a close, the Michigan Legislature pushed through two pieces of legislation key to advancing much-needed juvenile justice reforms. Michelle Weemhoff, the Senior Policy Associate at Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, shares below—Ed.

After five long years of advocacy, three legislative sessions, two governors and the formation of a coalition of more than 50 divergent groups, I’m happy to report that the Michigan Legislature passed juvenile competency legislation. On January 2, 2013, Governor Snyder signed it, ensuring that children who stand accused of crimes are competent to participate in their court hearings.

The long-awaited standards will strengthen constitutional protections for kids and provide a roadmap for courts. Under the new law, a child can only be processed in juvenile court if he or she can adequately understand the roles of various courtroom personnel and the court process, and make reasonable decisions regarding his or her own case. Before this law, Michigan courts inconsistently defined juvenile competency and had no common set of qualifications for juvenile forensic evaluators. As a result, mentally ill children awaiting a delinquency hearing could be placed in detention indefinitely.

Effective immediately, the new laws will:

  • establish a presumption of incompetence for any child under age 10, and a process for attorneys to raise competency as an issue for kids 10 and older in juvenile court;
  • require that examiners have experience and expertise in child and adolescent forensic evaluations (and requires them to use the JACI or a similarly-approved instrument);
  • require the least restrictive environment for children and teens awaiting and participating in evaluations; and
  • create an avenue for "restoration" to competency before prosecution proceeds, or (in some cases) mental health services if a youth is unable to be restored.

If that were not enough, the Michigan Legislature also passed juvenile record expungement legislation. Finally, young people will have the same expungement options as adults in Michigan’s criminal justice system.

Before, youth in the juvenile justice system could only petition for expungement for one offense, at the age of 25 or five years after adjudication, whichever came later. Now, they will be able to petition for expungement after one year or age 18 for up to one felony and two misdemeanors (and any offenses committed together within a 12-hour period are considered one offense.)

This is going to be a huge opportunity for young people to put mistakes behind them and pursue employment, education and lifelong stability.

Photo: UBC Library, under Creative Commons License

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