News and Announcements Archive

SANTA arrives early for those confined in Washtenaw County Jail

November 29, 2006

On December 19, 2006, Washtenaw Circuit Judge Melinda Morris (Santa) issued a writ of mandamus requiring Washtenaw County Sheriff Minzey to comply with the mandatory provisions of the Jail Emergency Overcrowding Act.  Assuming that the sheriff will obey the order, the sheriff would then reduce the sentences of those confined at the Jail by a specific percentage, which would result in a number of people being released in time to spend the holidays with their families.

The litigation was filed by the Wayne State University Law School Civil Rights Litigation Clinic, under the supervision of Clinic Staff Attorney Daniel Manville.  The request for writ of mandamus was argued by WSU law student Mitch Wrosch.

It was brought to the attention of the Clinic that Sheriff Minzey was willfully disobeying the mandatory requirement of a statute to reduce the sentences of those serving time in the county jail when the jail became overcrowded for more than 30 days.  In seeking to reduce the population, the Michigan Legislature requires consecutive steps be taken until the rated capacity of the jail has been reached.

The first step required by the statute is a designation by the sheriff of the existence of an overcrowding situation.  Local officials are then required to work towards reducing the number of pretrial detainees being held in the jail by reducing bond amounts, placing people on tether, placing people on personal recognizance, etc.  If this process does not reduce the jail population below the rated capacity of the jail, the sheriff is mandated to send to the chief judge a list of sentenced individuals and the chief judge will then designate who should have their sentences reduced and the amount of that reduction, up to 30 per cent.  If this process still does not reduce population below the rated capacity, the statute then requires the “sheriff to reduce” all those serving sentences of up to 30 per cent.  This is the mandatory provision that Sheriff Minzey refused to implement.  In an email which the Clinic obtained, Sheriff Minzey, in response to the chief judge urging compliance with the mandate of MCL 801.57, stated he would not comply with this provision of the statute.

The Court found that the sheriff had a legal duty to follow the mandatory provision of Section 7 of the Jail Emergency Overcrowding Act.  The Court further found that the sheriff had refused to comply with this provision.  The Court went on to state that the Legislature had enacted these provisions “to alleviate overcrowding that would otherwise lead to incidents of violence, disorder, injury and allegations of cruel and unusual punishment and violations of inmates’ Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights…”  The sheriff was ordered to comply with Section 7 upon his receipt of the Order of the Court.

The sheriff’s refusal to comply with this order could result in a civil rights lawsuit by those sentenced inmates who are being kept confined past their release date.  Such a lawsuit could result in a cost to the county of hundred of thousands of dollars in damages, costs and attorney fees.  It would also result in a request that the sheriff be held in contempt of court and that a significant fine be imposed for each day that he has not obeyed the order.

For further information, please contact Clinic Staff Attorney Dan Manville by phone at (248) 890.4720, or email at dmanville@wayne.edu.