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Wayne County Tether Program

19 local jurisdictions in Wayne County use jail facilities outside Wayne County to jail offenders. In 2009, Westland spent nearly $600,000 to send misdemeanor offenders to the Isabella County Jail, and Romulus sends all of its offenders to Clare County. The local jurisdictions pay to have these individuals serve a jail sentence up north because Wayne County reserves only 180 beds for misdemeanors committed outside Detroit. (Another 180 beds are reserved for Detroit misdemeanor cases.) This means that overcrowding is a real problem for the Wayne County Jails. Under a 1991 judicial consent decree, the director of the jails has the authority to release inmates when faced with overcrowding. Overcrowding occurs all the time at the Wayne County Jail because so many people are housed in these facilities. At any given time, approximately 1,700 people are incarcerated for felonies or awaiting trial, unable to post bond. The 180 beds that are set aside for Wayne County misdemeanor cases is frequently disregarded because of overcrowding, and only 120 to 140 beds may be available for misdemeanor offenders.

In lieu of jail, Wayne County will have upwards of 500 people on tether at a time. 

You cannot request to be placed on tether. This is not a program akin to work release. But based upon your classification by the jail, so long as the offense is a non-assaultive and nonviolent crime, there is a substantial likelihood that you will be released by the Wayne County Jail if you are convicted of a misdemeanor offense and sentenced to serve your time in the Wayne County Jail. 

OWI 3rd Charges and Tether in Wayne County Jails

On an OWI 3rd charge, the jail has vacillated between releasing people on tether and holding them for a minimum of 30 days, so at any given time it might be difficult to predict whether and when a person will be released on tether. But, again, keep in mind that this a jail decision.  On an OWI 3rd offense, an Oakland County judge was reversed when a tether was ordered in lieu of jail because a court must sentence the defendant to at least 30 days in jail for an OWI 3rd. The Michigan Court of Appeals held in People v. Pennebaker, 298 Mich. App. 1, 7-9 (2012) that:

"The tether program is a restriction, not a confinement, and is not 'jail' as that term is commonly used and understood." People v Reynolds, 195 Mich App 182, 184; 489 NW2d 128 (1992). The panel in People v Smith, 195 Mich App 147, 152; 489 NW2d 135 (1992), perhaps explained the distinction most directly: Under no circumstances can we reasonably conclude that confinement in one's home or apartment is the equivalent of confinement "in jail." This is so even where, as here, the conditions of home confinement require the person confined to go directly to work, to return home immediately from work, and to be at home at all times unless approval is given by a probation officer. Home detention does not include the highly structured setting of a prison or jail. One cannot remain on the phone for extended periods, invite friends for extended visits, order a pizza, watch television during periods of one's own choosing, or have free access to the refrigerator in jail.

Contrary to defendant's arguments, an at-home electronic-monitoring program is also not equivalent to traditional work-release programs. Pursuant to MCL 801.251, the Legislature has specifically allowed courts to release inmates from jail during necessary and reasonable hours for work, substance abuse treatment, counseling, and other statutorily authorized activities. However, this statute contemplates that inmates will return to jail during hours when they are not engaged in the statutorily-permitted activities. Indeed, the statute specifies that a court "may grant to the person the privilege of leaving the jail during necessary and reasonable hours" Id. MCL 801.251 (emphasis added). The Legislature has also given the sheriff and trial judges the authority to reduce prisoner population by means of work-release programs. MCL 801.55. However, the work-release programs must be "authorized by law." MCL 801.55(e). As discussed, the statute at issue, MCL 257.625(7)(a)(ii)(B), does not authorize any sentence less than imprisonment in jail for 30 days for a person convicted under that subsection. Again, the plain language of MCL 257.625(7)(a)(ii)(B) mandates that defendant serve at least 30 days in the county jail, and a tether does not amount to imprisonment in jail.

As previously noted, we are mindful of the serious nature of jail overcrowding in Michigan, including Oakland County, and the program the sheriff designed to handle this problem is a thoughtful method designed to deal with this difficult issue. However, it is for the Legislature to decide whether to alter the minimum and maximum punishment for this crime which, in this case, involved not only intoxicated driving, but the transportation of minors and a prior operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated conviction. Unless and until the Legislature decides to change the required penalty for MCL 257.625(7)(a)(ii), the plain language of the statute and our caselaw compel us to reverse the trial court's sentence because it ignores the clear legislative mandate.

A person might still be ordered released on tether in Wayne County because it is necessary to release the incarcerated person due to overcrowding. If there simply is not enough space, the jail has the authority to release inmates when faced with overcrowding, and this will result in being placed on tether. 



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William Maze is an established Livonia Michigan attorney in Wayne County Michigan, and he has represented well over a thousand satisfied criminal defense clients across the state.  He has received multiple awards and recognitions, and he maintains a national reputation as one of the leading drunk driving defense attorneys in the country.  

  • Extensive training and education far beyond the average lawyer
  • Actually fights cases and is willing to go to trial
  • Past President of CDAM (2014-2015), the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan
  • Member of the National College for DUI Defense
  • Member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers