2005-05-20 / Top News

New Island Probation Policy Set

By Karen Gould

Around 10 to 15 percent of the 92nd District Count probationers originate from Mackinac Island, according to court documents, and this criminal case load arises from people violating the terms of their probation. These open cases date to 1994, and District Court Judge Beth Gibson is instituting a new procedure to reduce the number. Beginning this week, she will require those who appear before her to pay their fines within two weeks or she will issue a bench warrant for their arrest.

Right now, said Judge Gibson, Mackinac Island has 10 computer printout pages of probation cases still outstanding. Those 10 pages contain 365 open cases of probation violations and total 404 counts of alleged infractions of the law.

Beginning May 20 and approximately every two weeks throughout the summer, Judge Gibson will hold court on the Island, and when someone appears before her and is given a probation and a fine, that person will have around two weeks to pay their fine, or until the next time court is held on the Island. If the fine is not paid by the next scheduled court date, she will initiate contempt of court proceedings against that person. If the fine is paid, the person does not have to appear, she said.

“Practically speaking,” she said, “we have to do something different.”

The open case load results from the many transient workers on the Island, she said. The workers leave the Island at the end of the season without paying their fines. Most of the open cases are for minors in possession of alcohol or are drug related.

Judge Gibson also is considering alerting employers that their workers will be appearing before the court so employers can anticipate any employee shift shortages. She said during the two summers she worked on the Island while in college, she experienced first hand the workload problems absent workers create.

“I’ve consulted with Mayor [Margaret] Doud and we are looking into the possibility of preparing a master list of employers and their phone numbers,” she said, “so we can keep the employers appraised of employees who appear before the court.”

Those who are non-compliant with terms of their probation will be lodged in the Mackinac County Jail in St. Ignace.

“This process may mean more up-front work for us,” she said, “but it is a way to solve the problem.”

The most common summer Island cases are minor in possession, drug related violations, breaking and entering, and indecent exposure, she said. During the winter months, she is more likely to see snowmobile-related violations, such as driving while intoxicated.

Judge Gibson is hoping this new, accelerated plan will reduce non-compliance, motivate those who have violated the law to quickly complete the terms of their probation, and serve as a deterrent for others in knowing the process will move forward swiftly and that they will be held accountable.

“I’d like to see people go on and succeed and get off probation,” she said.

92nd District Court Judge Beth Gibson will be holding regular court hours on Mackinac Island. Bringing the court to the Island will make attendance more convenient, increase compliance with probationary terms, reduce time missed from work, and make it easier for local law enforcement officers, said Judge Gibson.

Court will be held the first and third Friday of each month beginning May 20. For June, however, court will be the first and forth Friday, which is June 3, and June 24. Sessions will take place at the City Hall on Market Street beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Previously, court was held in St. Ignace at the County Building.

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