Prosecutor establishes new policy for warrant reviews

FLINT — Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton has established a new policy for assistant prosecutors in his office to follow when reviewing warrant requests from police.

In a staff meeting with all lawyers in the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office, Leyton laid out the details of a new warrant review practice he said is intended to prevent police from using low-level ordinance or civil infractions as a reason to stop and question a citizen who is otherwise doing nothing wrong or illegal.

“In light of the very important social conversations currently taking place across the nation, I have had many discussions with staff and community members about the perception of law enforcement in our county,” said Leyton in an official memorandum to the lawyers in his office. Leyton indicated these conversations are “an important part of improving the criminal justice system from the community to the courtroom” and the new policy regarding warrant reviews is likely just one of many policy changes affecting how the Prosecutor’s Office and police conduct their business.

The new policy Leyton rolled out recently states the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office will not authorize warrants where the sole basis for the police interaction with a citizen is the result of a violation of a state or local ordinance regarding walking on/in a street where a sidewalk is provided.

Leyton indicated many communities have ordinances preventing citizens from walking in a street where sidewalks are present but its enforcement is potentially selective and subjective and may be used as a means to interact with citizens in order to uncover other potential crimes being committed such as illegal drug or weapons possessions or outstanding warrants.

“Such practices oftentimes are used in urban centers as opposed to suburban communities and that is an unfair and unequal treatment under the law,” Leyton said. “The perception and many times the reality is that such practices are an unwarranted harassment of an individual and an intrusion into their daily life,” he said.

Leyton said his new policy is aimed at fairness in our justice system and eliminating selective enforcement to ensure equal treatment of every resident in Genesee County from one municipality to the other.

“If police bring a warrant request to my office where the only reason a more serious crime was uncovered was because the police stopped an individual for walking in the street, that warrant will be denied,” he said.

“There must be other tangible evidence a crime is being committed before we will entertain a warrant,” he said while noting that warrant decisions where other tangible evidence are presented will be evaluated on the individual merits of the case. “It is incumbent upon us as ministers of justice to ensure we have adequate information in the police reports submitted by the arresting agency to make this determination,” he said.

Leyton emphasized he is not endorsing or encouraging citizens to walk in the street because that is a traffic and pedestrian safety issue. Leyton said all local police chiefs, the sheriff, and the Michigan State Police Post Commander in Flint have been notified of this decision which has gone into immediate effect. — G.G.