Community Outreach Court Guidelines

I.  Generally 

The Grand Traverse Community Outreach Court (“GTCOC”) is a collaborative program of the 86th District Court tailored to the unique needs of people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness who, once they have entered the program, demonstrate sincere and sustained efforts to end or reduce their risk of homelessness by completing an individualized action plan.

The purpose of GTCOC is to offer individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness the opportunity to resolve certain civil and criminal infractions by crediting specific actions intended to address the root causes of their homelessness and criminal history toward fines, costs, bench warrants, and jail time.  GTCOC recognizes that everyone in our community benefits when there are viable options available to a person experiencing homelessness to overcome potential barriers to housing and employment, such as cumulative court fees.  

GTCOC operates under the authority and discretion of the 86th District Court of Michigan (“Court”), Grand Traverse County Prosecutor, Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Department, and Traverse City Police Department, in consultation with members of the defense bar, social service providers, and members of the community who have experienced homelessness.   

These Guidelines are advisory.  They are not intended to replace or supersede state or local court rules.  In the event that a participant’s case is returned to the traditional court system, all parties retain the constitutional, statutory, and procedural rights available to them prior to participating in GTCOC.

II.  Applicant Eligibility 

Eligible participants include those who have or are experiencing homelessness or otherwise struggling to afford life’s basic necessities and therefore at risk of homelessness.  The Review Committee has discretion to prioritize applicants based on multiple factors,including applicant need and demonstrated willingness to complete the program.

To be eligible, applicants must have received services for at least thirty (30) days from the date the applicant began receiving services (“Date of Entry”) from the social service provider (“Provider”)through which the applicant applies for GTCOC.  

III.  Offense Ineligibility 

GTCOC has jurisdiction over a range of civil and criminal infractions based on the Court’s jurisdiction as defined by statute, or as otherwise authorized by law.  However, the following categories of offenses will not be heard:

  • (A)  A driving offense involving any unlawful level of controlled substance;
  • (B)  A driving offense involving any unlawful level of blood alcohol content;
  • (C)  Any sex offense, with the exception of minor incidents as determined by the Prosecutor’s office, such as indecent exposure and disorderly obscene conduct;
  • (D)  Any violation of the Sex Offender Registry Act unless the homelessness of the program Participant is directly related to the violation; and
  • (E)  Any offenses punishable by more than one (1)year of incarceration.  

IV.  Application Process 

Social service agencies and community members refer all potential applicants to GTCOC through one of the Providers listed in the GTCOC Memorandum of Understanding.   

An applicant works with a Provider to complete an application.  The Provider then sends the application directly to the GTCOC Coordinator, a person designated by the Presiding Judge. Applications will not be approved until an applicant has been receiving the Provider’s services for at least thirty (30) days from the Date of Entry.

The following guidelines govern the application:

  • (A) Content:  Working with the Provider, the applicant must include the applicant’s Date of Entry, identification and contact information for applicant and Provider, any known criminal history in any jurisdiction, and contact information for any relevant parole and probation officers.
  • (B) Individualized Action Plan:  Applicant must attach a proposed Individualized Action Plan that lists measurable goals and actions that address the root causes of the applicant’s criminal history and homelessness.  Samples are attached to the application.
  • (C) Submission:  Providers shall submit applications to the GTCOC Coordinator.
  • (D) Confidential Records:  Applications will be presented to the Review Committee for consideration for admission to the program.  Only an admitted participant’s contact information and action plan will be entered into public court records.  To the extent that the records fall within the Nonpublic and Limited-Access Court Records guidelines (rev. Jan. 2014), the records will not be entered into the public record.

V.  Initial Screening Process & Review Committee 

Applications are reviewed by a Review Committee consisting of representatives of the Court, Prosecutor’s office, law enforcement, defense bar, social service providers, and members of the community who have experienced homelessness.  The Review Committee shall adopt a confidentiality policy with respect to the matters discussed in the Review Committee.   

When the Court learns of a potentially eligible applicant, the Court has the authority to adjourn any pending and adjudicated matters at the Court for sixty (60) days so the applicant will have time to present himself/herself to a Provider to become eligible for GTCOC.  During that sixty day(60) period, no actions shall be taken on pending or adjudicated matters until an eligibility determination has been made by the Coordinator (if denied on initial eligibility review) or Review Committee (full review).   

To prepare applications for screening, the Coordinator will:   

  • (A)  Accept and maintain applications;
  • (B)   Research and document an applicant’s criminal history;
  • (C)    Conduct an initial screening of Applicant to determine eligibility;
  • (D)     Inform the Presiding Judge, prosecutors, and defense counsel of the application and the results of the initial screening(this may be done at the Review Committee); 
  • (E)    Schedule the applicant for initial review by the Review Committee; and
  • (F)    Contact the applicant’s Provider to invite the Provider to attend the next available Review Committee meeting.

At the next available meeting,the Review Committee will examine the applicant’s application, proposed Individualized Action Plan, and ask questions of Provider to determine the applicant’s eligibility and preparation to complete his or her Individualized Action Plan.  If an applicant is accepted as a Participant, the Coordinator will contact the Provider with relevant scheduling details, including the next Readiness Conference and possible hearing dates.  The Review Committee may ask that the applicant (with the assistance of a Provider) revise the Individualized Action Plan before accepting the applicant into the program.

VI.  Readiness Conferences 

At meetings, the Review Committee will review each Participant’s progress, which may be documented in writing,presented in person, or presented by teleconference or video conference, by the Participant’s referring Provider.  Review Committee members may ask questions about the Participant’s progress.  When the Review Committee is satisfied that the Participant has made progress toward his/her goals but has not substantially achieved all goals in the

Individualized Action Plan, the Review Committee will recommend the Participant for a Status

Hearing.  If the Review Committee is satisfied that the Participant has achieved or substantially achieved all goals in the Individualized Action Plan, the Review Committee will recommend the Participant for a Final Hearing.  The Review Committee has discretion to recommend that a participant be removed from the program for failure to make progress toward the Individualized Action Plan. Judges maintain ultimate discretion as to whether a participant will be removed from the program.   

VII.  Hearings 

Hearings will be conducted off-site in a manner consistent with state and local court rules and held on the record.  The record will include:   

  • (A)  Entry of appearances by all parties;
  • (B)    Judge’s statement of charges;
  • (C)   Presentation of evidence demonstrating a Participant’s efforts and success or challenges in complying with his or her Individualized Action Plan;
  • (D)   The Prosecutors’ objections, if any;  
  • (E)   Judge’s findings of fact and law; and
  • (F)  Entry of judgment and orders as necessary and appropriate.

The purpose of a Status Hearing is for the court to obtain a status update from the parties, hold the Participant accountable in accomplishing the goals set forth in the Individualized Action Plan, and encourage the Participant.  The purpose of a Final Hearing is to grant relief and celebrate the Participant’s success in achieving the Individualized Action Plan.   

In most cases, a Final Hearing that grants comprehensive relief shall not be held until at least 90 days after a Participant’s Date of Entry,and typically will be scheduled after at least two Readiness Conference at which the Review Committee determines the Participant has made substantial progress toward achieving his/her Individualized Action Plan.  The Review Committee has discretion as to when to approve the Participant for a Final Hearing.

VIII.  Available Relief 

Possible relief from the GTCOC program may include:  

  • (A)   Setting aside default judgments;
  • (B)    Dismissal of unadjudicated cases;
  • (C)   Discharge of Participant from probation;
  • (D)    Closure of adjudicated cases;
  • (E)    Waiver of court costs and warrant fees and other fees within the court’s authority;  
  • (F)  Waiver of Secretary of State fees as legally permissible;  
  • (G)  Dismissal of bench warrants.

XIV.  Restitution Ineligible for Relief 

Restitution awards shall not be vacated without the prior written approval of the beneficiary of the unpaid restitution.