© 2024 WEMU
Serving Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, MI
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Washtenaw County Prosecutor prepares for 'red flag' law changes

Washtenaw County Proseuctor Eli Savit
Wikimedia Commons
Washtenaw County Proseuctor Eli Savit


Cathy Shafran: This is 89.1 WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran. We're talking now about extreme risk protection orders. It was a law just signed by the governor last month, and it will make changes to how law enforcers and also the courts respond now, when somebody with a gun who is considered a threat to themselves or others is asked to have that gun taken away. One person who will be involved in the prosecutorial end of things, should there be a violation, is Washtenaw County prosecutor Eli Savit. Eli Savit is joining us now. Thanks for being here.

Eli Savit: Thank you so much for having me.

Cathy Shafran: Just start out by explaining, if you would, this extreme risk protection order that others are calling red flag laws. How will it change the system as we know it right now?

Eli Savit: So, what this law now allows for is either law enforcement, mental health professionals or family members, you know, spouses, former spouses, dating partners, former dating partners, a roommate, can file for that to go into court and provide, you know, evidence that says here is why this person, I believe, is a danger to themselves or others, and to have the court decide whether that is, in fact, true, at which point the court can order their firearms to be taken away for a period of one year. I'll just give a couple examples on this--why this is so important. You know, you can imagine a situation in which, you know, there's a shared family computer. And a mother finds that her 18-year-old son is Googling how to shoot up a school, right? And she knows that her son has access to weapons. There's no crime to charge there because no threat has been conveyed. You know, you can Google stuff all you want. It's not a crime. But I think everybody would agree that is an extraordinarily troubling behavior, especially if you combine it with, you know, potential mental health issues or other things. So, now in that circumstance, that mother who's concerned can file for an extreme risk protection order to get those guns safely out of the possession of her son.

Cathy Shafran: So, I'm assuming the law enforcers and the law enforcement community in Washtenaw County is taking a look at what it means, what changes it means for them. What does it mean for law enforcers? What does it mean for the court? And what does it mean for the prosecutor's office?

Eli Savit: You know, I'll start with law enforcement, with, you know, our police partners. Under the law, they are one of the categories of people who can go into court and seek to have this order put in place. And, you know, you can imagine why that might be. Officers see things on the ground regularly that, again, you know, may not rise to the level of criminal charges, you know? And, in fact, a person may be arrested themselves, right? You can imagine somebody being called out on somebody who is just absolutely suicidal. And so, this allows officers, in their discretion, if they believe there is that risk, to go into court and to seek an extreme risk protection order. From the court's perspective, you know, this is a entirely new type of proceeding. So, I'll note it has a lot of similarity to the well-established personal protection order process. So, you know, under the law, the courts are going to have to put out forms and allow people to apply for these are going to have to have, you know, hearings on this new docket for red flag law hearings. So, it'll certainly impact the court. And from our perspective, under the law, there are criminal violations if somebody is not in compliance with a red flag order as well as criminal violations, if somebody, you know, makes a false report under the red flag license. That said, you know, one of the things that I'm looking forward to having conversations with our law enforcement partners around is how can we work together when we see people that we know either from the prosecutor's perspective or from law enforcement's perspective does pose a risk. And how can we work together to get it to court, to get that person's gun taken away? And I'll give you one example that always is top of mind for me, quite candidly, is in domestic violence situations. We know that the presence of a firearm increases the risk of homicide 500%. Now, of course, you know, domestic violence, the crime, and we prosecute that crime, but, you know, not infrequently what may happen as a result of the coercive tactics of the abuser or, you know, just because the victim's wishes have changed is the victim may not show up at court, may not testify, ultimately in a court proceeding, against their abuser, which means that the case, generally, unless there's other evidence, can't proceed. Now, that's concerning if there's a firearm in that situation. Obviously, you know, we can get a court order. It's like a bond condition or a probation condition that they can't have access to firearms. But as soon as the case is dismissed, there's no court jurisdiction over that person. And so, one thing that I'm really looking forward to having conversations with our law enforcement partners about is, in these situations, how do we work together where we are concerned about the safety of a vulnerable individual to make sure that at least that person doesn't have access to firearms.

Cathy Shafran: So, what you're saying, in a case like this is, you know, that person might still be at risk. You can't do anything about it as long as that person is not going to testify against a partner or a loved one. And so, in this red flag case, you could reach out to law enforcers and ask them to begin the process.

Eli Savit: Yeah. And that's the, you know, conversations that are looking forward to having, you know, in the coming months as we wait for this law to go into effect. But, you know, that factual scenario occurs all too frequently is a concerning one. And we'd like to do everything that we can do. And, you know, I'm confident that all of our law enforcement partners feel the same.

Cathy Shafran: And do you think this is a type of law that perhaps needs to be explained to the general public where you might have discussion sessions on this or public announcements about it, anything along those lines?

Eli Savit: Absolutely. You know, and this is really important because so much of this, ultimately, comes down to people that are in our community seeing troubling behaviors and making the decision to take this step to file for a extreme risk protection order. You know, so, again, it's something that family members should be aware of that, you know, moms, dads, spouses, you know, roommates should be aware of. And so, I think there's definitely a need for public education about how you do this: you know, the forms you use when you go into court, what the criteria are. You know, I've done a video on Tik Tok about it already. And, you know, we'll be looking forward to putting out more information, especially the date draws near.

Cathy Shafran: So, public educate me because one area that I'm still in a quandary about is how quickly--it sounds like a very complicated process. If you are concerned as, say, a parent with a child has a gun that you feel might be a danger to themselves or others, how quickly can this red flag process work to get that gun away from him?

Eli Savit: It can be within a matter of hours, actually, if there is an imminent risk there. You know, you have to show by clear and convincing evidence that a person poses a risk to themselves or others to get a confiscation order in place before a hearing. And, again, this is sort of similar to the PPO process, right? So, we're not entirely treading on new ground here. But the way that it generally works is you can file something. It's called ex parte, right, which means without the other side having a response. And under the law, if that the judge concludes that there is clear and convincing evidence, right, that some of these weapons can be taken away, they can issue an order right away under that law without even, you know, waiting for the hearing. And the hearing has to take place within a week thereafter, so, you know, the person whose firearms are being confiscated does have an opportunity to defend themselves. S,o that's the due process, of course, that we need to have in all of us. And this is all supported. The law did not go into effect yet. The law is not currently in effect, even though the governor has signed it. So, this law is going to go into effect probably sometime in early 2024. So, as of now--you know, the bill was just signed a couple of weeks ago--I don't believe the courts, unless I'm mistaken, have created or published this form yet. There are under, you know, a legal obligation to do so under the law. But I don't believe that they've done so yet because, you know, they have a little bit of time because the law is not yet in effect.

Cathy Shafran: So, a lot of work still to be done on it. But the understanding is there that will pretty much change the way that these situations with potential gun violence are handled in the future. Do you think it's a significant step?

Eli Savit: I think it's quite significant. As a prosecutor, I see and hear about troubling situations regularly where, you know, sometimes it keeps me up at night, right? And, again, sometimes what's troubling is not a crime. So, currently, there's nothing that the judicial system can do about it. So, that's fill that gap. And I think that's tremendously important. I do want to also dwell on the fact that the vast majority of gun deaths in the United States are actually suicides, right? And access to a firearm makes it more likely that somebody will attempt suicide, but also makes it more likely that somebody is going to successfully commit suicide. So, I think we will see, hopefully, lives saved on that angle as well. You know, at the end of the day, with a law like this, the truth of the matter is you're never really going to know with 100% certainty whether taking a gun out of somebody's hand saves lives, right? Because you don't know about the things that don't happen. But there's no doubt in my mind that this bill will save lives, and it will save many lives in the future. And, you know, the best thing, ultimately at the end of the day, with respect to gun violence, is for it never to happen in the first place. And that's what this law is aimed at ensuring.

Cathy Shafran: Eli Savit, Washtenaw County prosecutor, giving us background information on the extreme risk protection laws that are now law in Michigan, otherwise known as red flag laws. Thank you so much for sharing the information with us.

Eli Savit: Thank you so much for having me.

Cathy Shafran: I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is 89.1 WEMU-FM, Ypsilanti.


Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office

Michigan Senate Bill 0083 (Extreme Risk Protection Order Act)

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
Related Content