D.J. Hilson, Muskegon County Prosecutor
DJ Hilson was raised in a working class household by a mother who taught kindergarten and a father who served in the US Navy during the Vietnam War before becoming a traveling salesman. From that family environment, DJ learned the value of hard work, setting goals, and always maintaining a positive and humble attitude. With strong support from his family, DJ set a goal, early in life, to become a lawyer. His pursuit of this goal was not easy but with a strong work ethic and perseverance, DJ reached the starting line of his career.
In 1996, Mr. Hilson was able to make the first part of his career dream a reality when he started law school in Lansing at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. While striving for academic excellence, Mr. Hilson spent several semesters as an intern at the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office where he discovered a passion for criminal law and public service. With his education and experience, Mr. Hilson knew his gifts and talents could be best used in dedication to public service as a prosecutor. Mr. Hilson graduated, with honors, from Cooley Law School in May of 1999 and was offered a position as an assistant prosecutor in Muskegon County in June of that same year.
During his thirteen years as an assistant prosecutor, Mr. Hilson handled cases in the district court, circuit court, and family court. His hard work and dedication to civil service was quickly recognized as he moved through the ranks of the office, reaching the level of Senior Assistant Prosecutor very early in his career. As an assistant prosecutor he tried over 80 felony cases including multiple homicides, violent assaults, and criminal sexual conduct cases. Mr. Hilson’s commitment to prosecution earned him a spot on the drug enforcement team for the office after just one month on the job; he soon became the leader of the team. As a member, and later as the head of the team, Mr. Hilson provided 24/7 assistance to the local drug enforcement agencies, offered legal advice on search issues, drafted search warrants, handled civil drug forfeitures, and advised officers on confidential informant issues.
During this period of time, DJ married his wife Tricia and they have been blessed with two sons and a daughter. Their love and support throughout his career has been DJ’s inspiration and motivation.
Because of a well established reputation amongst his peers as an aggressive criminal trial lawyer, his constant community outreach and investment in establishing progressive programs geared to keep individuals out of the criminal justice system and his strong relationships with law enforcement, Mr. Hilson knew that he could best serve the citizens of Muskegon County by becoming the Muskegon County Prosecutor. In 2012, upon retirement of the incumbent prosecutor, Mr. Hilson continued his dedication to public service when he ran in a contested race for the Office of the Muskegon County Prosecutor. Using the same strong work ethic learned from his family, plus a reputation in the community for integrity and good character, Mr. Hilson prevailed in the 2012 August primary election for prosecutor. On January 3, 2013, he was officially sworn into office. In 2016, with overwhelming broad based support and nearly 80% of the vote, Mr. Hilson was elected to a second term. Mr. Hilson continues to work in the courtroom today fighting for the citizens of Muskegon County.
DJ’s core values include a strong commitment to community activism and, as such, he is currently a member of the following organizations:
- Muskegon Rotary Club
- Prince of Peace Knights of Columbus Council 15337
- Fraternal Order of Police
- Muskegon Heights Optimist Club
In addition, DJ serves as a member of several local community boards including:
- Child Abuse Council (President)
- Boys and Girls Club of Muskegon (President of the Board)
- Drug Free Coalition of Muskegon (Vice Chair)
- Alliance for Marijuana Prevention (AMP)(Chair)
- Muskegon Social Justice Commission
- Mediation and Restorative Services
- Alcohol Liability Initiative (Past Chair)
- Muskegon Catholic Central Board of Trustees
- School to Prison Pipeline Task Force
In 2012, Mr. Hilson served as President of the Muskegon County Bar Association, and previously served the community as a member of the Muskegon JAYCEES.
DJ believes that effective crime prevention involves proactive efforts that begin with taking action to make sure children stay in school. DJ has established relationships throughout the Muskegon County school community working with all districts on pressing local issues. DJ has established the Operation Graduation program to tackle the problem of chronic truancy in school. He speaks to local school districts about the perils of Cyberbullying and Sexting as well as other social media concerns. DJ was instrumental in creating a comprehensive Crime Prevention Program that incorporates people throughout the criminal justice system speaking to middle school students on the importance of making good choices and talking about career options in the criminal justice field.
In his first year as Muskegon County Prosecutor, Mr. Hilson was elected to the Board of Directors for the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM). In August of 2015, Mr. Hilson was voted to join the Executive Committee of PAAM and is currently serving as its Vice President. In April of 2015, Mr. Hilson was appointed by Governor Snyder to represent PAAM and all of the elected county prosecutors on the Criminal Justice Policy Commission. Governor Snyder recently re-appointed Mr. Hilson to that Commission for another term. Mr. Hilson currently serves as the chairman of the Drug Initiative Commission, vice chair of the Legislative Committee and is a member of the Corrections Committee for PAAM.
As a result of his work in Lansing, Mr. Hilson has been PAAM’s lead negotiator and spokesperson on any legislation related to criminal justice reform. Mr. Hilson has worked tirelessly on the following legislation, bringing together stakeholders and legislative staff, and testifying before House and Senate Committees:
• HB 4137 of 2015-2016 (Howrylak, R, Troy)
Makes changes to felony probation requirements and the Swift and Sure Sanctions
•HB 5928 (Haveman, R, Holland), HB 5929 (Haveman, R, Holland), HB 5930
(Haveman, R, Holland), HB 5931 (Haveman, R, Holland), SB 1139 (Schuitmaker, R,
Lawton), SB 1141(Jones, R, Grand Ledge) of 2013-2014
Council of State Governments (CSG) proposal to reformat sentencing guidelines, eliminate
PRV's, create presumptive probation and jail cells, eliminate straddle cells, create
mitigating factors, etc. Issues were primarily parole, the use of the habitual offender statute
and probation and parole violations.
•Truancy bills: SB 405, 406, 407, 408 (2015) SB 103, 104, 105 (2017)
A package of bills designed to combat the problem of truancy by defining chronic
absenteeism and putting forth the framework of a system that allows proper intervention
and returning children to school.
•SB 5 (Proos, R, St. Joseph’s), SB 6 (Schuitmaker, R, Lawton), SB 7 (Knollenberg, R,
Troy), SB 8 (MacGregor, R, Rockford), SB 9 (Proos, R, St. Joseph’s), SB 10 (O’Brien,
R, Kalamazoo), SB 12 (Knezek, D, Dearborn Heights), SB 13 (Proos, R, St. Joseph’s),
SB 14 (Jones, R, Grand Ledge), SB 15, SB 16 (Proos, R, St. Joseph’s), SB 17
(Shirkey, R, Jackson), SB 18 (Horn, R, Frankenmuth), SB 19 (Zorn, R, Ida), SB 20
(Robertson, R, Grand Blanc), SB 21 (Warren, D, Ann Arbor), SB 22 (Johnson, D,
Highland Park), SB 23 (Proos, R, St. Joseph’s), SB 24 (Proos, R, St. Joseph’s) of
A comprehensive criminal justice reform package.
•HB 4231 of 2015-2016 (Hughes, R, Montague)
A proposal to make the statute of limitations extension for first degree criminal sexual
conduct against a child retroactive.
• House Bill 4350 of 2013-2014 (Leonard, R, DeWitt)
A proposal to allow prosecuting attorneys to carry weapons in Weapon-Free Zones.
•SB 873 (Jones, R, Grand Ledge), SB 874 (Schuitmaker, R, Lawton), SB 875 (Horn, R,
Frankenmuth), SB 876 (O’Brien, R, Kalamazoo), SB 878 (Knollenberg, R, Troy) of
A package of Bills to reform the Crime Victim’s Rights Act including a broader definition
of “victim”, a prohibition on courts waiving restitution for victims, enhancements to notice
requirements for the Department of Corrections or county Sheriff concerning prisoner
sentences, and tougher notification requirements on a court ruling on early termination of
•HB 5078 (Pscholka, R, Stevensville), HB 5079 (Pagel, R, Berrien Springs) and HB
5080 (Pagel, R, Berrien Springs) of 2015-2016
Authorize the Parole Board to grant a medical parole for a prisoner who is determined to
be medically frail.
•HB 4413 (Hovey-Wright, D, Muskegon) of 2015-2016
Creates an address confidentiality program for victims of domestic violence crimes.
•SB 932 of 2015-2016 (Proos, R, St. Joseph’s)
A criminal justice reform package.
•SB 424 (Casperson, R, Escanaba)
Increases penalties for manufacture of methamphetamine near a school or library.
•SB 409 (O’Brien, R, Kalamazoo)
Prohibits and provides penalties for the attempt to solicit another person to purchase
ephedrine or pseudoephedrine for purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine.
As part of his ongoing commitment to the criminal justice system, Mr. Hilson has identified six key areas to address:
- Truth in sentencing;
- Enhancing victim services including victim programming, compensation, electronic notification, and restitution;
- Victim/Witness protection programs to ensure no person fears reporting a crime;
- Working with the Department of Justice to establish case-load standards for the prosecution and defense;
- Increased use of evidence-based juvenile programs and enhancing parole and probation programming so that a defendant’s first encounter with the criminal justice system is the only contact;
- Investment in local law enforcement and prosecution resources.
You can hear DJ on his bi-weekly radio show on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 5pm on 103.7 The Beat. DJ also makes a weekly appearance every Tuesday morning at 8am on AM 1090 Talking Muskegon.
Mr. Hilson has presented on various issues across the State of Michigan including: Medical Marijuana law changes, Swift and Sure Probation, and Truancy. Mr. Hilson has also appeared nationally on Good Morning America, Inside Edition, Nancy Grace, and Shepard Smith. He has been asked to speak on a national level in Las Vegas at the CADCA Mid-Year conference and in St. Louis Missouri at the Regional Juvenile Justice Reform Conference.
DJ Hilson has dedicated his professional career to public service and believes that being actively involved in the community is an important part of service to the public. Mr. Hilson truly believes that it is an honor and privilege to serve the people of Muskegon County as its Prosecutor.