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Michigan Overcriminalization: Update 2017

issue brief

Michigan Overcriminalization: Update 2017

March 30, 2017
Legal ReformOvercriminalization

Executive Summary

In October 2014, the Manhattan Institute and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy released a study, Overcriminalizing the Wolverine State: A Primer and Possible Reforms for Michigan. The report showed that Michigan had at least 3,102 statutory crimes and that most of them lay outside the state’s criminal (penal) code. It also showed that more than 26% of the felonies and more than 59% of the misdemeanors did not explicitly require the state to make a showing of criminal intent (mens rea) on the part of the accused.

The study suggested repealing a number of old, duplicative, or outmoded criminal statutes, and enacting a default criminal-intent standard to protect citizens who unknowingly violate criminally enforceable statutes or regulations governing conduct that is not intuitively wrong. The good news is that Michigan has since repealed a modest number (66) of crimes and established a default criminal-intent standard. By undertaking these reforms, Michigan has demonstrated its concern for the problem of overcriminalization.

Nevertheless, the default criminal-intent law was imperfect; it did not apply to crimes already in the penal code, nor does it apply to many regulatory sections of the penal code where it would arguably be appropriate, such as the public-health law. In the future, the state should consider a larger effort to repeal outdated, duplicative and overreaching laws, like Minnesota did in 2014. Michigan should also reorganize its criminal code: Ideally, all mandates and prohibitions with criminal teeth should be found in one chapter; or at least all crimes should be listed in a common location on the Internet. This would better assist citizens to comply with the laws the legislature passes.



Read more about MI's Overcriminalizing America project

James R. Copland is a senior fellow and director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute. Rafael A. Mangual is the project manager for legal policy.