10 Commandments, 750 Criminal Offenses
The headlines are full of stories about private prisons, prison overcrowding, and the high percentage of Michiganders that are incarcerated. Before we expand our prison system, let’s make sure that our jails are for actual criminals. We should also have a hard look at what constitutes a ‘Crime’.
One thing I would like to do, if you send me to Lansing to represent you, is attach a rider to every bill I sponsor. We’ll have the subject of the bill, at at the end we’ll add a rider or two or five to repeal an outdated and, in some cases, downright silly criminal codes.
I’ll approach the Legislature as I approach my Patients
There are three basic rules of medicine- common things happen commonly, if you don’t look for it you won’t find it, and if you let them patients will tell you what is wrong with them. When it comes to medicine, every one is a poison, they all interact with each other, and for the most part, people are on far too many drugs. On my first meeting with patients, I spread out all their medicines (some are on 20 or more) and start throwing them out. Very few of my patients were on more than 5 medications by the time I was done with them. They seem to do better with fewer drugs, and I think Michigan would do better with fewer crimes. Here are some examples of some that need to be taken off the books and I’ll introduce legislation to do this my first month in office. Some laws criminalize morality.
Here are examples of actual crimes on the books in Michigan. Actual Crimes that carry jail time, not civil infarctions.
THE MICHIGAN PENAL CODE (EXCERPT)
750.103 Cursing and swearing.
Cursing and swearing—Any person who has arrived at the age of discretion, who shall profanely curse or damn or swear by the name of God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. No such prosecution shall be sustained unless it shall be commenced within 5 days after the commission of such offense.
750.102 Blasphemy; punishment.
Sec. 102. Punishment—Any person who shall wilfully blaspheme the holy name of God, by cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
750.532 Seduction; punishment.
Punishment—Any man who shall seduce and debauch any unmarried woman shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than 5 years or by fine of not more than 2,500 dollars; but no prosecution shall be commenced under this section after 1 year from the time of committing the offense.
Rumor has it that a married woman cannot cut her hair without her husband’s permission, but I am not going to cite that unless I can find the actual statue.
There are Serious Criminal Offenses too…
While the silly laws just need to be knocked off the books (I’ll make it a point to go after as many as possible- send me citations if you find some), there are actually serious laws that are being enforced and deserve a close look. While these laws may seem like a good idea, they can end up actually hurting those they are passed to protect. Here is an example of a law that is meant to protect children, but in reality incarcerates and financially cripples those responsible to support those children- taking away any chance of getting the support.
Failure to support spouse or child as required by court order; violation as felony; penalty; applicability; cash bond; suspension of sentence; bond; order of restitution; “state disbursement unit” or “SDU” defined.
(1) If the court orders an individual to pay support for the individual’s former or current spouse, or for a child of the individual, and the individual does not pay the support in the amount or at the time stated in the order, the individual is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 4 years or by a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both.
There is no excuse for not paying your support if you have it, and custodial parents in many cases need that support for basic needs. We need to have a mechanism in place to enforce the collection of child support- but the goals need to be to encourage the payment, not to effectively prevent it. Families deal with job loses, medical issues, and a fluid family budget. If the family splits, there has to be a mechanism in place to respond to these economic changes as well. Having the state come in with felony level criminal charges (with or without the support of the custodial parent) and completely stopping support does not help a custodial parent getting ‘some’ support.
This is a good example of a popular, yet Draconian Law. Commonly called the ‘Deadbeat Dad’ Law, it was passed in a flurry of get tough on child support laws starting in the 1990’s. Of note is that this is a ‘STRICT LIABILITY’ law- what that means is that there is no defense of circumstances. The one and only defense you can offer is that you paid in full and on time and can prove it.
If charged, unless the non-custodial parent can prove they actually paid, the jury MUST convict under the law. This is especially burdensome in a state that has areas with as much as 20% unemployment. Actually studies of non-custodial parents that are behind show nearly 90% lost their jobs or had medical issues and were behind on all their bills. Very few are the wealthy ‘deadbeat’ that can afford to pay, but choose not to. Losing your job or having an heart attack should not be a criminal offense.
Losing your Job should not be a Felony
For those experiencing financial disasters, they are still liable for the full amount of support until the order is changed- a process that can take months, or years. Although it does NOTHING to get money that doesn’t exist for children, there are actually people currently in prison on this charge. While jailed, they are not earning money, nor are they paying support- yet the arrearage continues to build. Not only does the non-custodial parent become a ward of the state (because they are incarcerated), but the children in many cases do as well. If the non-custodial parent has remarried, their (innocent) new families suffer as well. Theoretically, as the arrearages continue to build, the non-custodial parent can be re-arrested and charged when they are released from incarceration. Fully 1/3 of inmates in county jails may be there for family court issues. Upon their release they find they have lost their jobs, homes, and their ability to pay further support is crippled.
If we do prosecute these parents, we need to do it in a way that promotes payment of the support. Keep them in the work force, mandate work release if jailed- even in county on civil contempt. Make custodial parents sign agreements STOPPING support from accruing if the non-custodial parent is jailed (this will increase the incentive to work out a payment plan rather than incarcerate).
The biggest reform would be the automatic modification of child support based on income tax returns rather than requiring months or years of court work to obtain a modification (with the custodial parents, friends of the courts, etc having a financial interest in keep the number artificially high). While some sly non-custodial parents may attempt to manipulate their income, the burden of proving this should be on the friend of the court. Fraud is still a criminal offense.
Another thing that few custodial parents think about is that if your ex is convicted of felony child support, they are essentially unemployable- Take a white collar professional and convict them of a misdemeanor much less a felony and they may never work in their field again. This reduces their future earning potential (read support) to a fraction of what they could have earned (and paid) in their field. Even blue collar non-custodial parents face loss of their job with a criminal record. If they manage to continue to work in their field, their potential for normal career advancement is limited with a record. Even in the military advancement is unlikely and they may experience forced separation prior to qualifying for their pensions.
Finally, there is a financial incentive to the family court/friend of the court system to collect total dollar amounts, rather than resolve cases. If a wealthy couple divorces and support payments are $2000 per month, this case is the same as 10 cases for $200 in support per month. Though the smaller cases may be more essential for the basic needs of the custodial parents (groceries, housing, etc) they require 10 separate court cases to equal the one case that can be brought against the wealthier ex couple. Unfortunately this leads to a situation where those that need their support most are the least likely to have their support enforced.