Studies

Overcriminalizing the Wolverine State: A Primer and Possible Reforms for Michigan

(Editor’s note: This paper was co-authored with James R. Copland and Isaac Gorodetski and jointly published with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research).
Click here for a PDF of the study.  

Executive Summary


In recent years, Michigan’s criminal law has put into legal jeopardy a woman innocently helping her neighbor’s children board a school bus; a man who unknowingly deposited spare tires with a facility lacking proper state permits; and a business owner who expanded his parking lot on land that state regulators later deemed a “wetland.”
At present, Michigan’s vast, disorganized criminal law inherently places the Wolverine State’s residents at risk of unintentionally violating a growing array of regulatory crimes that are difficult, if not impossible, to discover and understand. For example:
  • Michigan’s penal code contains 918 sections—eight times the number of the Model Penal Code and significantly more than that of neighboring states Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
  • Michigan has at least 3,102 crimes—1,209 felonies and 1,893 misdemeanors—and most of these (48 percent of felonies and more than 76 percent of misdemeanors) lie outside the penal code.
  • Michigan has created, on average, 45 crimes annually over the last six years, 44 percent of which were felonies and 73 percent of which fell outside the penal code.
  • More than 26 percent of felonies and more than 59 percent of misdemeanors on the Michigan books do not explicitly require the state to make a showing of intent (mens rea) on the part of the accused.

The size as well as the breadth of Michigan’s criminal law not only places citizens in legal jeopardy but also creates a serious risk that prosecutions will vary markedly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Further, it threatens to divert scarce resources away from the enforcement of serious violent and property crimes.
To address this overcriminalization, Michigan policymakers should consider:
  • Creating a bipartisan legislative task force to conduct hearings and set guiding principles for lawmakers when creating new criminal offenses, with an emphasis on organizing and clarifying criminal laws for state residents.
  • Creating a commission, or charging the Michigan Law Revision Commission, to review the criminal law and consolidate, clarify, and optimize the state’s current criminal statutes.
  • Enacting a default mens rea provision, ensuring that to be convicted of a crime requires a showing of intent, unless the legislature clearly specifies otherwise.
 … more
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Hart Enterprises: A Wetland Case Study

This study analyzes a dispute between Hart Enterprises Inc., a medical device manufacturer located north of Grand Rapids, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The department alleges that Hart Enterprises’ property contains a nearly one-acre wetland — an area that lies in the way of the company’s proposed expansion of its parking lot. Because of the DEQ’s ruling, the department expects the company to request a wetland permit — request that might be denied, or that might be granted only with significant conditions attached.

Readers may view a supplemental video of Russ Harding interviewing Alan Taylor of Hart Enterprises… more
Proposal 4

Proposal 4: A Legal Review and Analysis

Proposal 4 of 2006, which will appear on the November ballot, is a proposed state constitutional amendment that would alter state law regarding eminent domain, the legal theory that permits the government to take private property for public use if the government pays just compensation. … more
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Mackinac Center Amicus Curiae Brief in DPG York v. Michigan

A Mackinac Center “friend of the court” filing to the Michigan Court of Appeals in a case involving the preferential sale of state land. … more
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Mackinac Center Amicus Curiae Brief in Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. United States Army Corps of Engineers

A Mackinac Center “friend of the court” filing to the U.S. Supreme Court in two cases involving federal wetlands regulation of Michigan properties. … more
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Keeping Michigan on Track:

A Blueprint for a Freer, More Prosperous State

New legislative opportunities will come with the fall elections for the Michigan House, Senate, and governorship. Read the Mackinac Center's policy recommendations for the next Legislature and governor below. … more

Keeping Michigan on Track

A Blueprint for Governor Engler and the 90th Legislature

  The close of the twentieth century finds Michigan in a position that seemed impossible barely a decade ago: record low unemployment, a thriving economy, growing educational opportunities, and a sense of accomplishment and high spirits. But much can be done to make Michigan an even better place to live and work.
  This report's five sections offer the Governor and the Legislature 41 specific recommendations that will strengthen property rights protection, reform labor law to protect worker rights, improve education for Michigan children, spur economic growth and development, and enhance the state's transportation infrastructure. … more

"Urban Sprawl" and the Michigan Landscape: A Market-Oriented Approach

Government officials and environmental activists use "stopping urban sprawl" as a mantra to support greater government control over private land use decisions in Michigan through central planning aimed at farmland preservation and urban revitalization. This study critically examines suburbanization and land use in Michigan to determine that the state's economy and farmland and citizens' quality of life are not threatened by economic growth and development, or what activists have dubbed "sprawl." The study argues that restrictions on suburban growth do not address the causes of why people move out of inner cities any more than the Berlin Wall addressed the problems of East Germany's repressive socialist economy. The study concludes by recommending a market-based approach to land use policy and identifying "urban sprawl" as the natural evolution of free people pursuing peaceful ends and their shot at the American Dream. … more

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The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is committed to delivering the highest quality and most reliable research on Michigan issues. The Center guarantees that all original factual data are true and correct and that information attributed to other sources is accurately represented.

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