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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Proposal 2 of 2012: An Assessment

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy recently published “Proposal 2 of 2012: An Assessment,” which addresses Proposal 2 on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot, also referred to as the “collective bargaining” amendment.
The study examines how the proposed constitutional amendment would enshrine collective bargaining in the state constitution, which would allow government union collective bargaining agreements to invalidate numerous state laws meant to improve the quality of public services and would likely negate a projected $1.6 billion in annual taxpayer savings.
The Policy Brief was co-authored by Vernuccio and other Mackinac Center analysts: Senior Legal Analyst Patrick J. Wright, Executive Vice President Michael J. Reitz and Assistant Fiscal Policy Director James M. Hohman. Also co-authoring was Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Illinois Policy Institute. … more
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Paycheck Protection in Michigan

The U. S. Supreme Court's 1988 landmark decision Communication Workers v. Beck established the rights of employees working under union contracts to pay only those union dues or fees necessary to cover the costs of a union's employee representation duties. However, the majority of Michigan's nearly one million union workers are unaware of their rights under the Beck decision for the simple reason that their unions neglect to inform them. This report shows how "paycheck protection" legislation would help safeguard worker Beck rights by requiring unions to obtain up-front, written approval from individual workers each year before they could spend the dues money on political or other non-workplace-related activities. The report recommends that Michigan policy makers adopt a paycheck protection proposal to help union workers enjoy their freedoms of speech and association as they refrain from involuntarily contributing money to union causes with which they disagree. … more
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Reforming Property Forfeiture Laws to Protect Citizens’ Rights

The Framers of the United States Constitution understood that freedom depends upon the vigorous protection of private property rights and that this protection was therefore the most sacred obligation of government. However, despite Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment guarantees, recent years have witnessed a massive expansion of a legal practice known as "asset forfeiture," which allows government to violate the very property rights it is charged with protecting. Hundreds of asset forfeiture laws-many of them intended to stop illegal drug trafficking-give state and federal law enforcement agents the power to seize property even without proof of the owners' guilt in a criminal trial because, in many cases, the government considers the property itself to be the criminal. This study recommends nine reforms that will help guarantee that Michigan citizens enjoy the benefits of private property rights, limited government, and individual liberty, and remain protected from unjustified and arbitrary seizure of their personal possessions. … more
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Compulsory Union Dues in Michigan

Nearly one million Michigan workers are forced to financially support a union in order to keep their jobs. Although federal law permits unions and employers to force workers to pay for union representation in the workplace, the law does not extend to forcing workers to pay unions for representation in the political arena. Over three-fourths of union workers are not aware that they do not have to fund their unions' political, social, and ideological agendas. This report documents the developing law surrounding compulsory union dues in Michigan, shows workers how to exercise their rights to a dues refund, presents positive union strategies for making workers aware of their rights, and calls for executive action by the governor. 28 pp. … more

The Limits of Compulsory Professionalism: Does a Unified Bar Make Sense for Michigan?

No profession other than the practice of law, in Michigan or any other state, requires membership in a professional organization to maintain a license. This practice, known as the unified bar, has been the subject of litigation in a number of states. Practicing attorney and Law Professor Bradley A. Smith and attorney Alan Falk note that nineteen states have voluntary bar associations, and compare their operation to the "unified" (involuntary) associations. They find that compulsory bar membership provides no greater benefits than those provided by voluntary bar associations. 26 pages. … more

Discrimination at Private Clubs in Michigan: Freedom of Association After Public Act 70

In recent years, a cherished American right, freedom of association, has come into conflict with laws designed to prevent discrimination by private organizations. Michigan's Public Act 70 of 1992 is one such law. Examining P.A. 70, as well as Michigan's famed Elliot-Larsen law, University of Detroit Law Professor Stephen J. Safranek finds that the act was unnecessary, misdirected, and economically harmful. Individual consumers of club services are the real losers. P.A. 70 is government intervention without regard to the right of private clubs to engage in freedom of association. 16 pages. … more

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