The Incredible Unenforced Laws of Michigan Family Court

You may remember the furor earlier this year when the Michigan legislature passed a bill that made “the abominable and detestable crime against nature” (defined way back in English Common Law in 1533 as ‘anal penetration or bestiality’)  leap back into the foreground of the public consciousness for a couple of weeks. Many national news outlets ran with the headline “MICHIGAN OUTLAWS SODOMY” or something like it.

This wasn’t actually the case — first off, ‘sodomy’ is a little broader than the law actually references, in that it includes oral penetration as well. But more importantly, Michigan didn’t actually pass a new bill regarding the ‘crime against nature’ at all — what it did was amend a long-standing bill that criminalized the practices. It edited an entire paragraph of text around the phrase “the abominable and detestable crime against nature either with mankind or with any animal,” and in so doing maintained the existing law that anal sex was a felony worth “not more than 15 years” in jail. [MCL 750.158]

When asked why the “either with mankind or” wasn’t stricken as part of the amendment, the legislator responsible essentially said “If I had tried to do that, there would have been riots.” But as it turns out, it doesn’t matter at all.

Why? Two reasons. First, the law is unconstitutional according to the US Supreme Court, which means we can safely ignore it. Second, Michigan, like every single state in the US, has a mountain of laws that are simply ignored by nearly everyone, or are deliberately only used in a very limited number of extraordinary circumstances.

Seduction of an Unmarried Woman [MCL 750.532]
Yep, in Michigan, if you “seduce and corrupt” an unmarried female (of any age!), you can get convicted of a felony and delivered to jail for 5 years. This law has been around since 1931, and it was genuinely used for a few decades before it fell out of style. Today, this law is almost entirely ignored — it only comes up in plea bargains as a way to create a “weakest possible sexual assault” charge.

Adultery [MCL 750.30]
According to this statue, adultery a felony as well. The charge can only be pursued if the ‘affected’ husband or wife formally complains. (Oh, and divorced persons who cohabitate together are also punished for adultery, so once you’re divorced, you don’t get to live with your ex unless you get remarried before you move in — and that version don’t require a complaint.) This law has been ignored since 1971, of course…except that in a case in 2007, the law came up as a good reason to disallow ‘consent’ as a defense against the crime of Criminal Sexual Conduct. Read the inimitable Jeanne Hannah’s comments for more details.

Others

  • It is illegal to sell cars on Sunday. [MCL 435.251]
  • It is illegal to kill a dog using a decompression chamber. [MCL 287.279a]
  • It is illegal to be offensively drunk on a train. [MCL 436.201]

Why Do These Laws Exist if No One Uses Them?
In short, unless a State passes a “sunset law” — that is, a law that gives all other laws a ‘expiration date,’ the old laws stay on the books forever, or until the Legislature removes them. It’s simply not worth the Legislature’s time to go through and remove all of these old laws, because it’s understood that everyone ignores them. And of course, as the legislator above said, in some cases (as with both Adultery and Seduction), if you tried, there really would be riots.

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