A Michigan lawmaker is spearheading an effort to remove outdated or useless laws from the state’s books.
House Bill 4248, sponsored by state Rep. Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids), removes criminal penalties for activities such as dueling, using foul language when women are present, or playing the national anthem “as a part or selection of a medley of any kind” in a “theatre, motion picture hall, restaurant or café.”
Afendoulis says his bill is the first step in the process of examining and reforming Michigan’s entire criminal justice system.
“We just had a list of old laws, and we wondered, ‘What can we look at to pare back? What can we start with?'” Afendoulis said. “We really wanted to do things that were relatively non-controversial, … the low-hanging fruit, … to get things started.”
Afendoulis says he wants to push back against the criminal justice system’s expanding role in Americans’ lives.
“There is a national trend across the political spectrum to get a handle on over-criminalization of behavior across the country,” Afendoulis said. “I mean, the pendulum has swung a little bit too far toward criminalizing everything. Some of these rules might be governing things that people think are inappropriate or they might be unacceptable to certain people, but the standard should be, ‘Is this really a crime?'”
Afendoulis says criminal justice reform includes focusing on intentions.
“There is this whole concept of mens rea, the concept of intent,” Afendoulis said. “In Michigan, for instance, we had one where you can’t transport a Christmas tree without a bill of sale. Well, who knows that? And if someone did that and was pulled over, with a police officer demanding a bill of sale from the Christmas tree lot, the driver might be unaware of the law.”
Michael J. Reitz, executive vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, says lawmakers should be more careful when crafting laws.
“If lawmakers were thinking more carefully about whether or not a new crime needed to be created, [I] think that would result in fewer new crimes being created and would help alleviate the problem of over-criminalization,” Reitz said.
Reitz says he hopes lawmakers will repeal unnecessary existing laws and stop proposing new unneeded laws.
“When it comes to deleting outdated or unnecessary criminal laws, hopefully, there’s an end to this work,” Reitz said.
Warner Todd Huston ([email protected]) writes from Streamwood, Illinois.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime,” Columbia Law Review: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/ham-sandwich-nation-due-process-when-everything-crime/