Criminal Intent Reform Bill Clears Senate Committee

Now awaiting final action in the Senate

Today the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee advanced House Bill 4713 out of committee. The bill would adopt a default “mens rea” standard for many of the criminal laws in Michigan, a reform the Mackinac Center recommended in two different studies.

Michigan has more than 3,100 criminal laws on the books. Traditionally, the standard for convicting someone of a crime required the state to show that the accused committed a criminal act and possessed criminal intent. But many of the crimes on the books in Michigan fail to specify the standard of criminal intent the prosecution must show in order to obtain a conviction. (Terms like “recklessly,” “knowingly” and “willfully” are common standards.) With no intent standard, individuals can be charged and convicted of a crime without the state having to demonstrate that they intending to commit an unlawful act.

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HB 4713 ensures that unless the Legislature clearly indicates otherwise, criminal liability is based on both an act and a culpable mental state. If the statute is silent on intent, the prosecution must show that the person acted recklessly.

The bill passed the House unanimously and now awaits final action in the Senate.

Related Articles:

Criminal Intent Reform: Lessons from Ohio

How People Are Prosecuted For Breaking Laws They Don’t Know Exist

Guilty! Of Something No One Knows Is Illegal

Criminal Intent Op-ed in the Detroit News

Michigan Legislature Unanimously Passes Criminal Intent Reform