Executive Vice President
Michael J. Reitz is executive vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, where he oversees execution of the Center's strategic plan. The Mackinac Center is an independent, nonprofit research and educational institute based in Midland, Michigan, with the mission of improving the quality of life for all Michigan citizens by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions.
Prior to joining the Mackinac Center in 2012, Reitz spent eight years with the Freedom Foundation in Washington state as its general counsel and director of labor policy. Reitz established the Freedom Foundation’s Theodore L. Stiles Center for Liberty, where he litigated for accurate elections, defended the First Amendment rights of individuals, fought against governmental abuses of power and wrote extensively on constitutional law. Reitz championed a number of reforms to modify public-sector collective bargaining and to protect workers from coercive union monopolies.
An advocate of accountable government, Reitz has worked actively to promote transparency in state and local government, serving on the board of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government, a nonprofit organization that educates citizens about their rights to access public records and attend public meetings. While in Washington state, Reitz led a research and litigation effort to expose the governor's secretive practice of withholding records under claims of executive privilege.
Reitz frequently comments on public policy issues and has been cited by The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times and other publications. He is a co-author of "To Protect and Maintain Individual Rights," a reference guide to the Declaration of Rights in the Washington Constitution. Reitz received his law degree from Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy. He is a member of the Washington bar and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
By Michael J. Reitz
Click here for a PDF of the study.
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.