Reforms suggested in this issue brief should be viewed merely as first steps. The state may also wish to codify the rule of lenity (clarifying to courts that defendants should be given the benefit of the doubt when statutory language is ambiguous), to convert existing crimes to civil infractions, or to eliminate potential jail time for the offenses.
Legislators might also usefully consider procedural changes to prospectively improve enactment of new crimes — such as requiring new offenses and sentencing enhancements to be indicated as such in the caption of the bill and be approved by both the subject-matter committee and the committee with jurisdiction over the criminal-justice system. These ideas, and others, would necessarily be outgrowths of any bipartisan task force or criminal-law review commission. (The precise structure of such reforms are, of course, best left to policymakers closest to the needs of the state.)
Still, the reforms proposed here would set Michigan on the path toward a coherent, effective criminal law — rather than a dubious model of overcriminalization. A bipartisan task force to examine Michigan’s criminal law would help identify the state’s problem areas in more detail, as well as suggest best avenues for reform (and risks to avoid). A commission review of the state’s existing criminal law would improve the clarity of Michigan’s penal code by trimming laws and regulations that have outlived their usefulness. Such a change, along with a default mens rea law, would reduce the chance that individuals are prosecuted for crimes that they unknowingly commit, absent a clear decision by legislators that a strict-liability crime is needed. These changes would, not least, focus Michigan’s scarce criminal-enforcement resources on violent and property crimes — a matter of significant import, given crime levels and fiscal constraints in Detroit and other urban areas in the state.