Chamber Supports Legislation to Protect Individuals Who Unwittingly Violate the Law from Criminal Prosecution

September 28, 2015

The Michigan House is moving Chamber-supported legislation to prospectively require that legislation creating criminal offense specify a state of mental culpability to be enforceable, establishing a default mens rea culpability requirement for newly-enacted crimes. 

House Bill 4713, sponsored by Rep. McBroom (R-Vulcan), would provide protection to a person accused of a crime where the legislature has been silent on the issue of intent. The bill applies only to some statutes and specifically does not apply to the Penal Code, Vehicle Code, controlled substances violations and certain other specified laws. 

Historically, Michigan common law required proof of criminal intent in order to convict a person of a criminal offense. Thus, a person who did a prohibited act, but did not do so knowingly or intentionally, could be protected from criminal prosecution. This common law interpretation, which served to determine a person’s culpability, differentiated between deliberate acts and unintentional acts.   

Over the years, these mens rea (translated from Latin as “guilty mind”) requirements were not always specifically delineated in statute, leading to a strict liability interpretation and holding individuals criminally liable simply for committing that act even if the person did not mean to break any laws or was aware a law was being broken.

As a result, many unsuspecting people, including those operating in the course of business, have been caught up in criminal dragnets, facing penalties and even imprisonment. HB 4713 would allow individuals and business owners to admit to an unwitting violation of the law without fear of criminal prosecution. 

For more information, please contact Wendy Block, Director of Health Policy & Human Resources, at (517) 371-7678 or wblock@michamber.com