Governor Receives Bill Revising Legal Standard for Minor Regulatory Mistakes

December 21, 2015

The Michigan Senate and House both unanimously approved Chamber-supported legislation to address the problem of criminal sanctions for minor regulatory mistakes. House Bill 4713 (Rep. McBroom) is now on its way to the Governor for his signature. 

House Bill 4713 would require a state agency pursuing a violation to prove that the violator had criminal intent in breaking the rule. Thus, a person who did a prohibited act, but did not do so knowingly or intentionally, could be protected from criminal prosecution.

Specifically, House Bill 4713 would create a default mens rea (translated from Latin as “guilty mind”) requirements, providing protection to a person accused of a crime where the legislature was 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 other 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 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 give individuals and business owners to admit to a unwitting violation of the law without fear of criminal prosecution.

Please contact Wendy Block, Director of Health Policy & Human Resources, at (517) 371-7678 or wblock@michamber.com with any questions.