LANSING, MI – Three former MSU football players charged with criminal sexual conduct pleaded down to a lesser charge of “seduction” on Wednesday, leaving even some legal experts asking: what’s that?
It’s an old law on Michigan’s books that states, “Any man who shall seduce and debauch any unmarried woman shall be guilty of a felony,” punishable by 5 years in prison and/or a fine of $2,500. Versions of it have been on the books since 1846, and it hasn’t been updated since 1931.
But the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office dusted off the outmoded statute on Wednesday in a plea deal for ex-MSU football players Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance. Each pleaded to seduction, and King to an additional felony charge of surveilling an unclothed person. They had initially faced criminal sexual conduct charges.
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On top of being old, the use of the this law is rare.
“In my almost 30 years as a lawyer and my 15 years as a prosecutor I never once prosecuted a seduction case,” said Lisa Halushka, assistant dean and professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.
It’s “outdated,” she said, and she’s not the only one who thinks so.
Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon in a statement issued after the hearing acknowledged the law was “archaic.”
“The use of ‘seducing and debauching an unmarried female’ as a plea is one that prosecutors have used consistently, but infrequently in the State of Michigan. The law itself is archaic and while the statute itself is valid, it certainly was originally enacted in a bygone era,” Siemon said.
“The plea to seduction is a tool that we have as prosecutors, but it is an imperfect tool. It allows the criminal justice system to acknowledge the victim, and it provides an incentive for that offender to plea, in particular because it’s not an offense that requires that they register as a sex offender.”
The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan does not have statistical information about the use of that statute, according to Director of Public Affairs KC Steckelberg.
Before its use on Wednesday, the law had caught the attention of websites that compile strange laws, as well as some Michigan attorneys.
Attorney Evan Chall, with Farmington Hills-based Wright Beamer, included it in a 2015 list of “Michigan laws that might surprise you” on the firm’s blog.
He’s not a criminal attorney but ran a search and was unable to locate any recent published cases involving it.
“I’m actually surprised to learn that there’s a case involving a plea bargain under this particular statute. I think there are some constitutional questions surrounding this statute; however, those questions are unlikely to be resolved in the present context, since the parties have apparently agreed upon its application,” Chall said.
The law’s existence also wasn’t a surprise to Kahryn Riley, director of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s criminal justice policy initiative. She reviews Michigan laws for what she calls “overcriminalization.” As of the center’s 2015 review there are 3,100 laws on the list, along with a slew of regulatory rules.
It’s led to a situation where, “you’ve got more offenses than the government could reasonably enforce, and you’ve got more laws on the books than citizens could reasonably follow,” she said.
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Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Twp., is a member of the Michigan Law Revision Commission, a group charged with cleaning up the old laws on Michigan’s books. The legislature has repealed other old-timey laws, but this specific seduction charge is new to him.
“I’ve never heard of the crime. I’ve done criminal law for 30 years,” Lucido said.
Lucido said the Michigan Law Revision Commission hadn’t had that law brought up. But it strikes him as being similar to other crimes he has heard of, like adultery.
“Why have old laws on the books that you’re never going to enforce?” He said.