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People v. Lawhorn

Court of Appeals of Michigan

June 15, 2017

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ANITA DIANE LAWHORN, Defendant-Appellant.

         Circuit Court LC No. 14-010339-FH

          Before: Beckering, P.J., and Markey and Shapiro, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         Defendant, Anita Diane Lawhorn, was convicted by a jury of third-degree child abuse, MCL 750.136b(5). Defendant was sentenced to 365 days in jail with credit for 36 days served and 60 months' probation. The trial court ordered defendant to serve 150 days of her jail sentence immediately with the remainder to be served at the end of probation or upon court order, whichever occurs first. Defendant now appeals by right.

         Defendant argues that her conviction should be vacated because the third-degree child abuse statute, MCL 750.136b(5), is unconstitutionally vague as it does not provide fair notice of the prohibited conduct and because it is so indefinite that it gives unstructured and unlimited discretion to the trier of fact to arbitrarily determine whether an offense was committed. We disagree and so affirm.[1]

         MCL 750.136b defines the crime of third-degree child abuse as follows:

(5) A person is guilty of child abuse in the third degree if any of the following apply:
(a) The person knowingly or intentionally causes physical harm to a child.
(b) The person knowingly or intentionally commits an act that under the circumstances poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to a child, and the act results in physical harm to a child.
(6) Child abuse in the third degree is a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years.

         " 'Child' means a person who is less than 18 years of age and is not emancipated by operation of law . . . ." MCL 750.136b(1)(a). " 'Person' means a child's parent or guardian or any other person who cares for, has custody of, or has authority over a child regardless of the length of time that a child is cared for, in the custody of, or subject to the authority of that person." MCL 750.136b(1)(d). For purposes of MCL 750.136b, the term "physical harm" is defined as "any injury to a child's physical condition." MCL 750.136b(1)(e). In addition, MCL 750.136b(9) provides that "[t]his section does not prohibit a parent or guardian, or other person permitted by law or authorized by the parent or guardian, from taking steps to reasonably discipline a child, including the use of reasonable force."

         "[A] statute is presumed to be constitutional and is so construed unless its unconstitutionality is clearly apparent." People v Boomer, 250 Mich.App. 534, 538; 655 N.W.2d 255 (2002). "To determine whether a statute is unconstitutionally vague, this Court examines the entire text of the statute and gives the words of the statute their ordinary meanings." People v Lockett, 295 Mich.App. 165, 174; 814 N.W.2d 295 (2012). A court must also consider any judicial constructions of the statute when determining if it is unconstitutionally vague. Boomer, 250 Mich.App. at 539.

         "The void for vagueness doctrine is derived from the constitutional guarantee that the state may not deprive a person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. U.S. Const, Am XIV; Const 1963, art 1, § 17." People v Roberts, 292 Mich.App. 492, 497; 808 N.W.2d 290 (2011) (quotation marks and citation omitted). As explained by the United States Supreme Court in Grayned v City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108-109; 92 S.Ct. 2294, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (1972):

It is a basic principle of due process that an enactment is void for vagueness if its prohibitions are not clearly defined. Vague laws offend several important values. First, because we assume that man is free to steer between lawful and unlawful conduct, we insist that laws give the person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly. Vague laws may trap the innocent by not providing fair warning. Second, if arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement is to be prevented, laws must provide explicit standards for those who apply them. A vague law impermissibly delegates basic policy matters to policemen, judges, and juries for resolution on an ad hoc and subjective basis, with the attendant dangers of arbitrary and discriminatory application. Third, but related, where a vague statute "abut[s] upon sensitive areas of basic First Amendment freedoms, " it "operates to inhibit the exercise of [those] freedoms." Uncertain ...

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