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People v. Mullins

Court of Appeals of Michigan

November 30, 2017

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SHAE LYNN MULLINS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Berrien Circuit Court LC No. 2015-000156-FH

          Before: Swartzle, P.J., and Sawyer and Markey, JJ.

          Swartzle, P.J.

         Defendant Shae Lynn Mullins convinced her daughter (PD) to tell a school teacher that PD's father had sexually abused the girl. Defendant did so with the expectation that she would get sole or primary custody of PD. The plan quickly unraveled, and defendant was charged and ultimately convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and making a false report of felony child abuse.

         On appeal, defendant argues that she is not criminally liable for making a false report because she did not make the report herself, but instead the report was made by PD to a school teacher, who then reported the matter to the school principal, who in turn reported the matter to Child Protective Services (CPS). Because defendant used PD and the school officials as "innocent agents, " we conclude that defendant can still be held criminally liable as a principal for making a false report of felony child abuse. Concluding that defendant's remaining claims of error are similarly without merit, we affirm her convictions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant and Louis Dominion have a daughter, PD, born in 2006. The parents have never been married, and they have been involved in extensive custody litigation over PD since 2007. Dominion became PD's primary caregiver in January 2009 with defendant having parenting time every other weekend. In November 2013, while PD was visiting defendant, defendant told PD that, if PD told a teacher at school that Dominion "hurt [her] private parts" and locked her in a closet, then PD would be able to spend more time with defendant. There was also testimony that suggested that defendant offered to buy PD a new horse if she made this allegation at school.

          Shortly after this discussion, PD told a teacher that Dominion "hurts [her] and has hurt [her] private parts." PD's teacher reported the statement to the school's principal, who reported the incident to CPS. PD was later interviewed about the allegations, and she admitted that defendant told her to lie.

         Defendant was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, MCL 750.145, and making a false report of felony child abuse, MCL 722.633(5). The district court, however, refused to bind defendant over to the circuit court on the charge of making a false report of child abuse. The district court concluded that defendant could not be guilty under MCL 722.633(5) because defendant did not personally make a false report of child abuse. The district court compared the language of MCL 722.633(5) to the language of the false crime report statute, MCL 750.411a. MCL 722.633(5) states that "[a] person who intentionally makes a false report of child abuse or neglect under the act knowing that the report is false is guilty of a crime." For its part, MCL 750.411a contains similar language, and states that a "person who intentionally makes a false report of the commission of a crime, or intentionally causes a false report of the commission of a crime to be made . . . knowing the report is false, is guilty of a crime." Under the principle that the expression of one thing implies the exclusion of other things, coupled with the principle that laws dealing with the same subject should be interpreted harmoniously, the district court concluded that the inclusion of the phrase "or intentionally causes a false report of the commission of a crime to be made" in MCL 750.411a, and the omission of similar language from MCL 722.633(5) must be given effect. Thus, it held that the Legislature did not intend to make punishable a person's intentionally causing a false report of child abuse to be made when that person does not personally make the report.

         The prosecution appealed the district court's decision to the circuit court, and the circuit court reversed. In doing so, the circuit court noted that, under the common-law theory of innocent agent, a person was liable for the commission of a crime as a principal when the person used an "innocent other" as an instrumentality to commit the offense. The circuit court commented that MCL 722.633 and MCL 750.411a were codified in different chapters of the compiled laws and that the additional language present in MCL 750.411a was the result of the Legislature's 2004 amendment to MCL 750.411a. Because that amendment was enacted 20 years after MCL 722.633(5) was first enacted, the trial court declined to read MCL 750.411a as conclusive evidence that the Legislature intended to abrogate the common-law doctrine of innocent agent by way of MCL 722.633(5). Accordingly, the circuit court allowed the charge of making a false report of child abuse to proceed to trial.

         Before trial, the prosecution noticed defendant of its intent to introduce evidence that, in 2008, defendant made three false reports that Dominion was sexually abusing PD. Defendant objected to the introduction of this evidence, and the trial court ultimately concluded that the evidence was admissible under MRE 404(b):

[T]he Court finds that evidence of the Defendant's prior allegations or complaints of sexual abuse of [the child] by [Dominion] to CPS, the resulting CPS investigation, resulting parenting time suspension during the CPS investigation, and ultimate disposition of the investigation, are logically relevant to show Defendant's motive and intent to commit the charged offense (intention [sic] false reporting of felony child abuse, MCL §722.633(5)). Similarly, to the extent that it appears the object of the charged act (i.e. Defendant falsely reporting the child abuse through her daughter) remains at issue, the Court finds that those "other acts" have the requisite concurrence and combination of common features, to support the [prosecution's] purpose of showing Defendant's plan or scheme. Thus, as to these stated "other acts" involving Defendant initiating reports to CPS, the Court finds that the [prosecution has] satisfied their burden of establishing admissibility under MRE 404(b).

         At trial, the jury heard evidence that, on three occasions in 2008, defendant took PD to a doctor after PD returned from Dominion's care. Defendant informed the doctor that she had observed redness and swelling in PD's vaginal area, and the doctor reported the concerns to CPS. CPS initiated investigations of each complaint, all of which were unsubstantiated. The jury also heard evidence that these complaints led CPS to file a petition in 2008 against both defendant and Dominion to place PD in foster care while CPS investigated the false allegations. Evidence of this latter petition was not noticed by either party before trial.

         The jury ultimately found defendant guilty of making a false report of felony child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. For these convictions, the trial court sentenced defendant to seven days in county jail and two years' probation.

         Defendant appealed her convictions as of right.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. DEFENDANT WAS PROPERLY CHARGED AND CONVICTED AS A PRINCIPAL UNDER MCL 722.633(5)

         We first address defendant's argument that under traditional canons of statutory construction, she should not have been charged, let alone convicted of making a false report of felony child abuse because she did not personally make the report and she did not speak to a mandatory reporter. "This Court reviews de novo issues of statutory interpretation." People v Gardner, 482 Mich. 41, 46; 753 N.W.2d 78 (2008). "The fundamental task of statutory construction is to discover and give effect to the intent of the Legislature." People v Ambrose, 317 Mich.App. 556, 561; 895 N.W.2d 198 (2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "The statute's words are the most reliable indicator of the Legislature's intent and should be interpreted based on their ordinary meaning and the context within which they are used in the statute." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Judicial construction of a statute is only appropriate if reasonable minds could differ regarding the statute's meaning. People v Stone Transport, Inc, 241 Mich.App. 49, 50-51; 613 N.W.2d 737 (2000).

         1. MCL 722.633(5) IS NOT LIMITED TO MANDATORY REPORTERS

         Defendant argues that she cannot be held criminally liable under MCL 722.633(5) because defendant and PD were not mandatory reporters and the statute only criminalizes false reports by mandatory reporters. She buttresses this argument with a second point-because other provisions of Michigan law criminalize false reports of criminal activity by non-mandatory reporters, MCL 722.633(5) must be read to be limited solely to mandatory reporters of felony child abuse or neglect. We reject both arguments.

         With respect to her first argument, MCL 722.633(5) provides in pertinent part: "A person who intentionally makes a false report of child abuse or neglect under this act knowing that the report is false is guilty of a crime . . . ." Defendant argues that the phrase "under this act" refers to mandatory reporters as defined in the Child Protection Law, and therefore the Legislature clearly intended to limit the scope of the statute to only those designated reporters. MCL 722.623(1) identifies the specific categories of persons who are required to report child abuse under the act, and neither a parent nor a child is included. Given this, defendant maintains that she cannot be found guilty under MCL 722.633(5).

         Defendant's argument suffers from a fundamental flaw-while the Child Protection Law mandates that certain persons report suspected child abuse, the law does not preclude a person who is not a mandatory reporter from reporting suspected child abuse. In fact, the Child Protection Law explicitly contemplates these reports. Specifically, MCL 722.624 provides, "In addition to those persons required to report abuse or neglect under [MCL 722.623], any person, including a child, who has reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or neglect may report the matter to the department or a law enforcement agency." A person who chooses, but is not required, to make a report would still be doing so "under this act, " i.e., under the authority of MCL 722.624.

         Defendant suggests that such a reading would render the phrase "under this act" superfluous. But, just because the reading would encompass all instances of false reporting to CPS of child abuse or neglect-those made by mandatory reporters and non-mandatory reporters alike-this does not mean that "under this act" is without content. Rather, the phrase clarifies that the activity criminalized by MCL 722.633(5) is the making of a specific report to CPS as authorized by the Child Protection Law, as opposed to some other kind of report not involving abuse or neglect of a child or made to some person or entity other than CPS or law enforcement.

         As to defendant's second argument, while she contends that other provisions of Michigan law criminalize false reports by non-mandatory reporters, this contention lends no weight to her position. It is well-established that the same activity can violate more than one criminal provision. See People v Ford, 262 Mich.App. 443, 447-448; 687 N.W.2d 119 (2004) (recognizing that the Legislature may choose to punish the same activity under multiple criminal provisions). Even if her activity might have violated another ...


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