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People v. Haveman

Court of Appeals of Michigan

May 30, 2019

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
TERRA LEE HAVEMAN, Defendant-Appellant.

          Barry Circuit Court LC No. 18-000004-AR

          Before: Gleicher, P.J., and Ronayne Krause and O'Brien, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         At issue in this case is whether MCL 750.135a, which proscribes leaving children "unattended in a vehicle for a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child or under circumstances that pose an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child," is a strict liability or general intent offense. The absence of specific language identifying the intent necessary to violate the statute does not relegate the offense to the realm of strict liability. Rather, considering the language of the statute in context, MCL 750.135a describes a general intent offense. We reverse the circuit court's order to the contrary and remand to the district court for further proceedings under the correct legal principles.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 31, 2017, defendant allegedly parked her car in a Walmart parking lot and went inside to shop for one hour, leaving her three and five-year-old children and two dogs inside the vehicle with one window rolled down. An employee noticed the children in the vehicle and called 911. The children were unharmed. Defendant told the responding officers that she had been inside the store for only 10 to 15 minutes and later claimed that she did not realize that she had remained inside the store so long due to the effects of medication she had taken.

         The Barry County Prosecutor charged defendant with two misdemeanor counts of leaving a "child unattended in a vehicle for a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child or under circumstances that pose an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child." MCL 750.135a(1), (2)(a). Before trial in the district court, defendant argued that MCL 750.135a is a general intent offense and that she should be permitted to defend against the charges with evidence of lack of criminal intent. In the event that the court deemed the offense to sound in strict liability, defendant requested a special jury instruction that her medication rendered her incapable of voluntarily leaving her children in the car for an extended period-the "voluntariness" defense. The district court denied both requests, finding that the statute created a strict liability offense and that defendant's voluntariness defense was no different than diminished capacity, a defense no longer recognized in Michigan to negate intent. See People v Yost, 278 Mich.App. 341, 355; 749 N.W.2d 753 (2008).

         Defendant filed an interlocutory application for leave to appeal the district court's order to the circuit court. Although the circuit court took some procedural twists and turns, it ultimately affirmed the district court's conclusion that MCL 750.135a is a strict liability statute. The circuit court ruled that defendant could present evidence before the district court to support that her actions were not voluntary and the district court could then determine whether there was sufficient evidence to present a voluntariness defense to the jury.

         We granted defendant's interlocutory application for leave to appeal these rulings. People v Haveman, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered December 13, 2018 (Docket No. 344825). Defendant's trial has been on hold in the meantime.

         II. GUIDING LEGAL PRINCIPLES

         "Whether the Legislature intended a statute to impose strict liability or intended it to require proof of criminal intent is a matter of statutory interpretation," which we review de novo. People v Janes, 302 Mich.App. 34, 41; 836 N.W.2d 883 (2013). As described in Janes, 302 Mich.App. at 41:

Under Michigan's common law, every conviction for an offense required proof that the defendant committed a criminal act (actus reus) with criminal intent (mens rea). Criminal intent can be one of two types: the intent to do the illegal act alone (general criminal intent) or an act done with some intent beyond the doing of the act itself (specific criminal intent). Thus, when a statute prohibits the willful doing of an act, the act must be done with the specific intent to bring about the particular result the statute seeks to prohibit. [Cleaned up.[1]

         Stated differently, "the distinction between specific intent and general intent crimes is that the former involve a particular criminal intent beyond the act done, while the latter involve merely the intent to do the physical act." People v Beaudin, 417 Mich. 570, 573-574; 339 N.W.2d 461 (1983).

In contrast, a strict-liability offense is one in which the prosecution need only prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the prohibited act, regardless of the defendant's intent and regardless of what the defendant actually knew or did not know. . . . [W]hether the Legislature intended to enact a strict-liability offense is generally a matter of statutory interpretation. In determining whether the Legislature intended to dispense with criminal intent, our Supreme Court has adopted the analytical framework first stated by the United States Supreme Court in Morissette v United States, 342 U.S. 246; 72 S.Ct. 240; 96 L.Ed. 288 (1952). [Janes, 302 Mich.App. at 41-42 (cleaned up).]

         The Michigan Supreme Court adopted the Morissette analysis in People v Quinn, 440 Mich. 178; 487 N.W.2d 194 (1992). Under this framework, "where the criminal statute is a codification of the common law, and where mens rea was a necessary element of the crime at common law," courts will interpret statutes as including "knowledge as a necessary element," even where ...


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