Our regular readers might notice that we tend to focus our coverage on new laws or changes to existing laws that might be of special interest to our clients. This week’s edition of “Now You Know It” offers a change of pace, focusing on lesser-known laws that are rarely enforced. In fact, some of the laws that remain “on the books” in Michigan might surprise even the most seasoned legal onlookers. Take, for instance, the following statutes as set forth in the Michigan Compiled Laws (“MCL”), which ban a wide range of conduct:
- Drunkenness on a train: “No person shall while in an offensive state of intoxication enter or be on or remain upon any railway train or interurban car as a passenger.” MCL 436.201 (1913).
- Criticizing a person in print for refusing to fight a duel: “Any person who shall post or advertise another, or in writing or print, use any reproachful or contemptuous language, to or concerning another, for not fighting a duel, or for not sending or accepting a challenge, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 6 months or a fine of not more than $750.00.” MCL 750.173 (1931).
- “Seducing and debauching” an unmarried woman: “Any man who shall seduce and debauch any unmarried woman shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than 5 years or by fine of not more than 2,500 dollars.” MCL 750.532 (1931).
- Using indecent language in the presence of women or children: “Indecent, etc., language in presence of women or children — Any person who shall use any indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any woman or child shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” MCL 750.337 (1931).
- Sale of artificially colored baby chicks, rabbits or ducklings: “It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to sell, or offer for sale, any baby chicks, rabbits, ducklings, or other fowl or game which have been dyed or otherwise artificially colored.” MCL 752.91 (1945).
- Buying or selling cars on a Sunday: “It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to engage in the business of buying, selling, trading or exchanging new, used or second-hand motor vehicles or offering to buy, sell, trade or exchange, or participate in the negotiation thereof, or attempt to buy, sell, trade or exchange any motor vehicle or interest therein, or of any written instrument pertaining thereto, on the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday.” MCL 435.251 (1953).
- Using God’s name in vain: “Any person who shall wil[l]fully blaspheme the holy name of God, by cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” MCL 750.102 (1953).
While our clients may find one or more of these laws to be archaic, questions about the utility of a statute will not, standing alone, cause it to be deemed unenforceable. However, in the event that a law is found to conflict with the federal or Michigan constitution, it will be deemed to be unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. Further, in the event that a law is not enforced for a very lengthy period of time, it is possible that a court could find that it has “fallen into desuetude,” and therefore refuse to enforce it.
Recently, the Michigan House of Representatives voted to repeal certain older laws – including the laws criminalizing “indecent” language in the presence of women and children, and barring the sale of artificially colored baby chicks, rabbits or ducklings – and the bills are now headed to the Senate. According to proponents, repealing these laws will help to ensure that Michigan law is more modern, fair and streamlined.