Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Senators torpedo obselete laws

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By EMILY LAWLER
Capital News Service

LANSING— Senators have a lot on their plates, including some cleaning of legal cobwebs.

Lawmakers introduced a series of bills to repeal outdated criminal laws, including ones against dueling, kidnapping with intent to marry and prizefighting.

“They’re just archaic laws that we don’t prosecute anymore,” said Jessi Wortley, communications director for Sen. Ron Jelinek, D–Three Oaks, the lead sponsor.

The bill is also sponsored by Sens. Wayne Kuipers, R–Holland, and John Pappageorge, R–Troy.

According to Wortley, prosecutors go through laws periodically and try to get rid of outdated or duplicative ones.
But state legislatures often don’t update them.

In 1998, two high school students started a Web site compiling a list of “dumb laws.” Now, DumbLaws.com, which features a Michigan section, is visited by160,000 people each month.

“Old laws just collect dust until one forcefully asserts itself and makes everyone look silly,” said Andy Powell of Indio, Calif., the site’s founder.

Wortley says the crimes Michigan may strike are all covered under other laws. If you participate in a duel expect to be prosecuted for shooting somebody. Kidnapping is illegal, regardless of whether marriage is involved.

According to Wortley, kidnapping and forced marriage is harder to accomplish now than when the law was passed in 1931.

“You have to get a marriage license. You can’t walk into a courthouse and say ‘marry me and the missus,’” said Wortley.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the repeal proposals.

John Rothchild, associate dean at Wayne State University’s law school, says outdated laws are more than silly — they’re risky.

“There’s also a possibility that a law nobody’s ever heard of will be dusted off and used,” said Rothchild. “Having these obsolete laws on the books can reduce the respect people have for laws that are current.”

That is, if people can keep current laws straight.

“It’s difficult for any citizen to be aware of all the laws. It doesn’t help to have obsolete ones clutter up the books,” said Rothchild.

Powell agrees, and says a huge body of rules and regulations results in honest people becoming unintentional criminals.

Wortley says the large body of laws makes it hard for legal professionals too.
“The less law code out there, the easier it is for the prosecutors and lawyers,” she said.

Still, Powell doesn’t see a mass rush to update Michigan or any other state code in the future. The latest effort to freshen things up may be an isolated instance.

“Legislators legislate. They don’t de-legislate, and I don’t see that changing soon,” he said.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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