Thursday, January 25, 2007

Legal Battles

Prison for adultery? Word has spread that in Michigan adultery could technically earn one a life term in prison.

In Michigan, adultery is a felony. Judge William Murphy of Michigan Court of Appeals in a possible attempt to embarrass those seeking a stricter interpretation of laws had footnoted that it could technically result in life imprisonment.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The ruling came in the case of Lloyd Waltonen, 43, of Charlevoix, who supplied a cocktail waitress with the prescription painkiller OxyContin in exchange for sex. Last year, Charlevoix Circuit Judge Richard Pajtas sentenced Waltonen to four to 20 years in prison, but dismissed four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, punishable by a life term, on the basis that the sex was consensual.

The state attorney general successfully appealed Pajtas' ruling, citing an obscure provision of Michigan's criminal law that says a sexual act committed at the same time as a felony constitutes criminal sexual conduct.

An appellate panel found Waltonen guilty of criminal sexual conduct. He has asked the state Supreme Court to consider an appeal of the ruling.

In the opinion, Murphy wrote that although legislators may have drafted the law conceiving of scenarios in which there was a violent felony involving forced sex, he was "curtailed by the language of the statute from reaching any other conclusion."

Murphy wrote that a person is technically guilty of first-degree criminal sexual conduct any time he or she "engages in sexual penetration in an adulterous relationship."

He noted that state law defines first-degree criminal sexual conduct as sexual penetration involving another felony. Because adultery is a felony, he wrote, adulterous sex could result in life imprisonment.

Truth be told, there are so many laws regulating our behaviors that most of us are lawbreakers on a regular basis without even realizing it. Sometimes these restrictions are part of convoluted bills passed by representatives who may not even read the legislation before voting on it. Many times they are laws that time has passed by and are no longer enforced or enforceable. Some people therefore argue for greater leeway in interpretation by judges. But shouldn't the argument be made instead for revisiting laws periodically and repealing them if they no longer make sense? Doesn't it make a mockery of law to leave outdated restrictions in place, making good people criminals, and merely winking at or ignoring illegal deeds? Do we really need so many laws that the average person can't even keep track of what's permissible and impermissible behavior?

If laws no longer serve their purpose, repeal them. We shouldn't all have to be lawyers--heaven knows we have enough of them-- and we shouldn't all have to pour over musty law tomes to ensure that we are law-abiding citizens.

Note: a few years ago, my children and I read a real howler of existing laws that really ought to be repealed. While this may or may not be the same book we had read, "Chickens May Not Cross the Road: and Other Crazy But True Laws" by Kathi Linz deals with this topic.


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