In Michigan, an adult that allows or encourages a minor under the age of 17 to engage in illegal activity or places a minor in a situation that exposes them to illegal behavior can be guilty of a crime. Contributing to the delinquency of a minor can consist of keeping a child home from school to cause truancy or can be as serious as providing alcohol or illegal drugs for the child to use. Either way, an adult who violates this statute can be subject to probation, fines and even incarceration.
MCL 750.145 states “[a]ny person who shall by any act, or by any word, encourage, contribute toward, cause or tend to cause any minor child under the age of 17 years to become neglected or delinquent so as to come or tend to come under the jurisdiction of the juvenile division of the probate court, as defined in [MCL 712A.2], whether or not such child shall in fact be adjudicated a ward of the probate court, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”
A person convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor can be punished by a fine up to $500.00 or up to 90 days in jail, or both.
The Michigan Supreme Court examined the meaning and intent of this statute closely in People v Tennyson, 487 Mich 730; 790 NW2d 354 (2010). In that case, Detroit police executed a search warrant at the defendant’s home and seized three grams of cocaine and two loaded firearms. At the time of the raid, the defendant’s 10 year old stepson was home. The defendant was charged with possession of less than 25 grams of heroin (MCL 333.7403(2)(a)(v)), being a felon in possession of a firearm (MCL 750.224f), possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (MCL 750.227b), and contributing to the neglect or delinquency of a minor (MCL 750.145). The prosecutor alleged that the defendant contributed to the delinquency of the child by “exposing him to the use and sale of narcotics.” The jury convicted him of all charges and the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the result. The defendant appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.
The contested language in MCL 750.145 is the word “tend”. “This statute requires that the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant (1) by any act or word (2) ‘tend[ed] to cause’ any minor (3) to “become neglected or delinquent” (4) so as to ‘tend to come’ under what was then probate court jurisdiction, which has since been transferred to the family division of circuit court, or “family court.” Id at 736.
“The statute also makes clear that ‘neglect’ and ‘delinquency’ are specifically defined by MCL 712A.2, and that an adjudication that the child is, in fact, a ward of the court is not a prerequisite to a conviction.” Id at 736. However, the adult’s behavior has to, at least, “tend to cause” such neglect or delinquency. The Michigan Supreme Court believed that “everyday lapses in parental behavior would not ordinarily suffice to lay a foundation for criminal charges that would trigger at least the initiation of the parental rights termination process, just as they have never before sufficed in this state to establish criminal charges under MCL 750.145.” Id at 742. “Rather, ‘tend’ properly takes into consideration the totality of the parent’s conduct, and the overall impact of that conduct upon the child.” Id at 742. “Accordingly, the statute’s first use of ‘tend’ requires a determination that a defendant’s conduct has caused it to be more likely than not that a minor would ‘become neglected or delinquent.’” Id at 743. “Similarly, the statute’s second use of ‘tend requires a determination that a defendant’s conduct caused it to be more likely than not that a minor would come under family court jurisdiction.” Id at 743.
In the instant case, the Michigan Supreme Court found that the defendant’s behavior did not “tend” to contribute to the delinquency or neglect of a minor:
- “Taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecutor, we are unable to conclude that a rational juror could have determined that defendant’s actions ‘tended to cause’ the child to become delinquent. By his presence in the home, the child did not violate, nor was he in danger of violating, any ‘municipal ordinance or law of the state or of the United States.’ Nor does the record contain any evidence whatsoever that the child was ‘disposed or inclined’ to abuse drugs, engage in criminality, or become a delinquent for any other reason. Quite simply, the prosecutor presented no evidence regarding the child’s education, behavioral history, relationships with his peers, or any other relevant fact that could support the conclusion that defendant’s actions ‘tended to cause’ this child, to become delinquent. Therefore, no matter how favorably we interpret the evidence in the prosecutor’s favor, as we are required to do, defendant’s conviction cannot be sustained under MCL 750.145 on the grounds of delinquency. There simply was no evidence of any kind to sustain such a conviction.” Id at 751-752.
- “The prosecutor also argues that defendant’s conviction can be sustained on grounds of neglect. Specifically, the prosecutor argued to the jury that the child ‘being in that house is being subject to neglect and/or delinquency.’ Again, we conclude that the evidence is insufficient to allow a rational fact-finder to make such a finding. There was simply no evidence presented that the illegal drugs or firearms at issue had any impact on the child’s ‘mental well-being’ or his ‘health and morals,’ as there was no evidence at all that he was even aware of these items, much less of their illegality.” Id at 752. “How else could a rational juror conclude that the child’s ‘mental well-being’ was placed at ‘substantial risk’ unless the child was aware of the firearms and drugs? How else could a rational juror conclude that defendant ‘refuse[d] to provide proper. . . care necessary for [the child’s] health or morals’ where no evidence was presented concerning the care defendant did, or did not, provide the child? There is nothing here beyond the child’s awareness that could even conceivably establish that he had been affected by his parent’s criminal activity, much less caused to become delinquent as a result, and there is no evidence of awareness.” Id at 753. “[Also], [t]here is nothing from the evidence that suggests that the physical condition of the home made it in any way ‘unfit’ for a juvenile to live in. Taking this evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecutor, we conclude that a rational trier of fact could not reasonably find that defendant’s home was rendered an ‘unfit place’ for the child to live ‘by reason of’ defendant’s criminal conduct where there was no evidence at all that the child was even aware of this criminality.” Id at 755.
The Michigan Supreme Court declined to “adopt the theory that a child’s presence in the home plus illegal activity in the home amounts to a violation of MCL 750.145” and therefore reversed the defendant’s conviction (although his conviction and sentences for the other crimes were permitted to stand.
As you can see, an allegation of contributing to a delinquency of a minor is very fact-driven and dependent on the circumstances. It is not enough that the minor is merely around illegal activity if he or she has no knowledge of it. A charge of contributing to a delinquency of a minor is serious and a conviction can impact residential and employment opportunities. The prospects of obtaining future jobs around children at a school or day care are diminished. You need a skilled criminal defense lawyer in your corner that will aggressively assert your rights and hold the prosecutor to the high standard of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you or a loved one is charged with any crime and need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.