Arcane seduction law used in ex-MSU players’ plea deal
Lansing — An arcane Michigan law making it a crime to “seduce and debauch any unmarried woman” is drawing criticism after it was used in a plea deal Wednesday for three former Michigan State University football players accused of sexual assault.
Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon’s office levied the five-year felony charge as part of a plea deal with Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance, who had faced more serious sexual assault charges. Thanks to the obscure 1931 statute, the trio may now avoid additional jail time and placement on the state’s sex offender registry.
In an unusual scene that played out before Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, all three defendants confirmed they knew their alleged victim was unmarried and “chaste” before they each engaged in oral sex with her on a single night in January 2017.
Siemon, in a lengthy statement released Wednesday evening, acknowledged the seduction statute is an archaic law that has been used “consistently, but infrequently” in Michigan plea deals.
“The plea to seduction is a tool that we have as prosecutors, but it is an imperfect tool,” Siemon said. “It allows the criminal justice system to acknowledge the victim, and it provides an incentive for that offender to plea, in particular, because it’s not an offense that requires that they register as a sex offender.”
The sex offender registry “is a blunt instrument” in need of reform, she said, citing it as an example of a well-intentioned law that has strayed too far from its original intent.
Michigan has had similar seduction and debauchery laws on the books since the 19th century, said Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning, who called the statute “a relic of a bygone era.”
But “as long as it’s on the books, it is available for prosecutors to use,” said Henning, noting plea deals in sexual assault cases can allow for a conviction without the victim taking the witness stand.
“That’s very difficult for the victim,” said Henning, a former federal prosecutor. “It puts enormous pressure on that person. So it gets a resolution to the case and allows the victim to move forward with her life, and that’s an important consideration for prosecutors.”
The statute reads: “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; but no prosecution shall be commenced under this section after 1 year from the time of committing the offense.”
Henning said prosecutors could also argue they commenced prosecution within a year and a defendant also can waive the limitations period.
“To get this kind of a plea deal, they would be more than willing to waive the limitation,” he said.
Dan Korobkin, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s deputy legal director, said he could not speak directly on the criminal case or its outcome, but he took issue with the law used in the plea deal.
“Seducing an unmarried woman is unconstitutional and vague as a criminal law and should be taken off the books,” Korobkin said.
The statute violates the First Amendment right to free speech since it is not clear what someone must do or say to avoid breaking the law, he said. It also violates the 14th Amendment right to due process and equal protection of the law since it involved a consensual relationship between two adults, he said.
“There is a reason this law would be struck down if challenged,” Korobkin said. “This is only used for plea agreements. It’s an archaic law.”
Michigan lawmakers have repealed rarely used laws in recent years, including a statute that had made it a crime to curse in front of women or children. A 2007 bill that would have repealed the seduction law did not advance out of committee.
The law may have appealed to defense attorneys during plea deal negotiations because it does not require convicts to become part of the state’s sex offender registry, Henning said.
“I expect someone got very creative here in working out a deal that would be a criminal sexual conduct charge but not have the registration requirement,” he said.
State Sen. Steve Bieda, a Warren Democrat who co-sponsored the 2007 bill to repeal the seduction law, said he had not heard of any prosecutors using it as part of plea deals. Eleven years ago, an intern discovered it during a search for “obsolete laws” the state should scrap, he said.
“We’ve got a lot of statutes on the books that aren’t used any longer and that look ridiculous on their face and are probably unconstitutional,” Bieda said. “It’s a good idea, just like spring cleaning, to go through different statutes or regulations that no longer serve their intended purpose.”
While it may no longer be used outside of plea deals, keeping the 1931 law on the books could create a fear among the public that a rogue police officer or prosecutor could use it against someone in a vindictive way, Korobkin said.
“We shouldn’t use laws like that as part of our criminal justice system,” he said. “We should use legitimate law to charge people.”