Convicting the Child Support Payor for Non-Payment
Over the past ten years, prosecutors began addressing the problem of unpaid child support in Michigan, taking cases from the family courts, and charging the errant payors with felonies in the circuit trial courts. As a result, millions of dollars have been collected that otherwise would not have been paid. Also, dozens of payors, both Fathers and Mothers, have gone to jail; some to prison.
During this wave of prosecutions, many delinquent payors have challenged the constitutionality of Michigan's felony non support statute on the basis that it essentially creates a "debtor's prison". The "inability-to-pay" defense, viable at one time, was removed by the legislature with the passage of the most recent version of the statute in November 1999.
The constitutionality of this version of the statute, particularly the removal of the "inability-to-pay" clause, was tested a few years back in the People v Meldman case; a case from Oakland County. Defendant challenged the family court's findings on the imputation of his income, and challenged the felony child support statute on its face. Conviction affirmed.
The Law Blogger covered the basic ground on this subject some years ago, in these earlier posts: 02/15/2010 and 12/14/2010. These posts covered the UM Law's innocence project and their challenge to the felony child support act's constitutionality.
The case we've been waiting for, People v Likine, also from Oakland County, was fully briefed for the Michigan Supreme Court last April [including amicus briefs from both the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, and a powerful group of Michigan Criminal Law Professors], argued in October, and the High Court's opinion deciding the case is expected any day now.
Likine deals, in astounding depth, with the bed-rock constitutional issue of whether you can be jury tried for a crime involving non-payment, without being able to put on a defense of an inability, or even an impossibility, to pay the court-ordered obligation. Related to this issue is whether a defendant can collaterally attack a statute, introducing evidence from the family court [on issues of payment history, income levels and availability of funds] into a court of general jurisdiction: i.e. the Oakland County Circuit Court.
One more recent development since that post is last June's SCOTUS decision in Turner v Rogers, holding that a child support payor facing incarceration for non-payment is afforded legal counsel under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. A rare example of SCOTUS reviewing a state court decision with roots in family law jurisprudence.
Great stuff. Stay tuned and we will be sure to convey how the Michigan Supreme Court views all this. Hopefully they will issue their Likine decision prior to the OCBA presentation to my colleagues...