Recent Michigan Prosecutions for “Seducing an Unmarried Woman”

Reader Jeff Semenak, who lives in Lansing, reports that the Lansing State Journal courthouse notes occasionally mention that someone has been convicted of “seducing an unmarried woman.” I checked and indeed found over 30 such notes from 2002 to 2008.

The statute, Michigan Penal Code § 750.532, provides,

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 ….

One story on the subject, John Schneider, It’s a Crime, Lansing State Journal, Feb. 15, 2000, at 1B, reports that,

[A]ssistant Ingham County Prosecutor Sam Smith … explained that in the case that appeared in the newspaper, simple seduction wasn’t the original charge. The man was charged with a more serious offense. The seduction plea became, as Smith put it, the “resolution” to the case. That’s most often how it’s employed, Smith said — as a “reasonable resolution.”

Smith stopped short of saying that consensual sex between consenting unmarried adults would never be prosecuted as a crime, but admitted it would be rare. Of course if one of the parties is married, the crime becomes adultery, but that’s rarely prosecuted, either, Smith said.

But this still strikes me as wrong. Say someone refuses to accept such a “reasonable resolution” and pleads not guilty, perhaps because he claims the sex was consensual and that he shouldn’t have to go to jail for it. Nothing in the law keeps the prosecutor from charging the person both with the more serious offense (presumably rape) and with seduction, so that even if the jurors accept the man’s story, they’ll still convict him of seduction.

I don’t think we should put our trust in the noblesse oblige of prosecutors when it comes to sex crimes any more than when it comes to speech crimes. Seduction shouldn’t be criminal just so that prosecutors find it easier to reach plea bargains in rape cases. Otherwise, why not just make all sex — or for that matter all breathing — a crime? That will make it even easier for prosecutors to reach a “reasonable resolution” plea bargain whenever they think a defendant is guilty of a crime (a sex crime or otherwise) but doubt that they’ll be able to prove it.

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