Immunity for police in undercover cases may end

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

A lot of employers offer perks to employees, most commonly tuition reimbursement, coverage of car or cell phone bills, and the like. However, if you are a Michigan police officer, your job comes with a very different type of “benefit” (if you can call it that):  immunity from the law if you sleep with a prostitute during an investigation. Yes, you read that correctly.

Still on the books is a law that allows undercover police to actually engage in sex with prostitutes during the course of their investigation. Whatever happens “under the covers,” while they are undercover, doesn’t really matter, as the law currently stands. 

Shockingly, Michigan is not the only state to ever have this law, but it IS the only state where the law is still valid. Hawaii eliminated this exemption from its books in 2014. It’s surprising to me that this law has not been voided at this point, especially with the visibility and crackdown by law enforcement on human trafficking.  However, it is very doubtful that police academy recruits are signing up to enjoy this exemption, or that any police agency would train officers or encourage use of the law (wouldn’t that make for an interesting first day on the job).

State Rep. Gary Glenn is working with University of Michigan Law School professor Bridgette Carr to end this exemption for police officers, through the introduction of House Bill No. 4355. State Sen. Judy Emmons has sponsored it as Senate Bill No. 275. The proposed law seeks to amend MCL 750.451a, to state that certain laws do not apply to police as they are carrying out official law enforcement duties, “unless the officer engages in sexual penetration as that term is defined in section 520A while in the course of his or her duties.”

I think everyone can understand that there needs to be some leeway for undercover cops in various situations – if they don’t act the part, there is a much greater chance that they will be exposed as police officers, subsequently putting their lives in danger.  Because some unsavory individuals (who are not necessarily police officers but may pose as one) are aware of the immunity provision, they use it to threaten sex workers.  Michigan is not a stranger to sex trafficking, as you may recall during the plethora of arrests during the recent 2017 Detroit auto show.

Hopefully, the law will be amended quickly and unanimously to void this exemption – although I’m sure people would be interested to hear from anyone who actually opposes it.

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The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own.  Her blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached at matyjasz@hotmail.com. 
 

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