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Setting Aside Multiple Juvenile Offenses in Michigan

In re Hutchinson
Michigan Court of Appeals
February 21, 2008

Holding: Defendant who was adjudicated responsible for more than one juvenile offense does not qualify under MCL 712A.18e to have the adjudications set aside.

Why This Case is Important: MCL 712A.18e allows a person to apply to have his juvenile adjudication set aside. MCL 712A.18e(1) states that a person who had been adjudicated with only one juvenile offense and has no felony convictions may qualify to apply with the adjudicating court to have the adjudication set aside. By setting aside the adjudication, it will remove disabilities and penalties that may follow the defendant for having such adjudication on file.

The use of the word “offense” in MCL 712A.18e is not defined and the statute itself does not clarify the word’s intended use. In examining a statute, the Court will interpret every word or phrase in the statute according to it’s plain meaning, unless the statute defines otherwise. If the Court then determines that such language is unambiguous, the Court will construe the language as intended in the statute.

Therefore, when a statute such as MCL 712A.18e does not specify a definition for the word “offense”, the plain meaning of the word will be used to interpret the statute. Subsequently, under this statute, the eligibility of a person to have their adjudication set aside is dependent on the number of offenses for which they were found responsible. If the person was adjudicated for any more than one offense, they do not qualify under MCL 712A.18e and cannot apply to have their adjudication removed.

Facts of This Case: Defendant in this case was adjudicated responsible for entering without breaking with intent to commit a felony or larceny and unlawfully driving away a motor vehicle back in 1990 when he was aged 17. In 2006, the defendant filed to set aside his adjudications pursuant to the statute for setting aside juvenile adjudication, MCL. 712A.18e. The trial court granted the defendant’s application. The prosecution appealed, claiming that the defendant was ineligible to have his adjudication set aside because he was adjudicated responsible for two offenses rather than one, which is the requirement under the statute. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the order of the trial court.

The court of appeals stated that the statute for setting aside an adjudication, MCL 712A.18e(1), does not define the word “offense”. The court of appeals turned to several other Michigan Court Rules related to juvenile delinquency proceedings as well as several dictionaries in order to define the word.

In comparing the definitions from such sources, the court of appeals found that they all applied the plain meaning of the word offense, which is defined as a violation of the law. The court of appeals thereby determined that the defendant was adjudicated responsible for two separate laws and therefore was responsible for two offenses. Because MCL 712A.18e only allows an offender who was adjudicated responsible for only one offense to be eligible, the defendant in this case was not eligible to have the adjudication set aside.

The court of appeals also stated that had the legislature intended for statute to apply to more than one offense, it would have stated so in the statute. The Court cannot apply its own interpretation and must enforce the statute as written. Therefore, the court of appeals reversed the trial court’s decision.

Key Language: MCL 712A.18e(1) states plainly that in order for a person to qualify to have his juvenile adjudication set aside, the person must only have one juvenile offense and no felony convictions. Because the statute does not define the word “offense”, the standard definition of the word applies. Therefore, the requirement that a person may only be adjudicated of a single offense must be met in order for the person to apply to have the adjudication set aside.

Expert Advise: “In Michigan, in order to apply to have the Court set aside a juvenile offense of which the person was adjudicated responsible, the person must have been adjudicated of only one offense and have no felony convictions. Any number over one offense will disqualify the person from applying for a set aside pursuant to MCL 712A.18e.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

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