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People v. Tennyson: What Does It Mean to Contribute to the Neglect or Delinquency of a Minor Child?

December 1, 2008 Criminal Law and Procedure

The Michigan Supreme Court in People v. Tennyson discusses the Michigan law of contributing the delinquency of a minor.

In this case, the Court sought to determine whether evidence that a child was present in a home where a defendant was in possession of drugs and firearms is legally sufficient for a conviction under the criminal law of contributing the neglect or delinquency of a minor under MCL 750.145.

Specifically, what level of certainty is required to determine that a defendant tended to cause a minor to become neglected or delinquent so as to tend to come under family court jurisdiction.

In this case, the Court held there was insufficient evidence – a minor child was in a home with firearms and drugs but was unaware of them – to sustain a conviction under this law.

Contributing to the Neglect or Delinquency of a Minor

Under MCL 750.145, it is a misdemeanor for a person by action or word to encourage, contribute toward, cause or tend to cause a minor child under the age of 17 to become neglected or delinquent so to come under the jurisdiction of the juvenile division of the probate court.

What Happened in Tennyson

A search warrant was executed on defendant Tennyson’s home. In the home, police found about three grams of heroin in various places, as well as two loaded firearms in a dresser drawer.

Defendant faced multiple charges in addition to contributing to the neglect or delinquency of a minor, including felon in possession of a firearm, MCL 750.224f, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, MCL 750.227b, and possession of less than 25 grams of heroin, MCL 333.7403(2)(a)(i). At trial, the defendant was convicted on all counts.

On Appeal

Again, on appeal the question was what level of certainty is needed for a judge or jury as fact finder to determine that a person charged with the crime tended to cause a minor to become neglected or delinquent.

The Court was not satisfied that a child simply being in a home with contraband without awareness of the contraband was sufficient for a conviction. The problem with such a conviction would be the abuse of the law as a probable charge. Such a crime could be an add-on charge to many cases. Also, such charges could then be the basis of parental termination cases. The Court was very concerned about the “slippery slope” that could occur from such charges.

The Court took notice that the children in the home were not even aware of the contraband. This fact was important for the Court. No rational trier of fact could determine that the mere presence of drugs and firearms in the house without knowledge by the children could cause to tend the children toward delinquency or neglect. There was no evidence the home was a drug-house.

Takeaways from the Case

We know from Tennyson that simple possession of drugs, firearms, or other contraband, etc without the child’s knowledge in the home is insufficient for a conviction under this charge. The child or children must at least have some knowledge of the criminality.

Call us

Call Sam Bernstein at 734-883-9584 or e-mail at bernstein@arborypsilaw.com.

Sam Bernstein is a Michigan Criminal Defense Lawyer.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.

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