The Michigan Supreme Court issued its per curiam opinion in People v. Monaco (Case No. 126852, 2/1/2006). All seven justices agreed that the statute of limitations for felony non-support is the six year “catch-all” period in MCL 767.24(5). The justices rejected the prosecution’s theory that the 10 year period in MCL 750.165(1) applied. That longer period applied only to civil actions for collection on monetary obligations.
The 5-2 majority (Taylor, Cavanagh, Corrigan, Young and Markman) also held that felony non-support is not a continuing offense. Each failure to pay the ordered amount of support at the ordered time constituted a separate criminal violation, each with its own distinct date. The dissent (Kelly and Weaver) argued that a failure to pay is by its nature continuous and cannot be a one-time event.
Both the majority and the dissent analyzed the legislature’s statutory intent by pointing to the “plain language” of the statute. The fact that the justices reached different destinations on the same flight could motivate legislative action. But the legislature is confronted with many and varied problems, and of course, it may not be offended by the interpretation of the five-justice majority.
The message to prosecutors is if you hesitate, you lose. The custodial parent loses. And ultimately, the child loses. In Monaco, the State delayed its prosecution until 8 years after the youngest child had turned 18, the amount of support had exceeded $57,000, and court order itself had celebrated its 18th anniversary. If the State had not waited so long to prosecute, the mother may have received some support from the father, and the father may have heeded the “wake-up call” and commenced payments (or perhaps petitioned for modification if his support obligation was out-of-date), so many judicial resources would not have been devoted to such a stale claim.
Prosecutors who are serious about felony non-support should act quickly. Time really is money, and justice delayed can become justice denied.
In the short term, some so-called “deadbeat” parents may benefit from this opinion. Their cases will be thrown out or never filed because the State moved too slowly to prosecute them. But if the State gets the message, it will focus the resources it chooses to devote to criminal support enforcement on early intervention and true “deadbeats,” those with available resources but an intent to ignore the court’s orders.