Michigan Marital Rape Laws

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Michigan led the way among the states in overhauling its rape laws to eliminate the “marriage exemption” that allowed a spouse to rape his mate without legal penalty.

This article discusses Michigan marital rape laws. For information about Michigan criminal sexual conduct laws in general, see Michigan Sexual Battery Laws.

Michigan Rape Laws

Criminal sexual conduct, which is the term used under Michigan law for all sexual offenses, includes what was previously referred to as rape. A person commits criminal sexual penetration by engaging in nonconsensual sexual penetration with another person in any of the following circumstances where:

  • the assailant uses force to engage in the penetration
  • the assailant uses coercion (including a threat to harm or retaliate against the victim in the future) to engage in the penetration
  • the assailant knows or has reason to know that the victim is mentally incapable of giving consent, mentally incapacitated from giving consent, or physically helpless
  • the assailant uses a weapon to overcome the victim, or
  • the assailant uses concealment or surprise to overcome the victim.

(Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 750.520b, 750.520d.)

Michigan law defines “sexual penetration” as “sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse, or any other intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person's body or of any object into the genital or anal openings” of the victim’s body. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520a.) Penetration occurs, for purposes of the criminal sexual conduct laws, even if semen is not emitted.

Spousal Rape

From the days of the earliest English common law to the late 20th century in the U.S., men could rape their wives and face no criminal penalty under most circumstances.This “marriage exemption” was based on the common law view that a spouse consented to sex for all time with his or her mate by entering into the marriage contract. Michigan law recognized this pernicious exemption.

Pre-1974 laws

Prior to 1974, Michigan law, like that of most states, exempted spouses from its rape laws. This meant that a spouse essentially could use the fact that he was married to his victim as a defense to a charge of raping her. In the 1970s, a “second wave” of feminists began scrutinizing the sexist rape laws around the country and Michigan was the first state to respond.

Current law

In a rare partnership, the feminists joined forces with law-and-order activists to agitate for revision of state rape laws to, among other changes, eliminate the marriage exemption. Michigan was the first state to respond by comprehensively overhauling its rape laws in 1974. Forty other states soon followed its lead. By the mid-80s, most states had retooled their rape laws. To its credit, the state of Michigan rewrote its rape laws specifically to address issues regarding the marriage exemption and other vestiges of the archaic view that women lacked the full legal status that men enjoyed. Even today, Michigan is one of only a handful of states whose laws explicitly provide that a spouse may be charged with sexually assaulting his or her spouse (of course, a spouse may be charged with sexually assaulting his or her spouse in many other states that have not enacted express criminal laws on the subject.) (Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520l.)

Some exceptions remain

Under Michigan’s criminal sexual conduct laws, a person may not be charged or convicted solely of those crimes where the charge is based on his or her legal spouse’s age (under 16), mentally capability, or mentally capacity.

Spousal rape law as enforced

Even under Michigan’s revamped criminal sexual conduct laws, courts at times have difficulty convicting spouses of rape, sometimes due to judges’ inability to recognize nonconsensual sexual conduct in a relationship that has also involved consensual sexual conduct.

How is Marital Rape Punished in Michigan?

Criminal sexual penetration is a felony in Michigan and the possible punishment depends on the degree (which is based on the severity of the conduct and the circumstances, including whether the assailant used violence, victim suffered physical harm, and other factors). A person convicted of criminal sexual penetration in Michigan may face a sentence of up to life in prison. (Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 750.520b, 750.520d.) In addition, a person convicted of the highest degree of criminal sexual penetration will be sentenced to lifetime electronic monitoring. (Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 750.520b, 750.520n.)

Even a conviction of the lesser degree of criminal sexual penetration exposes the offender to up to 15 years in prison. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520d.)

Sex Offender Registration

Under certain circumstances, a spouse convicted of criminal sexual penetration in Michigan may be designated a sex offender and required to register with state and local authorities upon release from prison and for many years thereafter. (Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 28.722, 28.725.) Such registration restricts where a person may live, work, go to school, or simply be present.

For more information about sex offender registration laws in general, see State Sex Offender Registration.

Consult an Attorney

A charge of criminal sexual penetration, whether the victim is one’s spouse or anyone else, is a very serious charge. If you are convicted, you could face not only a long prison sentence, but also the requirement to register as a sex offender, which will follow you for many years after the prison sentence ends. If you have been charged with any sex crime, see a lawyer with experience in criminal defense law in your area.

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