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People v. Nasir - 255 Mich. App. 38, 662 N.W.2d 29 (2003)

Rule:

First and foremost, in focusing on whether the legislature intended to require some fault as a predicate to finding guilt, courts consider whether the statute at issue is a codification of the common law. Where mens rea was a necessarily element of the crime at common law, the court will not interpret the statute as dispensing with knowledge as a necessary element. The crime of possessing or using counterfeit tax stamps is not a creature of the common law. While elements of forgery inform Mich. Comp. Laws § 205.428(6), it is at its heart a revenue statute, designed to assure that tobacco taxes levied in support of Michigan schools are not evaded. The common-law definition of "forgery" is a false making, or a making malo animo of any written instrument with intent to defraud. Courts also consider whether the statute defines a public welfare offense. Many statutes which are in the nature of police regulations impose criminal penalties irrespective of any intent to violate them, the purpose being to require a degree of diligence for the protection of the public which shall render violation impossible. Examples of such strict liability offenses include narcotics laws, traffic laws, adulterated food or drug laws, criminal nuisances, and liquor control laws.

Facts:

After an administrative inspection of the store in which defendant Ahmed Nasir served as general manager, a police officer determined that counterfeit tax stamps were affixed to a number of tobacco products being sold. At trial in Michigan state court, the trial court rejected Nasir's proposed jury instruction that included mens rea as an element of the charged offense. Rather, the court agreed with the States that crime was a strict liability offense and thus it instructed the jury that the State had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Nasir possessed or used a counterfeit stamp without the authorization of the Michigan Department of Treasury. The jury convicted Nasir of possessing or using counterfeit tax stamps in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 205.428(6). Nasir was sentenced to 18 to 120 months' imprisonment. Nasir appealed.

Issue:

Did the legislature intend to dispense with a mens rea or fault requirement when it created the offense, under Mich. Comp. Laws § 205.428(6), of possessing or using counterfeit tax stamps?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for a new trial. The court ruled that knowledge was an element of the offense of possessing or using counterfeit tax stamps. Therefore, in order to establish that Nasir was guilty of the crime, the State was required to prove that: (1) Nasir possessed or used (2) a counterfeit stamp, or a writing or device intended to replicate a stamp, (3) that Nasir possessed or used the counterfeit tax stamp, or a writing or device intended to replicate a stamp, with knowledge that the stamp, writing, or device was not an authentic tax stamp, and (4) that Nasir acted without authorization of the Michigan Department of Treasury. A new trial was required, given the lack of evidence in the record as to Nasir's state of mind.

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