In People v. Mullins, the Court of Appeals held that while the defendant was neither a mandatory reporter of child abuse nor did she actually make the report of child abuse herself, she was still criminally liable for the false report. People v Mullins, 322 Mich App 151 (2017). The defendant, Shae Mullins, has been sentenced to seven days in jail with a subsequent two years’ probation for encouraging her daughter to tell her teachers that her father, Mullins’ ex-boyfriend, had sexually abused her. Mullins has appealed the Court of Appeals ruling and the Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to consider her application for leave.
Mullins and her ex-boyfriend, Louis Dominion, have been involved in extensive custody litigation over their minor child, PD, since 2007. Since establishing paternity in 2008, Dominion has had increasing amounts of unsupervised time with his daughter. However, according to Mullins, the problems with alleged sexual abuse started not long after Dominion was allowed into his daughter’s life. As early as February 2008, Mullins began making reports of sexual abuse against Dominion. By September 2008, Mullins had made three such reports to CPS, none of which resulted in formal charges against Dominion. At this point, DHHS filed an abuse and neglect petition in order to gain jurisdiction over PD. Subsequent to this petition, the custody arrangement for PD was changed; Dominion became her primary caregiver with Mullins having parenting time every other weekend.
The events that resulted in the criminal prosecution of Mullins occurred November 18, 2013. Mullins had PD for the weekend prior to that Monday and was dropping PD off at school that Monday morning. The facts of what happened that morning are highly contested by the parties in this litigation. The only fact that is not contested between the parties is that PD had a private conversation with her teacher that morning and reported that Dominion “hurt me and hurt my private parts.” Her teacher asked her if anyone had told her to make this report and PD responded that God had told her. PD’s teacher then made a report to the school principal who, in turn, reported the allegations to CPS. After an interview with CPS, however, PD changed her story and told the investigator that Mullins had told her to make the report. At trial, PD testified that Mullins and her boyfriend, Jon Klepper, had both told her repeatedly, once at home over the weekend and once in the car ride on the way to school on Monday, that if she made these claims about her father that PD would get to spend more time with Mullins. According to Mullins, PD slept the entire drive from her home to the school, with neither Mullins nor Klepper saying a word to her before arriving at school. Mullins then stated that she walked PD into her classroom and then left with Klepper shortly afterwards. Additionally, Mullins denied ever encouraging PD to make a report against Dominion.
The Litigation and Appeal
Mullins was charged with one count of making a false report of child abuse and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. A preliminary examination was held, after which the district court issued a written opinion denying the People’s Motion for Bindover on the felony charge, finding that under MCL 722.633(5)(b) Mullins could not be charged with a felony because she did not make the false report herself. The judge compared 722.633(5)(b) with the offense for filing a false police report under MCL 750.411(a). Because the language “intentionally causing a false report…to be made” is missing from 722.633(5)(b), the judge reasoned that there was no way to criminalize encouraging someone to make a false report under 722.633(5)(b), and thus dismissed the action against Mullins for lack of evidence. The People filed an Application for Leave to Appeal to the circuit court. Subsequent to oral argument, the circuit court reversed the district court’s denial of the Motion for Bindover, reinstated the felony charge, and bound the matter over for trial.
The jury trial of Mullins began April 12, 2016, at the conclusion of which the jury found her guilty on both counts. Mullins appealed her convictions, however, the Court of Appeals affirmed both counts, finding that “[b]ecause defendant used PD and the school officials as ‘innocent agents’…defendant can still be held criminally liable as a principal for making a false report of felony abuse.” Stating that the legislative intent was clearly not to limit the criminal sanctions of 722.633(5)(b) to only mandatory reporters and that the doctrine of innocent agent applies to 722.633(5)(b), the Court of Appeals found that Mullins was, in fact, the principal in generating this false report to CPS.
Mullins additionally argued that the evidence of her prior reports to CPS was improperly admitted under MRE 404(b)(1) as it was only offered to prove that because she had made seemingly false CPS reports in the past that she obviously was guilty of generating the current false report. Allowing this evidence into the record, Mullins argued, was unduly prejudicial to her case, so much so that it was an abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court under MRE 403. The Court of Appeals disagreed with Mullins, however, finding that the evidence of Mullins’ prior reports was “highly probative to show that defendant used a continuing plan or scheme to use CPS investigations to suspend Dominion’s parenting time so that she would have full or primary custody of her daughter.” Additionally, the Court of Appeals reasoned that Mullins herself had opened the door to the use of the 2008 CPS investigations by testifying about the allegations at trial.
The Supreme Court Application
On application to the Michigan Supreme Court, Mullins argues three reasons as to why her convictions should be vacated and the case should be remanded for a new trial: first, that the crime of filing a false CPS report only applies to mandatory reporters; second, that 722.633(5)(b) only applies to those who personally contact the law enforcement agency; and third, that in adopting the Child Protection Law, the legislature nullified the doctrine of the innocent agent and thus Mullins’ convictions cannot stand. The Michigan Supreme Court has granted Mullins’ application and oral arguments on the matter are expected in the coming months.