SHERIFF'S CORNER: The laws we follow, revisted

Lake County Sheriff Rich Martin

Lake County Sheriff Rich Martin

Courtesy photo

The Irons Flea Roast is over after a two year hiatus and now onto Luther Days.

The Flea Roast was a great success, but I can't help but mention the "Flea Roast Bingo" card I found with squares like: duct taped footwear, matching tattoos, Browning tattoo, tie dye anything, beer before noon, kids under 5 alone, one person with two beers, tramp stamp, overalls with no shirt, more than 3 facial piercings, flip flops with socks, homecut wife beater, and multicolored rainbow hair. Hey, I just found the card ... I didn't write it. 

With the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on some popular and controversial topics, I thought it would be a good time to do a repost of an article I did several years ago relating to the different types of laws we live under. 

"Hey buddy, you can't do that, I know the law!" 

When I came up with the idea of having a weekly article, this was a result of getting the same common questions from the public since I started in public law enforcement in 1995. We all have those friends and family that always "know the law," as well as those "keyboard warriors" who love to jump at the chance to make a comment on a Facebook post, claiming to be legal experts.

In this edition of the Sheriff's Corner, I explore the definition of what is an actual law and also explain not all laws are enacted in the same manner. This is a general overview to provide you with a better understanding of the different kinds of laws in Michigan.

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Constitutional law is the foundation of all law, otherwise the "supreme law of the land." Constitutional law is the interpretation and implementation of the Constitution of the United States and the Michigan State Constitution. These establish the governmental authority, power, rights and framework upon which all the laws are governed.

A Constitution is established when a state of government is formed. A Constitution can be amended when a law is passed overwhelmingly by a legislative body and a majority of the people. Examples include the Bill of Rights, the Michigan Declaration of Rights, and Constitutional amendments. 

STATUTORY LAW: These are the laws that we are most familiar with or deal with on a regular basis. Statutory law is written law passed by the state legislature. They are written by a legislator, passed by the House and Senate and then signed into law by the Governor. Examples include traffic offenses, criminal trespassing, larceny and fraud.

ADMINISTRATIVE RULE: Executive branch agencies (such as the Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Agency) are given power to implement regulations that relate to matters within their jurisdiction. Administrative rule is the body of law that governs these activities. These rules are passed by select "boards" which oversee said agency that has the "effect of law." Examples include liquor control rules, construction codes, commercial licensing and land usage rules.

CASE LAW: Case law is the interpretation of a statute or law by the Courts of Appeals or Supreme Courts. Case law can be decided by the state Court of Appeals which can then be reinterpreted or decided by the state Supreme Court.

The federal system has a similar scheme with federal court decisions being governed by the federal court of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court which makes case law and interprets laws for everyone. The U.S. Supreme Court is also the ultimate decider on Constitutional law interpretation.

Case law is the analyzation and clarification of past court opinions, rules, laws and statutes. It basically becomes the new “law.” Most well-known examples include Terry v. Ohio, Arizona v. Miranda and Brown v. Board of Education. 

COURT RULE: These are rules which instruct lawyers, courts and litigants on how to process or handle a civil, criminal, probate, juvenile or appeals case in the legal system. These make sure that everyone works with the same set of rules and if there is a violation, then there is instruction on what happens.

Some court rules include the prohibition of firearms in court rooms, court filing requirements, legal notice requirements, property seizure rules, service of legal documents and civil procedure.

LOCAL ORDINANCE: These are local laws that are adopted by a city, village, general law township or charter township that specifically pertain to the four corners of the municipality. State statutes and the state constitution regulates this power to enact ordinances.  A local ordinance cannot directly conflict with a state statute. They may enact a local ordinance as a criminal law or civil violation that covers the same crime or violation as a state law but only if the penalty provided by the local ordinance is higher than the state statute.

The sole responsibility for the enforcement or legal proceedings is the municipality. This usually is enforced by a zoning administrator, constable or code enforcement officer. For example, the state law allows you to set off fireworks on certain days, however a local ordinance could be adopted to limit other days that fireworks are prohibited within their incorporated boundaries.

ATTORNEY GENERAL OPINION: Sometimes the Michigan Attorney General will issue an opinion for a question raised by the legislature, the governor, auditor general, treasurer or any other state official. The statutory grant of authority to the attorney general is limited by its language to give legal advice to members of the Legislature and the departments and agencies of state government.

The opinion of the Attorney General is not a binding interpretation of law which courts must follow. It can dictate the adherence of the opinion to state agencies. Some examples include the Right to Farm Act, relating to the limits of local authority control, inclusions of the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act and the prohibition of a member of a township board of review also serving as a member of a township planning commission in the same township.


Charges can range from civil infractions, misdemeanors, felonies, contempt of court and municipal civil infractions. This can include fines and/or jail time.

Civil infractions are non-criminal and generally result in fines or the loss of privileges. These include speeding tickets, defective equipment tickets and littering. 

There are three classes of misdemeanors: misdemeanors punishable by up to 93 days in jail, misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail and high court misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to two years in prison. High court misdemeanors are similar to felonies.

Common misdemeanors include assault and battery, retail fraud and driving while license suspended.

A felony is most commonly defined as the possibility of serving a year or more in prison. These include murder, criminal sexual assault, robbery and burglary. 

As law enforcement, we are charged with enforcing a majority of these laws. We are not given the authority to impose sanctions or issue penalties for breaking the law. That relies on the prosecutor for criminal cases and a judicial officer for civil infractions. 

Any misdemeanor or felony charges have to be authorized or approved by the prosecutor. We will issue citations, take a complaint or make an arrest, but that is where our part ends. The prosecutor has to make his/her decision on whether he/she wants to file charges. After the charges are filed, the prosecutor may offer to reduce the charges or dismiss some of the charges.

I ask that you keep this in mind when the outcome is not always favorable.

— This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. Topics covered are for educational and informational purposes only. As needed, excerpts from other articles are used for reference and/or content. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you may always email me your questions to