People v. Adams, Docket No. 3940

Decision Date24 June 1971
Docket NumberDocket No. 3940,No. 2,2
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Otis L. ADAMS, Defendant-Appellant
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

James S. Treciak, Pahl & Baughman, Jackson, for defendant-appellant.

Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Robert A. Derengoski, Sol. Gen., Bruce A. Barton, Pros. Atty., for plaintiff-appellee.

Before J. H. GILLIS, P.J., and LEVIN and BRONSON, JJ.

LEVIN, Judge.

The defendant, Otis L. Adams, appeals his conviction of kidnapping.

Kidnapping is now a statutory, not a common-law crime. The relevant portion of our statute makes it unlawful to 'wilfully, maliciously and without lawful authority * * * forcibly or secretly confine or imprison any other person within this state against his will.' 1 But every forcible confinement is not the capital offense of kidnapping.

Our kidnapping statute, like most, is so all-encompassing in its literal breadth that unless its operative effect is confined by objective standards it would be void for overbreadths. 2

Where a kidnapping statute does not in terms require a 'carrying away' of the victim, an asportation requirement or, as a substitute, the element of secrecy, has been judicially read into and made a part of the definition of the crime. 3

There are two basic kidnapping patterns. In one, the victim is seized and removed to another place; in the other, the victim is confined in the place where he is found. In the first, an asportation or movement of the victim is an essential element; in the second, movement is not an element, but secrecy of the confinement is required.

In this case the people do not charge that the victim was secretly confined. The information charged the defendant Otis Adams with 'forcibly confining and imprisoning' his victim 4--the word 'secretly' in the statutory phrase 'forcibly or secretly confine' was omitted when the charge was drawn.

To save the Michigan kidnapping statute, insofar as it applies to nonsecret confinements, from a declaration of unconstitutionality because of overbreadth we read it as requiring an asportation. A confinement (other than a secret confinement) without a movement of the victim is not kidnapping. And, for reasons which we will spell out, every movement of the victim of an assaultive crime incidental to the commission of that crime is not kidnapping; the asportation must have a significance independent of the assault in order to manifest the capital and separate offense of kidnapping.

In this case the victim, a prison official, was seized in Jackson State Prison by Adams and other inmates and moved from one part of the prison to another. The seizure and movement occurred in the presence of prison guards; the exact location of both the victim and of the defendant Adams was at all times known to prison guards who had the place cordoned off and surrounded by overwhelming armed force. It is not claimed that Adams ever intended to remove his victim from the prison or that he intended to attempt to effect an escape. This is not the usual hostage pattern, nor is it the usual kidnapping pattern.

I. Facts

On the morning of October 18, 1965, Adams consumed substantial quantities of alcohol and barbiturates in the company of several other inmates of Jackson Prison. Their conversation turned to the grievances--real or imagined--which they felt against the prison administration.

Shortly after 11:00 a.m., Adams and inmate Edward Whitehead went to the main dining hall of the prison where lunch was being served. Adams cut into the serving line ahead of other inmates and was told by a guard to go to the end of the line. Adams directed some verbal abuse at the guard, then proceeded with Whitehead to the prison's 4-block, a cell block in the northwest portion of the prison. Adams' conduct aroused the attention of two unarmed prison guards who followed him to 4-block.

Because this was the lunch hour, several hundred prisoners were milling about 4-block. The presence of Adams and Whitehead, plus a third inmate, Alvin Shaw, all of whom were highly agitated, as well as the two guards and the hundreds of milling prisoners, led to a disturbance of uncertain proportions.

At this time Inspector Joseph Dembosky, the highest ranking uniformed prison officer, was notified of the disturbance in 4-block. He immediately proceeded to the area and thrust himself into the center of the milling crowd.

Before Inspector Dembosky could take any action, he was seized from behind by inmate Whitehead, who held a knife to his throat. Adams also produced a knife which he used to wave back the prisoners pressing in on Inspector Dembosky and Whitehead. At the trial Inspector Dembosky testified that at this point he said, 'Can't we talk about this?' Another witness testified that Dembosky said, 'Can't we go somewhere and talk about this?' Adams, Whitehead and Shaw, all of whom had knives, then accompanied Dembosky at knifepoint out of 4-block into the prison yard.

There were approximately one thousand inmates in the yard as Dembosky, Whitehead, Shaw and Adams left 4-block. Inspector Dembosky testified that he felt that there was danger of a riot if the party remained in the yard. He suggested that they go to the prison gymnasium to talk things over. Instead, he was forced to accompany Whitehead, Shaw, and Adams to the prison hospital, which was roughly 1500 feet from the entrance to 4-block. During their journey to the hospital, the armed inmates repeatedly shouted warnings to the heavily-armed tower guards that Inspector Dembosky would be killed if they were fired upon.

Shortly before reaching the hospital building, the group was joined by another inmate, Milton Thomas, who was also armed. Together, immediately after entering the hospital, they seized two guards, a prison doctor, and an inmate elevator operator named Hubbard. Shaw, Whitehead, Thomas, and Adams, together with Inspector Dembosky and the other victims, then proceeded to the doctor's lounge on the fifth floor of the hospital.

Adams and his cohorts erected barricades around the lounge. Over an intercom, they repeatedly demanded to see various prison officials, as well as the warden, to air their grievances. They also demanded to see a newspaper reporter. There were repeated warnings that Inspector Dembosky would be killed if they were fired upon.

During the hours that followed, the armed inmates displayed contradictory behavior toward their captives. The physician was released when Adams ascertained that he had a heart condition. Thomas told the warden to notify the pregnant wife of one of the captive guards that he would not be harmed. Contrastingly, inmate Hubbard was severely beaten by Adams, then released as an example of Adams' serious intentions.

A number of prison officials visited the fifth floor landing to discuss grievances. A newspaper reporter summoned to the scene was occupied for almost three hours in recording these grievances. Adams repeatedly expressed his fear of being shot by guards when he left the fifth floor.

After about 5 1/2 hours, Shaw, Whitehead, Thomas, and Adams were persuaded to abandon their barricaded position. Upon being given assurances that they would not be shot, they released their captives unharmed. They then proceeded to the deputy warden's office, where they surrendered their weapons.

The reprehensible nature of Adams' action does not alter our duty to determine whether the evidence against him is sufficient to support his conviction for kidnapping Inspector Dembosky. 5


The statute and its overbreadth

'The sense of any statute is to be collected from its object and the nature of the subject matter. Particular phrases must be read in the light of the contextual setting. The import of such language is controlled accordingly. The literal sense of terminology cannot prevail over the reason and spirit of the expression as a whole.' Dodd v. Copeland (1968), 99 N.J.Super. 481, 486, 240 A.2d 444, 446.

'All laws should receive a sensible construction. General terms should be so limited in their application as not to lead to injustice, oppression, or an absurd consequence. It will always, therefore, be presumed that the legislature intended exceptions to its language, which would avoid results of this character. The reason of the law in such cases should prevail over its letter.' People v. Daniels (1969), 71 Cal.2d 1119, 1130, 80 Cal.Rptr. 897, 903, 459 P.2d 225, 231, quoting United States v. Kirby (1868), 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 482, 486, 19 L.Ed. 278, 280.

A statute's 'spirit and purpose should prevail over its strict letter.' Webster v. Rotary Electric Steel Company (1948), 321 Mich. 526, 531, 33 N.W.2d 69, 71.

'When choice has to be made between two readings of what conduct Congress has made a crime, it is appropriate, before we choose the harsher alternative, to require that Congress should have spoken in language that is clear and definite. We should not derive criminal outlawry from some ambiguous implication.' United States v. Universal C.I.T. Credit Corporation (1952), 344 U.S. 218, 221, 222, 73 S.Ct. 227, 229, 97 L.Ed. 260, 264; followed in Toussie v. United States (1970), 397 U.S. 112, 122, 90 S.Ct. 858, 864, 25 L.Ed.2d 156, 165.

Our kidnapping statute has not been construed by our Supreme Court except in the context of child custody disputes. In those cases the Court rejected a rigid, formalistic reading and set aside the convictions. 6

What is immediately obvious about the language of our kidnapping statute is the extraordinary range of conduct it might proscribe.

In the phrase 'forcible confinement or imprisonment,' the word 'imprisonment' is clearly a narrower term than 'confinement'; every 'imprisonment' would be a 'confinement.' The word 'forcible' adds little, if anything, to the word 'confine.' 'Confine,' in the sense in which it is used in this statute, clearly speaks of an...

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