People v. Knapp

Decision Date22 March 2001
Docket NumberDocket No. 210837.
Citation244 Mich. App. 361,624 N.W.2d 227
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jeffrey L. KNAPP, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Jennifer M. Granholm, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, John G. McBain, Prosecuting Attorney, and Jerrold Schrotenboer, Chief Appellate Attorney, for the people.

Linda D. Ashford, Detroit, for the defendant on appeal.

Before SAAD, P.J., and HOEKSTRA and MARKEY, JJ.


Defendant appeals as of right his jury trial conviction of second-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC II), M.C.L. § 750.520c(1)(b)(iii); MSA 28.788(3)(1)(b)(iii). Defendant was sentenced as a second-offense habitual offender, M.C.L. § 769.10; MSA 28.1082, and a second-offense sexual offender, M.C.L. § 750.520f; MSA 28.788(6), to 60 to 270 months' imprisonment for the conviction. We affirm.


This case arises out of an incident that occurred during an alleged spiritual therapy class taught by defendant. In 1995, after receiving a masters degree in counseling and opening his own private counseling practice, defendant began taking courses in reiki, which, according to trial testimony, is an ancient healing art that involves "energy centers" in the body called chakras. Reiki practitioners use various hand positions to activate internal healing powers in their patients. The hand positions used by reiki therapists may involve, but do not require, physical contact with the person undergoing reiki therapy. Defendant passed his reiki classes and became a master reiki teacher and practitioner.

In June 1996, defendant visited the home of Dr. Julian Rowe. While there, he gave psychic readings to complainant's mother. Thereafter, complainant's mother underwent regular counseling with defendant. In September 1996, defendant taught a reiki class at Rowe's house in which complainant's mother participated. During the class, defendant demonstrated the various reiki hand positions and introduced one "kundalini"1 hand position. According to trial testimony, kundalini involves the use of hand positions involving genitals to open energy points and to gain enlightenment through sexual energy. Defendant demonstrated the kundalini position on complainant's mother by placing one hand on her genitals and one hand on her stomach. He explained that the position helped direct the energy of the spine.

Complainant's mother attended other reiki classes defendant taught at Rowe's house. She practiced her hand positions on complainant, her fourteen-year-old son, but never used the kundalini position. After seeing positive changes in his mother, complainant became interested in learning reiki himself. Complainant wrote defendant a letter asking if he could attend a reiki class and defendant agreed to become complainant's reiki teacher.

In June 1997, complainant and his mother attended defendant's class at Rowe's house. After the morning class session, defendant asked complainant's mother if he could talk to complainant alone before the afternoon session. Defendant explained that he planned to teach some kundalini positions in the afternoon, and that he did not want complainant to giggle when he taught that portion of the class. Complainant's mother consented and defendant took complainant to an upstairs bedroom and closed the door. According to complainant, defendant first explained that he should not laugh during the afternoon session. Then, defendant told complainant, "Everyone's got nuts" and defendant then told complainant to feel defendant's testicles. Amazingly, complainant did so and defendant talked to complainant about sexual energy. Defendant then reclined on the bed and told complainant to place one hand on defendant's testicles and one hand on his stomach. Complainant did so and defendant then placed his hands on complainant to demonstrate the position.

Following the afternoon class, defendant asked complainant if he wanted to learn more and he again took complainant to an upstairs bedroom and closed the door. Defendant talked to complainant about reiki hand positions and then discussed male sexual energy. Defendant asked complainant to take off his pants and underwear and complainant did so. Defendant also removed his own pants and underwear. Defendant then manipulated his own testicles while explaining to complainant that the movement would create healthier semen. Defendant told complainant to try the technique and complainant complied by manipulating defendant's testicles. According to complainant, defendant then lay on the bed and began to masturbate while talking about sexual energy and reiki.2 Complainant later told his mother what occurred with defendant and he then gave a full statement to the police.

A. What Constitutes Coercion for Purposes of M.C.L. § 750.520c(1)(b)(iii); MSA 28.788(3)(1)(b)(iii)?

Defendant says that the prosecutor presented insufficient evidence that he was in a position of authority over complainant and insufficient evidence that he used his position of authority to coerce complainant into engaging in sexual contact. In determining whether sufficient evidence has been presented, we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution to determine if any rational trier of fact could have found that the essential elements of the crime were proved beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Johnson, 460 Mich. 720, 723, 597 N.W.2d 73 (1999). All conflicts in the evidence are resolved in favor of the prosecution. People v. Terry, 224 Mich.App. 447, 452, 569 N.W.2d 641 (1997).

The relevant portion of the CSC II statute, M.C.L. § 750.520c(1)(b)(iii); MSA 28.788(3)(1)(b)(iii), provides:

(1) A person is guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree if the person engages in sexual contact with another person and if any of the following circumstances exists:

* * *

(b) That other person is at least 13 but less than 16 years of age and any of the following:

* * *

(iii) The actor is in a position of authority over the victim and the actor used this authority to coerce the victim to submit.

In People v. Reid, 233 Mich.App. 457, 592 N.W.2d 767 (1999), this Court considered the issue of what constitutes coercion for purposes of the first-degree CSC statute, M.C.L. § 750.520(1)(b)(iii); MSA 28.788(2)(1)(b)(iii).

Here, we address the identical question of what constitutes coercion, but unlike Reid, we must answer this question for purposes of the CSC II statute, an issue that has not been reviewed by our courts in a published opinion. We believe that the holding and analysis in Reid is persuasive and equally applicable to CSC II.3 Therefore we similarly hold that a defendant's conduct constitutes coercion where, as here, the defendant abuses his position of authority to constrain a vulnerable victim by subjugation to submit to sexual contact.

In Reid, the complainant's father met the defendant at work and confided that his son was having problems in school. Reid, supra at 460, 592 N.W.2d 767. The defendant told the complainant's father that he had experience talking to young people as a church counselor and then offered to talk to the complainant about his problems. Id. The defendant began spending time with the complainant and even looked after the boy when his parents were at work. Id. at 461, 592 N.W.2d 767. The defendant then asked if the complainant could spend the night at the defendant's house to play computer games, and the complainant's parents consented. Id. at 462, 592 N.W.2d 767. That night, the defendant slipped vodka into the complainant's beverage and continued to offer him drinks until the complainant became intoxicated. Id. at 463, 592 N.W.2d 767. Thereafter, the defendant fondled the complainant and engaged him in oral sex. Id. at 465, 592 N.W.2d 767.

In analyzing the issue in Reid, this Court first observed that "[f]orce or coercion is not limited to physical violence but is instead determined in light of all the circumstances." Reid, supra at 468, 592 N.W.2d 767, quoting People v. Brown, 197 Mich.App. 448, 450, 495 N.W.2d 812 (1992). We also find instructive this Court's definition of coercion applied in People v. Premo, 213 Mich.App. 406, 410-411, 540 N.W.2d 715 (1995), which states that "[c]oercion `may be actual, direct, or positive, as where physical force is used to compel act against one's will, or implied, legal or constructive, as where one party is constrained by subjugation to other to do what his free will would refuse.'" Id. at 411, 540 N.W.2d 715, quoting Black's Law Dictionary (5th ed.), 234.

In Reid, this Court specifically held that coercion by a person in a position of authority does not require a showing of physical violence but can be shown through evidence of the exploitation of a victim's special vulnerability. Reid, supra at 472, 592 N.W.2d 767. The Court concluded that the defendant placed himself in a position of acting as a therapist by offering to counsel the complainant about his problems. Id. at 470, 592 N.W.2d 767. This Court also found that the defendant spent time with the complainant on the night of the sexual conduct in order to further that counseling relationship and manipulated that role in order to assault the complainant. Id. The court observed that the defendant's relationship with the complainant was similar to a teacher-student relationship in which the victim is "in a position of special vulnerability" with the defendant and that the "defendant exploited the special vulnerability attendant to his relationship with the complainant to abuse him sexually." Id. at 472, 592 N.W.2d 767.

Here, defendant's challenge to the finding of coercion necessitates an examination of whether he was in a position of authority. Defendant first gained the trust of complainant's mother by acting as her therapist and reiki teacher. Complainan...

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