People v. Smith-Anthony

Citation494 Mich. 669,837 N.W.2d 415
Decision Date30 July 2013
Docket NumberCalendar No. 8.,Docket No. 145371.
CourtSupreme Court of Michigan

494 Mich. 669
837 N.W.2d 415


Docket No. 145371.
Calendar No. 8.

Supreme Court of Michigan.

Argued April 17, 2013.
Decided July 30, 2013.

[837 N.W.2d 416]

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, John J. Bursch, Solicitor General, Jessica R. Cooper, Prosecuting Attorney, Thomas A. Grden, Appellate Division Chief and Matthew A. Fillmore, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for the people.

Law Office of John D. Roach, Jr., PLC (by John D. Roach, Jr., Detroit), for defendant.

[837 N.W.2d 417]

Opinion of the Court


[494 Mich. 672]In this case, we consider the meaning of the phrase “from the person of another” under MCL 750.357, the larceny-from-the-person statute. Until 2004, Michigan's robbery statute contained this phrase as well, so we also consider whether the 2004 amendment that removed this phrase from the robbery statute 1 altered the meaning of “from the person” in the larceny-from-the-person statute.

We hold that Michigan law requires a defendant to take property from the physical person or immediate presence of a victim to commit a larceny from the person. In rare cases, a taking outside of a victim's immediate presence may satisfy the from-the-person [494 Mich. 673]element only if a defendant or the defendant's accomplices use force or threats to create distance between a victim and the victim's property. Because defendant in this case did not take property from the person or immediate presence of the victim, or use force or threats to separate a victim from the victim's property, we conclude that she did not commit a larceny from the person. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, which reversed her conviction of larceny from the person.


On May 31, 2010, Khai Krumbhaar was working as a plain clothes loss-prevention officer at a Macy's in Southfield, Michigan. Through one of Macy's closed-circuit television monitors, Krumbhaar observed defendant carrying two bags, which she held “very, very closely.” According to Krumbhaar, defendant “appeared extremely nervous” and was “darting her eyes” in the direction of sales associates and customers.

After watching defendant select a perfume set off a display case, Krumbhaar went to the sales floor to monitor her. Krumbhaar stayed far enough away to appear as if she were just another shopper, but stayed “fairly close” to defendant, at least close enough to observe her behavior. At times, she was within earshot of defendant. As Krumbhaar followed, she saw defendant “push [ ] the ... [perfume] box down into her shopping bag.” After this, Krumbhaar “stayed back giving [defendant] some space,” until she saw defendant “walking very quickly” out of the store into the main mall area.2 Outside the Macy's store, Krumbhaar [494 Mich. 674]confronted defendant, identified herself as a Macy's loss-prevention officer, and asked defendant about the perfume set. Defendant began shouting and ran from Krumbhaar; Krumbhaar gave chase and captured defendant, who allegedly scratched and bit Krumbhaar as she tried to restrain defendant.

The prosecution charged defendant with unarmed robbery,3 second-degree retail fraud,4 and possession of marijuana.5 On the first day of trial, the prosecution dismissed the latter two charges, although defendant objected to the dismissal of the second-degree retail-fraud charge.6 The

[837 N.W.2d 418]

prosecution's only witness was Krumbhaar, who testified to the above facts. After closing argument, and upon defendant's request, the circuit court instructed the jury on the elements of larceny from the person.7 The court explained that to find defendant guilty of larceny from the person, the jury would have to find that “property was taken from Khai Krumbhaar's person or from Khai Krumbhaar's immediate area of control or immediate presence. 8 After deliberating, the jury acquitted defendant of unarmed robbery, but found her guilty of larceny from the person.

On review, the Court of Appeals reversed defendant's conviction in a split published opinion. The majority [494 Mich. 675]concluded that the prosecution presented no evidence that defendant had committed the larceny within Krumbhaar's “area of immediate presence or control.” 9 The court noted that Krumbhaar “never testified that she was even within arm's length of defendant” 10 or that “Krumbhaar was even close enough to defendant to have touched her or to have snatched the box from defendant's hands.” 11 Accordingly, the court held that the prosecution had failed to prove a larceny “from the person” of Krumbhaar because “[p]roof of ‘stealing from the person of another’ requires more than vague proximity between the victim and the perpetrator.” 12

Writing in dissent, Judge Whitbeck disagreed. He believed that Krumbhaar's testimony that she was close enough to defendant to see her and hear her as she moved throughout the store was sufficient proof, as a matter of law, to establish that the taking occurred within her “immediate area of control or immediate presence.” 13

We granted the prosecutor's application for leave to appeal, directing the parties to address:

(1) whether the evidence was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime of larceny from a person, MCL 750.357, was committed within the “immediate area of control or immediate presence” of the loss prevention officer who witnessed the theft; (2) whether the 2004 amendment of the robbery statute, 2004 PA 128 (amending MCL 750.530), altered the definition of “presence” with respect to the larceny-from-the-person statute; and, if not[494 Mich. 676](3) whether the common-law definition of the phrase “from the person” remains consistent with the common-law definition of “presence.” [14


We review de novo questions of statutory interpretation.15 Our goal in interpreting a statute is to ascertain and “give effect to the intent of the Legislature.”

[837 N.W.2d 419]

16 We enforce the clear and unambiguous language of the statute as written. 17 To determine whether the prosecutor has presented sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecutor and determine “whether a rational trier of fact could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” 18


Under MCL 750.357, a person who commits a larceny by stealing from “the person of another” is guilty of larceny from the person.19 To determine whether there was sufficient evidence to establish this element, we must first determine the meaning of the statutory phrase “from the person.” The Legislature has instructed that any “technical words and phrases” that [494 Mich. 677]“have acquired a peculiar and appropriate meaning in the law, shall be construed and understood according to such peculiar and appropriate meaning.” 20 And in the criminal-law context, common-law doctrine informs the meaning of a statute when the Legislature uses common-law terms. 21 Because the phrase “from the person” has an extensive history at common law, we now turn to that history to determine if the phrase has acquired a “peculiar and appropriate meaning.”

Common-law courts interpreted the phrase “from the person” differently in robbery cases and larceny-from-the-person cases. The first statute to separately criminalize larceny from the person was enacted in England in 1565. 22 The purpose of this law was to punish pickpockets, so courts construed it narrowly, requiring that a thief steal an object attached to or physically possessed by the victim to satisfy the “from the person” element of larceny from the person.23 At the same time, jurists interpreted the phrase “from the person” more broadly in robbery cases. In those cases, courts interpreted “from the person” differently to account for circumstances in which robbers used force or threats of force in the commission of a theft. As Professor Rollin Perkins has explained, “One of the illustrations of robbery, given by the early writers, is the wrongful driving off of another's horse or sheep while he, although present, is by violence or intimidation [494 Mich. 678]prevented from interfering.” 24 Thus, in robbery cases,

[837 N.W.2d 420]

common-law courts and scholars interpreted “from the person” to include takings from a victim's presence to account for the violence and intimidation that distinguishes robbery from larceny. In the words of Sir Edward Coke, writing about the crime of robbery in the 1700s, “that which is taken in [someone's] presence, is in law taken from his person.” 25 Hence, at common law, the meaning of “from the person” depended on whether the crime at issue was robbery or larceny from the person.26

There is a split of authority in American jurisdictions with regard to whether larceny from a person requires a taking directly from the body of the victim or merely from the victim's immediate presence. Some states followed the common-law approach to the offense of larceny from the person and required physical contact between the stolen object and the victim.27 But this position is now a minority view. Courts in the majority of states that criminalize this offense have adopted the [494 Mich. 679]view that “from the person” includes the area within a victim's immediate presence.28 Explaining the rationale for the evolution of the law in this area, the Supreme Court of Minnesota stated that the phrase “from the person” included the “immediate presence” of a victim because, in any taking from this area, “the rights of the person to inviolability would be encroached upon, and his personal security endangered, quite as much as if his watch or purse had been taken from his pocket.” 29

Prior to 1970, Michigan appears to have taken the minority view, requiring an actual taking from the physical person of the victim.30 For example, in

[837 N.W.2d 421]

People v. Gadson, this Court reviewed the sufficiency of the evidence for the from-the-person...

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