Argued May 5, 2015.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
For PEOPLE OF MI, Plaintiff-Appellee: DAVID A. MCCREEDY, DETROIT, MI.
For TIMOTHY WARD JACKSON, Defendant-Appellant: LISA B. KIRSCH-SATAWA, BIRMINGHAM, MI.
Chief Justice: Robert P. Young, Jr. Justices: Stephen J. Markman, Mary Beth Kelly, Brian K. Zahra, Bridget M. McCormack, David F. Viviano, Richard H. Bernstein.
[498 Mich. 250] BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH
Bridget M. McCormack, J.
The defendant, Timothy Ward Jackson, was convicted by a jury of six counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC-I), for sexually abusing a 12- to 13-year-old member of the church where he served as a pastor. Before us is whether certain testimony regarding prior sexual relationships the defendant had with other parishioners constituted evidence of " other acts" under MRE 404(b) and, if so, whether that testimony could be admitted without reference to or compliance with MRE 404(b) by virtue of a " res gestae exception" to that rule. We agree with the Court of Appeals that the testimony was other-acts evidence as contemplated by MRE 404(b), and that the trial court erred in concluding otherwise. We disagree with the Court of Appeals majority, however, that the trial court's failure to subject the testimony to scrutiny under MRE 404(b) was nonetheless correct because the testimony fell within a " res gestae exception" to that rule. By its plain language, MRE 404(b) creates no such exception from its coverage. Accordingly, because the testimony at issue constituted evidence of " other acts" as contemplated by MRE 404(b), its admission was governed by that rule and its procedural requirements. We agree, however, with the Court of Appeals' [498 Mich. 251] determination that the defendant's convictions should be affirmed, as the defendant has failed to show entitlement to relief on the basis of this error. We therefore affirm the defendant's convictions, but vacate that portion of the opinion of the Court of Appeals majority reasoning that the testimony at issue could be admitted without reference to or compliance with MRE 404(b) by virtue of a " res gestae exception" to that rule.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The defendant's six CSC-I convictions arose from allegations that he repeatedly engaged in sexual intercourse and fellatio with the complainant, a female parishioner at his church, while she was 12 to 13 years old and serving as one of his " youth nurses."  The abuse was alleged to have occurred on a regular basis for approximately a year, until the complainant disclosed it to her aunt, Jacklyn Price, who was also a parishioner in the same church. This disclosure triggered a police investigation, which in turn led to the institution of the charges of which the defendant was ultimately convicted.
At trial, the complainant testified to the alleged abuse; the prosecution also offered testimony from Price and the complainant's mother, as well as other testimony and physical evidence corroborative of the complainant's version of events. The defendant testified in his own defense, denying the allegations in full, questioning the complainant's credibility, and asserting that Price had fabricated the allegations and manipulated [498 Mich. 252] the complainant out of spite toward the defendant for refusing to preside over Price's marriage to a non-Christian
man. The defendant pointed to the year-long delay in the complainant's disclosure of the alleged abuse as supporting his claim that the allegations were false. The defendant also offered testimony from other parishioners, including former youth nurses, to corroborate his version of events.
Price's trial testimony is central to the claim of error before us, and bears elaboration. The prosecutor's direct examination of Price focused on developing the circumstances and events surrounding the complainant's disclosure of the alleged abuse to her. Price testified that she started attending the defendant's church when she was 15, and at one point had served as a nurse for the defendant; she had subsequently left the church for a few years on two occasions, but had since returned and was an active member at the time of the complainant's disclosure. This disclosure came on the heels of a conversation that Price had initiated with the complainant after a morning church service. According to Price, she " had a specific motive" for initiating this conversation: to " see if [the complainant] had been touched in any sexual way" by the defendant. Price acknowledged that she had not " notice[d] anything out of the ordinary" in the defendant's interactions with the complainant. She explained, however, that roughly a month prior to her conversation with the complainant, she had fallen back in touch with a woman named Latoya Newsome, who had formerly been a parishioner at the church and had been a friend of Price's and a fellow nurse to the defendant. Newsome, however, had left the church for reasons unknown to Price at the time, and according to Price, " every time I would ask somebody about her and where was she, it was almost like quiet and secret as if [498 Mich. 253] I had said something wrong by bringing her name up." Price had not heard from Newsome for years, which Price believed was because Newsome " didn't want anything to do with me or the church." Price testified that, when the two fell back in touch, she expressed this belief to Newsome, and Newsome offered a response that " [a]ffected me badly -- very, very badly." This, according to Price, prompted her to approach the complainant.
Price then testified to the substance of her conversation with the complainant. Price started the conversation with small-talk about the complainant entering high school and developing into a young woman. She then told the complainant " that there was some things that I experience[d] when I was a little younger, that I didn't say anything to anybody about because I was embarrassed, and I didn't know what would happen," and that the complainant should " say something to somebody" if anyone touches her in a way that makes her " feel bad . .., because it's not supposed to be that way." The complainant then disclosed the alleged abuse to Price, and Price in turn told the complainant's mother. According to Price, her " exact words" to the mother were that " this cannot happen. There was some things that happened to me and I know wasn't right, and I didn't say anything, and I buried it. And I'm not going to let this happen to my niece. . . . He touched the wrong one." The court later questioned Price on this topic as well:
The Court : " All right. Because of this conversation that you had with [Newsome], why did you want to talk to your niece?"
Price : " Because [Newsome] said some things to me that kind of -- there was some similarities of what she --"
[498 Mich. 254] The Court : " What do you mean? Hold on for one second. Did you ever see any familiarity between your niece
and [the defendant] before you sat down an[d] spoke with her in [her] mother's car."
Price : " No; not that I seen."
During Price's direct examination, defense counsel objected and moved for a mistrial; counsel later renewed this motion. The trial court heard argument on the objection and motion outside the presence of the jury, and ultimately rejected both. Defense counsel argued that Price's testimony regarding her decision to approach the complainant constituted impermissible other-acts evidence under MRE 404(b)(1) because the testimony clearly indicated that the defendant had previously engaged in sexual relations with Price and Newsome, and gave rise to the improper inference that the defendant had a propensity to abuse his position of authority over his parishioners in the manner alleged in the instant case. Defense counsel also stressed that the prosecution had not provided any notice of intent to introduce this testimony, as required under MRE 404(b)(2), and had instead represented to defense counsel at the start of trial that Price had been instructed not to bring the matter up. The prosecutor argued that the testimony was not other-acts evidence governed by MRE 404(b) because it did not identify any specific acts performed by the defendant and did not purport to demonstrate that the defendant had engaged in prior sexual conduct with underage parishioners. The prosecutor [498 Mich. 255] further argued that Price's testimony was offered for a proper purpose under MRE 404(b)--to counter the defendant's theory of fabrication by explaining why Price approached the complainant when she did--and that the testimony had been limited to this proper purpose. As to notice, the prosecutor argued that it was not required because the testimony was not governed by MRE 404(b), and also that defense counsel was well aware before trial of the defendant's purported history of sexual conduct with other parishioners (including Price and Newsome) and the role this history played in Price's conversation with the complainant.
The trial court agreed with the prosecution that Price's testimony did not implicate MRE 404(b) because it did not provide evidence of prior bad acts by the defendant--namely, prior sexual conduct with underage parishioners--given that Price was above the age of consent at the time of her prior relationship with the defendant and her testimony did not provide any specifics regarding that relationship. The court made clear that defense counsel was free to recall Price to the stand and question her about any such details, and could call other witnesses to further explore the defendant's sexual history; the court, however, declined defense counsel's request to delay the trial to pursue any such further measures.
The jury convicted the defendant as charged. On appeal, the defendant raised a number of challenges to these convictions in the Court of Appeals, including that the trial court erred in admitting Price's testimony regarding her and Newsome's prior relationships with him. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the defendant's convictions, but disagreed regarding ...