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People v. Rogers

Court of Appeals of Michigan

January 7, 2020

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
DEONTON AUTEZ ROGERS, Defendant-Appellee.

          Wayne County Circuit Court LC No. 18-006351-01-FH

          Before: Gadola, P.J., and Servitto and Redford, JJ.

          GADOLA, P.J.

         Plaintiff appeals by leave granted[1] the trial court's November 7, 2018 order granting defendant's, Deonton Autez Rogers's, motion to quash several counts of the information. Defendant was charged, as a third habitual offender, MCL 769.11; with discharging a firearm in a building causing physical injury, MCL 750.234b(3); discharging a firearm in a building causing serious impairment, MCL 750.234b(4); assault with a dangerous weapon (felonious assault), MCL 750.82; possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), MCL 750.227b; felon in possession of a firearm (felon-in-possession), MCL 750.224f; fourth-degree child abuse, MCL 750.136b(7); and ethnic intimidation, MCL 750.147b. On defendant's motion, the trial court dismissed charges of discharging a firearm in a building causing physical injury, the discharging a firearm in a building causing serious impairment, and the ethnic intimidation. On appeal, plaintiff challenges only the trial court's dismissal of the ethnic intimidation charge. We affirm the trial court's order granting defendant's motion to quash the ethnic intimidation charge. We do so despite the fact the trial court's reasoning constituted legal error. As detailed in our opinion, the trial court reached the correct result, albeit for the wrong reasons.

          I. FACTS

         This case arises out of an altercation between defendant and the victim, Kimora Steuball, on the night of July 23, 2018. Steuball is a transgender person, which she explained to the court means that she was assigned as a male at birth, and now identifies as a woman, living her life and presenting herself as such in society. On the night of the incident, Steuball went to a gas station in Detroit to make a purchase. Upon arrival at the gas station, she saw defendant inside the gas station with a woman. Steuball got in line and defendant began talking to her, using derogatory terms. According to Steuball, defendant made various offensive statements to her, including "you're a nigga." Steuball responded that "nigga is somebody that identifies themselves as a man, carry themselves as a man. I don't do that. I'm a transgender." Defendant then asked Steuball about her sex organs and asked Steuball if he could see "it." Steuball tried to ignore defendant, but he continued to make derogatory remarks, which Steuball described as "gay" in nature, and included calling her a man and asking to see her penis. Defendant then pulled out a gun and threatened to kill her. Steuball was frightened that defendant would follow through on his threat to kill her. The woman with defendant told defendant to leave Steuball alone and to leave the gas station. While defendant was speaking to Steuball, a child that had arrived in the car with defendant entered the gas station. Defendant subsequently walked in close proximity to Steuball, gun in hand, moving toward the exit. Steuball testified that she feared that defendant would turn around and shoot her before leaving the gas station. Steuball further testified that transgender people are often attacked and harmed and she feared for her life. Reacting to the threat from defendant, she grabbed at defendant's hand as he came near her in an attempt to get the gun away from him. A struggle between the two ensued during which Steuball never had control over the gun. During this struggle, defendant kept his finger on the trigger. At some point during the struggle, the gun fired into Steuball's left shoulder. Steuball was then able to grab the gun from defendant. The woman with defendant took the gun from Steuball and moved toward the exit. Defendant then ran to the gas station exit, whereupon the woman with defendant gave him back the gun. Defendant then got into his car and the child followed him out, climbing into defendant's car with him. Steuball was taken to the hospital, where she spent several days being treated for a shattered shoulder, including undergoing surgery.

         At defendant's preliminary examination, surveillance footage was shown detailing the incident. Defendant objected to the court binding him over on the two discharging a firearm charges, asserting that he did not intentionally fire a weapon at Steuball. With regard to the remaining charges (including the ethnic intimidation charge), defendant conceded that there were "questions of fact for a jury." Relevant to the appeal at hand, the district court found that "transgender" fell within the statutory definition of "gender"[2] for purposes of the ethnic intimidation charge.

          In the trial court, defendant filed a motion to quash the district court's bindover of the two discharging a firearm in a building charges and the ethnic intimidation charge. With respect to the ethnic intimidation charge, defendant argued that the prosecution failed to demonstrate that defendant committed a malicious physical act accompanied by a specific intent to harass Steuball because of her gender. In an amended motion to quash, defendant further contended that the ethnic intimidation statute did not apply to situations involving transgender parties. The trial court granted defendant's motion to quash, finding that with respect to ethnic intimidation the preliminary examination testimony established that Steuball, not defendant, caused the physical contact between the two by grabbing defendant's wrist. The trial court further found that "gender" is defined, for purposes of the Michigan Penal Code, to include only masculine, feminine, and neuter genders, and therefore, not transgender people, such that the ethnic intimidation statute did not apply.

         As previously indicated, this Court granted the prosecution's application for leave to appeal the trial court's decision.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Whether a defendant's conduct falls within the scope of a criminal statute is a question of statutory interpretation, which is reviewed de novo. People v Flick, 487 Mich. 1, 9; 790 N.W.2d 295 (2010). Additionally, "[a] district court magistrate's decision to bind over a defendant and a trial court's decision on a motion to quash an information are reviewed for an abuse of discretion." People v Dowdy, 489 Mich. 373, 379; 802 N.W.2d 239 (2011), see also People v March, 499 Mich. 389, 397; 886 N.W.2d 396 (2016) (a trial court's decision to quash an information is reviewed for an abuse of discretion). "An abuse of discretion occurs when a decision falls outside the range of reasonable and principled outcomes." People v Zitka, 325 Mich.App. 38, 43; 922 N.W.2d 696 (2018) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). To the extent that a lower court bases its decision on a motion to quash an information on an interpretation of the law, our review of that interpretation is de novo. March, 499 Mich. at 397. When a trial court makes an error of law it necessarily abuses its discretion. People v Duncan, 494 Mich. 713, 723; 835 N.W.2d 399 (2013).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendant was charged with ethnic intimidation under MCL 750.147b. The statute provides, in pertinent part:

(1) A person is guilty of ethnic intimidation if that person maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person's race, color, religion, gender, or national origin, does any of the following:
(a) Causes physical contact with another person.
(b) Damages, destroys, or defaces any real or personal property of another person.
(c) Threatens, by word or act, to do an act described in subdivision (a) or (b), if there is reasonable cause to believe that an act described in subdivision (a) or (b) will occur.

         The most important goal of statutory interpretation is to discern and give effect to the intent of the Legislature. Dowdy, 489 Mich. at 379. If a statute's language is clear and unambiguous, it must be enforced as written, and judicial construction is not required or permitted. People v Gardner, 482 Mich. 41, 50; 753 N.W.2d 78 (2008).

         Relevant to the instant matter, the word "gender" is not specifically defined within MCL 750.147b. The trial court opined that, irrespective of whether the prosecution brought the ethnic intimidation charge against defendant based upon sub (a) or sub (c) of that statute, the lower court made an error of law in binding defendant over on the charge "based on the wording of MCL 750.147b and the definition of 'gender.'" The trial court found that the word "gender" is defined in the Penal Code, at MCL 750.10, as excluding transgender and that, as such, reference to dictionary definitions of the word "gender" is impermissible. We thus begin our analysis with addressing whether the word ...


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