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A Better Partnership
February 19, 2014

COA defines "threat" vs. mere "display" of weapon for purposes of Michigan Sentencing Guidelines

In People v. Brooks, the Michigan Court of Appeals considered for the first time what actions constitute a “threat” rather than a “display” of a weapon for the purposes of sentencing under Offense Variable 1 (aggravated use of a weapon), MCL 777.31(1).  In this case, the trial court sentenced the defendant to 8 to 40 years’ imprisonment for unarmed robbery, assessing him 15 points for threatening the victim with a knife under MCL 777.31(1)(c).  The defendant argued that the court should have only assessed him 5 points under MCL 777.31(1)(e) because, while he may have displayed the knife, he never pointed it at the victim.  The Court of Appeals noted that whether displaying or implying something creates a threat is “highly context-specific,” and, in affirming the trial court’s sentencing, the Court held that the defendant’s attempt at pulling a knife out of his sock was enough to constitute a threat under MCL 777.31(1)(c).  The Court distinguished a threat from mere presence when the defendant “in any way suggests, by act or circumstance that the weapon might actually be used against the victim” such that there is some reason, “however slight,” for the victim to reasonably perceive that the weapon will be used against him or her.  The Court stated that even merely reaching for a knife would be enough to constitute a threat in the context of a robbery because a reasonable person would interpret this as an indication that the knife would be used to inflict harm on the victims. 

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