People v. Thompson

The Facts

Defendant convicted at trial of sodomy.  Defendant and victim were inmates in jail.   There were jail bars separating defendant and victim at the time the incident occurred.  Defendant allegedly threatened victim, telling him he would have people kick his ass if he didn’t give him oral sex.  Following the threats, the victim complied with the oral sex and sodomy requests at later dates, which the victim complied with again when the defendant reissued the same threats.

Procedural History

Convicted at trial, reversed on appeal and remitted for new trial on grounds that there was insufficient evidence of forcible compulsion.

Relevant Law

Occurs when the actor “engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another person by forcible compulsion.”

Forcible compulsion:  “physical force or a serious threat, express or implied that places a person in fear of immediate death or serious physical injury to himself or another person, or in fear that he or another person will immediately be kidnapped.”

The Issue

Whether serious threats rise to the level necessary for conviction where they cannot be immediately carried out.

The Holding/Reasoning

Yes, reversed and remitted.  The relevant consideration is “what the victim, observing the defendant’s conduct, feared he would or might do if the victim did not comply with his demands.”  The proper focus is on the state of mind “produced in the victim by the defendant’s conduct.”  As such, impossibility or improbability that the threats would be carried out are relevant considerations.

While defendant claims there is an absence of a threat of immediate harm, threat of future harm is sufficient.  The victim was in a jail where other inmates had the ability to carry out defendant’s threats.  Victim was only 16 and weighed nearly 120 pounds.  “The breadth of his threats encompassed the possibility that the harm could be delivered by anyone, including those with immediate access ot the victim, and at any time, including the present.”


The court should not determine in hindsight that a threat is unreasonable, but instead should determine the reasonableness of the threat at the time it is made to the defendant.  Moreover, even if the threat is unreasonable, it is no less a crime that the victim believes it to be reasonable and the perpetrator takes advantage of the defendant’s belief that the threat will be carried out.  Therefore, the Model Penal Code rejects the requirement that “the victim’s reaction to threats be reasonable or that the actor have the present capacity to inflict the harm feared.”

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