February 24, 2010

Good Samaritan Acquitted of Battery on a Peace Officer

Earlier this month, a San Francisco jury acquitted a man of battery on a code enforcement officer following a two-day trial. The facts revealed that, upon seeing a “meter maid” approaching a parked car, the defendant decided to be a Good Samaritan and fed the expired meter for the owner. The parking enforcement officer became irate and began yelling at the defendant. After still issuing the ticket, the officer drove away when the defendant spit on the meter maid’s vehicle.

Had he been convicted under California’s misdemeanor “Battery on a Peace Officer” law, he would have faced up to one year in a county jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.

Fortunately, the jury recognized that, although the defendant’s act may have technically qualified as a misdemeanor battery on a peace officer…since a battery is any unwanted, unjustified, or offensive use of force on another person or on something closely connected to the person…they obviously didn’t feel he deserved to be punished for the alleged offense.

Kudos to a jury who allowed common sense to factor into their verdict!

February 19, 2010

California Assault and Battery - Understanding the Difference

People quite often refer to an assault as an “assault and battery”. While it’s definitely possible to commit an “assault and battery” the two are, in fact, separate crimes. Here’s the distinction…

A California Penal Code 240 PC “assault” takes place when you attempt to harm or injure another person. As long as you have the ability and desire to inflict an injury on someone, the crime is completed as soon as you attempt to injure that person.

It doesn’t matter whether you actually make contact with the individual or whether you actually injure that person. If you attempt to contact a person in a way that is likely to inflict harm, you have committed a California Penal Code 240 PC assault.

A battery, on the other hand, takes place when that attempt is completed…which is why battery is sometimes referred to as a “completed assault”. A battery necessarily involves physical contact. The contact doesn’t have to result in an injury (any unwanted or offensive touching will suffice).

This means that if you take a swing at someone during a fight, you could be guilty of assault. If you connect your punch, you could be guilty of assault and battery.

February 12, 2010

Preponderance of the Evidence vs. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In law, we frequently refer to the “burden of proof”. This legal term refers to how much proof the prosecutor or plaintiff needs before he/she can obtain a ruling against the defendant. Two of the most common “burdens” are “preponderance of the evidence” and “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Preponderance of the evidence is most frequently used in civil cases, although it is also used in criminal proceedings as well. It means “more likely than not”. Put another way, if it is 51% likely that the defendant committed the alleged act, he is liable. With respect to criminal proceedings, this burden in sometimes used during hearings, such as a California probation violation hearing.

The reason that a civil burden is used in criminal hearings is because these proceedings don’t afford criminal defendants as much protection as criminal trials do. Using the example above, this means that the prosecutor must only prove that it is more likely than not that a defendant violated his probation in order to find him guilty during a California probation violation hearing.

Beyond a reasonable doubt is the typical criminal burden of proof…and a bit trickier to define. It basically means that if there is no reasonable explanation other than the fact that the defendant committed the alleged act, then he must be guilty. This is the burden that is exclusively used during criminal trials, as it is California’s highest burden of proof.

February 5, 2010

Great Bodily Injury -- A California Nightmare

California’s legal definition of “great bodily injury” is a significant or substantial injury.
Otherwise known as “GBI” or “great bodily harm”, great bodily injury is a sentencing enhancement. This means that when a defendant is convicted of a California criminal offense…and during that offense, he caused another person to suffer great bodily injury...he faces a greater penalty than he otherwise would have.

Great bodily harm is only supposed to be alleged under the most severe circumstances. When charged and proven, it subjects an offender to a three to six year California State Prison sentence in addition and consecutive to the sentence he/she will serve for the underlying offense.

The problem is that overzealous prosecutors charge this enhancement almost routinely anytime someone is injured. Even injuries as insignificant as scratches, red-marks, or simple bruises are being labeled “great bodily injuries”.

Fortunately, good California criminal defense lawyers understand that GBI is more severe than the type of injury that would normally result from a violent act…and know how to effectively convey that message to a judge and jury.