By Ransom Bergen
The defendant waived her right to be in court today, leaving Deputy Public Defender Niki Solis and Deputy Assistant District Attorney Dane Reinstedt alone before the judge to argue the facts of the case.
Solis requested that a special instruction be given to the jury regarding its decision on whether or not a six-ounce “Coronita” bottle thrown at the complaining witness’s caretaker was, in fact, a deadly weapon. To rule it as a deadly weapon, the jury will have to agree that it was likely to cause the complaining witness severe injury or death, even if no injury occurred.
The case itself is unique. The bottle never hit the complaining witness. Instead, it hit her caretaker, lost momentum, dropped to the ground, and rolled away.
Video evidence shown earlier in the hearing revealed that the caretaker never took a step to block the bottle from hitting the complaining witness, despite what was written in the police report and testified to in court. This means the jury could have a difficult time figuring out if the bottle was intended to cause the complaining witness harm. It also complicates whether or not the bottle even could have caused her harm, since her caretaker stood between her and the path of the bottle.
The caretaker was at first apparently uninjured after being hit by the bottle and then later reported a sore shoulder. There has been confusion as to which part of her body the bottle actually struck, however.
Solis’s special instruction included a list of factors that she hopes the jury will take into account during trial. The nature of the weapon (for example, its size and weight) and the manner of its use (being thrown) are both important to the case. Solis stated that the jury must be informed of all the factors they ought to consider. She claimed that, without this list, the jurors might have their decisions skewed by speculation.
She further stated that the bottle could not possibly have struck the complaining witness because her caretaker was in the way. “We can’t get fantastical here,” she said, “It’s not a magic bottle.”
Solis then pointed toward a recent case wherein the defendant used a butter knife to saw at a victim’s blanketed legs. The California Supreme Court ruled that the lower courts had been wrong to consider the butter knife a deadly weapon. It had been considered a deadly weapon previously because of what might have happened if the blanket had not been there to act as a barrier between the blade and the victim’s legs. Since the blanket was there, though, this was later struck down as an unfair ruling because it was impossible for the butter knife to be used as a deadly weapon.
Therefore, it would also be unfair for the jury to speculate what might have happened to the 97-year-old complaining witness if her caretaker had not been standing in the way.
Reinstedt countered that the special instruction’s wording would lead the jury to assume that the bottle was not a deadly weapon from the start of the trial. Furthermore, it would repeat what the jury would already be instructed to do anyway.
The judge agreed that the special instruction would bias the jury. The judge told Solis that she would have to tell the jury what to pay attention to during her argument in trial.
Then Solis argued that the law lays out how to charge assault when there is no injury, but not when the person struck is different from the person seeking the assault charge. A special instruction is therefore necessary to clarify the facts of the case. Without that special instruction, the jury would be biased in favor of the prosecution.
The judge agreed with Solis that the case is strange, saying that, in cases involving assault with a deadly weapon, “the victim should have been the person who was hit.” The judge agreed to have a portion of the ruling from the case Solis cited in the instructions for the jury.
These revised instructions indicate that a mere possibility of the complaining witness’s injury is not enough to make the bottle a deadly weapon. Then they go on to state that, just because an injury did not occur, an injury still might have been likely.
Reinstedt continued to voice his opposition to the rewording of the instruction. He argued the extra language was both repetitive and confusing. The judge accepted a few of his edits.
This episode highlights several of the things that make this case interesting and odd. Could the bottle, which had minimal impact on the caretaker, have severely hurt the complaining witness? The jury will have to weigh all the facts to come to a decision.