Defense Argues Lack of Police Investigation in Domestic Violence Trial

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By Danielle Silva

SAN FRANCISCO – The prosecution and the defense began their closing arguments in a domestic violence trial, with the prosecution arguing the defendant couldn’t have been doing self-defense since he used excessive force and the defense arguing that the police did not investigate the full causes and evidence of the incident.

Mr. Noah Lopez is charged with domestic violence resulting in a traumatic injury with two lesser charges, and assault likely to cause great bodily injury with one lesser charge. On Dec. 28, 2019, a 911 call reported an altercation in the apartment above the caller. Two San Francisco police officers arrived at the apartment, where Mr. Lopez opened the door. As the defendant was asked to step outside, one of the officers went in and knocked on the bathroom door and asked whomever was inside to open it. The defendant’s girlfriend opened it and the officer’s body camera revealed injuries on the woman’s face as she explained what had happened.

For the jury to find Mr. Lopez guilty of domestic violence resulting in a traumatic injury, the prosecution must prove the defendant “willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a victim” who is “the offender’s fiancé or fiancée, or someone with whom the offender has, or previously had, an engagement or dating relationship,” the injury is traumatic, and the defendant did not act in self-defense.

A “‘traumatic condition’ means a condition of the body, such as a wound, or external or internal injury, including, but not limited to, injury as a result of strangulation or suffocation, whether of a minor or serious nature, caused by a physical force.” If not found guilty of that crime, the jury may consider if the defendant is guilty of the lesser charge of domestic battery.

The second count is assault likely to result in great bodily injury. The prosecution must prove that the defendant’s act would result in the application of force, of which the force was likely to result in great bodily injury. The defendant must also be proven to know the act would result in force, had the ability to apply force, and did not act in self-defense.

Great bodily injury is defined as “a significant or substantial physical injury” greater than moderate harm. The lesser charge of simple assault can be considered if the jury finds the defendant not guilty of assault likely to result in great bodily injury.

The prosecution began her closing argument, stating, “This is a story about [the alleged victim (AV)] and what Noah Lopez did to her on Dec. 28, 2019.”

The incident happened around noon and the AV testified that she had just showered when the defendant and she began to fight. Mr. Lopez pushed the AV into the bathroom and against the mirror. Once she pushed back, he allegedly took her to the ground and pinned her by her neck. At that point, the apartment below them made a 911 call.

The prosecution stated the defendant “goes to town on her face” once he was on top of her. The AV allegedly tried to get away but couldn’t. The apartment below stated that the man allegedly yelled, “Fix it.”

When the officers arrived, the prosecution also argues, the defendant was trying to hide the AV.

Mr. Lopez first said to the officers as he opened the door, “She got into a fight.” Before the defendant opened the front door, the prosecution stated that the body camera catches audio of the bathroom door closing.

The 911 call was played for the jury. An apartment tenant reported an upstairs incident, stating he could hear the altercation through an airshaft joining the two apartments. He reported hearing the male voice saying, “Shut the f**k up” and the woman’s voice saying, “Please get off of me.” The witness also stated he heard someone thrown to the ground.

The prosecution also presented the body-worn camera footage of Officer Hargreaves. In the video, he moves past the defendant into the apartment. The officer approached the bathroom door, knocked, and asked whomever was inside to open the door if they were decent. The AV opened the door, revealing an injury on her left eye and two knots above her forehead. Her head appeared to be tilted slightly upward.

The woman cried as she softly gestured to the officer she was pushed against the mirror and then down to the floor.

In addition to the facial injuries, the woman also had bruising on her neck. The defendant had scratches on his arm that he hadn’t noticed and redness on one of the knuckles on his right hand. All injuries were photographed.

The prosecution also stated Mr. Lopez’s actions were “not defensive, but an exertion of power and control.”

The prosecutor argued the defendant wanted to control the situation, even as the officer was talking separately to the girlfriend. The prosecutor remarked Mr. Lopez continued to look back into the room and tried to call out to her as she was being questioned alone by an officer. He also stated he needed to use the bathroom while Officer Hargreaves was questioning the AV, but did not ask to use the bathroom again after giving his statement.

After the officer took the girlfriend’s statement, Mr. Lopez’s statement was “vague,” the prosecution argued.

The prosecution stated argued that Mr. Lopez did commit domestic violence with traumatic injury due to his willfully injuring his girlfriend. She pointed to the 911 call audio, the AV’s statement, and the injury photos. For the second count, the prosecutor explained Mr. Lopez could not punch a face by accident, that he applied the force consciously.

The People stated that Mr. Lopez couldn’t have done these actions in self-defense, as self-defense requires reasonably believing he is in imminent danger, using force that is necessary within reasonable belief, and using no more force than reasonably necessary.

She argued that Mr. Lopez was not a credible witness due to his conduct during the investigation and the fact that he has an interest in the outcome. He had also allegedly lied in the past, being inconsistent with his statements and not telling his aunt that his girlfriend had been living with him for ywo months despite his aunt paying for the location. Mr. Lopez also admitted on the stand that he punched the AV in the head but never mentioned punching her in his letter to the judge.

Mr. Lopez’s testimony provides the evidence for the self-defense argument. The prosecution argued that the AV’s testimony should be considered reliable.

The prosecution most notably argued that the defendant used excessive force. Mr. Lopez’s testimony also notes that he punched the AV two times during the altercation, while there are three injuries on her face.

“You can’t just go to town on someone’s face and say it’s self-defense,” the prosecutor stated.

Outside the presence of the jury, Deputy Public Defender Lilah Wolf, who represents Mr. Lopez, addressed the court to admonish the jury about the burden that the prosecution needed to disprove the theory of self-defense, not shift the burden to the defense to prove a theory for innocence. Attorney Wolf also noted the prosecution beginning their closing argument by calling Mr. Lopez’s testimony “expertly crafted” and “helped by his intelligent and skilled attorney.”

The court acknowledged the phrasing was inappropriate but denied the defense’s motion for a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct.

Deputy Public Defender Wolf presented closing arguments for the defense, stating the prosecution gave a piece of the story as this was also Mr. Lopez’s story, too.

She emphasized the importance of placing the burden on the prosecution, as they are the ones working on investigations alongside law enforcement.

The defense argued the officers did not investigate the scene enough for this case and instead jumped to a conclusion after seeing the AV’s face.

Ms. Wolf noted, in Officer Hargreaves’ testimony, he testified the AV had hair on her wrists when interviewed in the bathroom. The police did not take pictures of the AV’s hands. Additionally, the officers did not question any of the other neighbors on the same floor of Mr. Lopez and the AV’s apartment, despite it being the middle of the day on a Saturday.

The jury must have an abiding conviction that Mr. Lopez did not act in self-defense. The defense argued the prosecution did not meet that burden.

“Self-defense is not pretty,” Ms. Wolf said. “It is fierce, effective, and disabling.”

According to Mr. Lopez’s testimony, he had asked the AV to pick up her clothes from the shower floor while she was putting on her make-up. The AV allegedly got angry and swung at him.

Previously, during a trip in Texas, the AV had pulled Mr. Lopez’s nose ring out of his nose and caused him to bleed profusely. He had to call his relative to organize a plane back to California and also had to have a piercer remove the fragments still in his nose.

Mr. Lopez had two new piercings at the time of the incident and was “pre-programmed to her getting physical with him,” the defense stated. He allegedly put up his arms which received scratches and tried to back out of the bathroom door. She then allegedly pulled on his hair and tripped on his foot, sending her falling to the ground. With her hands still in his hair, he too fell down.

As she was tugging on her hair, the defendant allegedly tried to push on her neck to make her let go. He allegedly couldn’t see because hair was in his face and he moved to push the knuckles closest to his nails against her face. The defense was vague as to the number of times he hit her, but stated the AV let go.

By the time he stood up, there was a knock from officers at the door.

The defense explained that these actions happened one after another with no real time to think. She stated the situation was not calm and safe, in addition to the yelling both parties were doing.

Deputy Public Defender Wolf outlined the prosecution’s argument against self-defense was that the AV didn’t engage and the defendant used excessive force.

She explained that there were no other witnesses at the scene other than the defendant and the AV to testify as to how the incident started. In terms of excessive force, the deputy public defender stated that self-defense is not a boxing match—it is a survival instinct that is violent and visceral.

The defense argued that assuming what Mr. Lopez did was wrong because he gave a woman a black-eye is false, as he didn’t know what else to do in that situation and self-defense is not a place for compromise. She argued that self-defense is not entitled to one particular gender.

The closing arguments were to continue in the afternoon.

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