Law School Case Brief
People v. Aguilar - 16 Cal. 4th 1023, 68 Cal. Rptr. 2d 655, 945 P.2d 1204 (1997)
Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)(1) punishes assaults committed by the following means: with a deadly weapon or instrument other than a firearm, or by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. A "deadly weapon" must be an object extrinsic to the human body. Bare hands or feet, therefore, cannot be deadly weapons.
A jury found defendant guilty of assault with a deadly weapon or by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, arising out of a physical attack on the victim by defendant and others by the use of hands and feet. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, reasoning that the prosecutor had relied on a legally incorrect theory in suggesting, during closing argument, that hands and feet may be considered deadly weapons. The State appealed.
Can bare hands and feet be considered "deadly weapons" within the meaning of the California criminal assault statute?
Reversing, the Supreme Court of California held that, after reading of Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)(1) as a whole in a common sense manner that avoided rendering any part superfluous and considering its history, a "deadly weapon" within the meaning of § 245 had to be an object extrinsic to the human body. The Court held that bare hands or feet, therefore, could not be deadly weapons, and to the extent that the State's argument suggested the contrary, it was erroneous. The Court held that the conviction should not have been reversed because the jury was not asked to find defendant guilty under an erroneous legal theory. The Court held that the instructions specifically invited the jury to consider the evidence of any blows from fists under the correct rubric of force likely to produce great bodily injury.
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