Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Whittington, 1996, 260 Kan. 873, 926 P.2d 237.
This case addresses the following issue:
Who determines whether an object is considered a deadly weapon for an aggravated battery charge?
This case concerns a preliminary examination probable cause determination. Defendant Joe Whittington was charged with aggravated battery against his wife. The district court, reasoning that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to bind Whittington over for trial, dismissed the complaint. The State appealed. Id. at 238.
“Whittington and his brother hosted a July 4th barbecue at the Whittington residence. Judy, Whittington’s wife, arrived home, saw “a couple of girls” in the garage she did not know, and became angry. She screamed at Whittington, who responded by climbing inside his Chevy Blazer, which was parked on the grass next to the driveway. Judy followed Whittington and stood behind the Blazer. Whittington started the engine. Other guests told Judy to move. She did. The Blazer backed up. She then went to the driver’s side, slammed a glass mug against the vehicle door, and stood in front of the Blazer. Whittington drove forward, knocking her to the ground. Her wrist was broken. Judy testified that her husband got out to help her, she screamed at him to leave her alone, and he drove away.” Id. at 239.
If, from the evidence presented at the preliminary examination, it appears that a crime has been committed and there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime, the magistrate shall bind the defendant over for trial. K.S.A. 22–2902(3). Id. at 240. “The evidence need not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, only probable cause. The trial court must draw the inferences favorable to the prosecution from the evidence presented at the preliminary examination.” Id.
K.S.A. 21–3414(a), the statute under which Whittington was charged, provides in part:
“Aggravated battery is:
- “intentionally causing physical contact with another person when done in a rude, insulting or angry manner with a deadly weapon, or in any manner whereby great bodily harm, disfigurement or death can be inflicted; or
- “recklessly causing bodily harm to another person with a deadly weapon, or in any manner whereby great bodily harm, disfigurement or death can be inflicted.” Id.
“The determination of whether an object is a deadly weapon requires an objective test and is a question for the jury.” State v. Manzanares, 19 Kan.App.2d 214, Syl. ¶ 2, 866 P.2d 1083 (1994) The courts have defined “deadly weapon,” in the context of the crime of aggravated battery, as “an instrument which, from the manner in which it is used, is calculated or likely to produce death or serious bodily injury.” State v. Hanks, 236 Kan. 524, 537, 694 P.2d 407 (1985) (citing Black’s Law Dictionary 487 [4th ed. rev.1968]).
Unlike the victim in Manzanares, Judy was not inside another car when the Blazer struck her. Knight testified that after her fall, Judy kept saying, “I can’t breathe,” which may indicate the Blazer’s impact was sufficient to knock the wind out of her. Id. at 241. Whittington may not have intended to seriously injure Judy. “However, almost any frontal impact between a moving automobile and a human being could produce serious injury. A jury question is raised as to whether Whittington was using the Blazer as a deadly weapon.” Id.
When this Court viewed the evidence most favorably to the State, they found that there was probable cause sufficient to bind Whittington over. Id. “When the State has established the necessary probable cause at a preliminary examination, it is the duty of the judge to bind the defendant over for prosecution regardless of the wishes of the alleged victim or the personal assessment of the judge as to the merits of the action.” Id. at 242.