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. Wood, 1984, 235 Kan. 915, 686 P.2d 128

This case addresses the following issue:

When is a law enforcement officer considered “properly identified” for an aggravated battery of a law enforcement officer charge?

Defendant was convicted in the Johnson District Court of aggravated sodomy, aggravated battery of a law enforcement officer, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated assault, three counts of aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer, two counts of rape, and two counts of felony theft, and defendant appealed. Id. at 128.

“The events from which the twelve felony convictions arose commenced on the morning of December 9, 1982, when two Kansas City, Missouri, police officers noticed a suspicious vehicle in their city. The officers activated their emergency equipment and the suspect vehicle sped away. A high-speed chase ensued which ended in Johnson County, Kansas, where the defendant (driver of the fleeing vehicle) forced his way into an apartment, taking the female occupant thereof as hostage. All of the crimes against persons occurred in or near the apartment building. The hostage escaped after several hours of confinement and defendant was then arrested.” Id. at 132.

The defendant raised 10 issues on appeal. “For his ninth issue defendant contends the officer victims had not previously properly identified themselves as law enforcement officers and the various convictions for offenses against law enforcement officers were improper.” Id. at 137.

The court in State v. Bradley, 215 Kan. 642, 527 P.2d 988 (1974), held the following:

“Under K.S.A.1973 Supp. 21–3411 an aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer is an aggravated assault, as defined in section 21–3410, committed against a uniformed or properly identified law enforcement officer while such officer is engaged in the performance of his duty. A ‘properly identified’ law enforcement officer under K.S.A.1973 Supp. 21–3411 is one who has been identified in such a manner to the defendant that he reasonably should know him to be a law enforcement officer. To sustain a conviction under K.S.A.1973 Supp. 21–3411, proscribing an aggravated assault upon a law enforcement officer in the performance of his duty, it is not necessary that the state prove the defendant had actual knowledge that the person assaulted was a law enforcement officer. An officer-victim under K.S.A.1973 Supp. 21–3411, proscribing an aggravated assault upon a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his duty, need not personally identify himself as a law enforcement officer to the defendant. The statute merely requires that the officer-victim be properly identified without designating the method.” Id. at 137.

With this in mind, the Court looked at the facts relative to each officer-victim. Detective Wharton was in plain clothes in an unmarked vehicle. Id. Upon observing defendant’s vehicle was only displaying one license plate, emergency equipment was activated, which Defendant declined to stop and sped from the scene. Id. After defendant’s vehicle collided with another automobile, defendant fled the scene on foot with Detective Wharton in pursuit. No conversation occurred between the two. Defendant shot the detective in the hand and ran into a nearby apartment complex. He then forced his way into an apartment, stating he had just shot a cop in the hand. Id. This was sufficient evidence from which the jury could have concluded defendant reasonably should have known Detective Wharton was a police officer at the time he fired upon him. Id.

Next the Court considered the facts relative to Detective Kramer and Officer McBride. The detective was in plain clothes; the officer was in uniform. Two hours elapsed between defendant entering the apartment and the shots being fired. During this time these officers and others were trying to talk defendant into surrendering without harming the hostage. Id. at 138. It is clear from the totality of the circumstances from which the jury could have concluded the defendant reasonably should have known the men in the stairwell were law enforcement officers. Id.

The Court then considered the facts relative to the assault on Officer Baldwin. This officer was a member of the Overland Park Response Team. Id. He was stationed below an evergreen which gave him a view of the window of the apartment involved in the siege. At about 4:07 p.m., with some thirty law enforcement officers on the scene, defendant fired shots in the vicinity of the evergreen. At the same time defendant stated he was “going to kill the guy in the bushes.” Id. The Court concluded there was ample evidence from which the jury could conclude defendant reasonably should have known Officer Baldwin was a law enforcement officer at the time he fired upon him.

The Court found the defendant’s argument in relation to whether he knew the victims were law enforcement, in its totality, wholly without merit. Id. The judgment was affirmed.