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. Perez-Rivera, 203 P.3d 735 (Kan. Ct. App. 2009).
This case addresses the following issue:
How old must the victim be in a domestic battery case?
This case explored the issue of how old a victim must be in a domestic battery case to uphold the defendant’s conviction. In exploring this issue, the court held that the victim must be 18 years or older in a domestic battery case. Id. at 735.
In this case, the defendant was charged with aggravated assault, felony domestic battery, and criminal damage to property. Id. at 736. The defendant’s wife testified that on the date of the alleged altercation, she was living with the defendant and they had been married for two and half years. Id. However, the wife did not state how old she was at the time of the incident, nor did the State (plaintiff) present any direct evidence regarding the wife’s age. Id. At trial, the defendant testified that he had married his wife in a Las Vegas ceremony and had been married for two and half years at the time of the incident. Id. At trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of domestic battery. Id.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the State presented insufficient evidence to convict him of domestic battery because the State failed to present evidence to show the wife was 18 years of age or older when the alleged incident took place. Id. In response, the State admitted that it failed to present direct evidence of the wife’s age, but argued the jury members could have inferred that the wife was 18 years or older based on her appearance, demeanor, and testimony at trial. Id.
In order to address the defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals of Kansas first looked to the Kansas statute on domestic battery. Id. According to the statute, domestic battery involved “intentionally or recklessly causing bodily harm by a family or household member against a family or household member.” Id. Furthermore, the statute defined “family or household member” as “persons 18 years of age or older.” Id. In order for the jury to find the defendant guilty (which they did), they were instructed, among other things, that the State had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant and his wife were family or household members. Id. at 737. In the instruction, the trial court told the jury that family or household members meant persons 18 years of age or older. Id.
The next step taken by the Court of Appeals of Kansas was to determine whether the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the wife was 18 years of age or older. Id. The State argued it presented circumstantial evidence which proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the wife was at least 18 years old at the time of the incident. Id. Based on this circumstantial evidence, the State argued the jury could have inferred the wife was at least 18 years old when the allege incident occurred because under Nevada law (where the two got married), a person must be at least 16 years old to marry (and they had been married for two and half years). Id. With this in mind, the court noted that the State’s arguments must be rejected. Id. According to the court, while a conviction may be sustained by circumstantial evidence, guilt may never be based on inference alone. Id. Furthermore, the court concluded that a jury cannot simply speculate or infer through its own observations or personal knowledge that an element of a crime had been proven. Id.
In conclusion, the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the wife was 18 years or older and the defendant’s conviction of domestic battery was reversed. Id.