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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. Potts, 2005, 118 P.3d 692, 34 Kan.App.2d 329

This case addresses the following issue:

How much harm must be caused in order to be convicted of battery?

This case discussed what actions can constitute being convicted of battery. This case came from the defendant appealing his convictions of rape, aggravated criminal sodomy, criminal threat, and two counts of domestic battery.

“In June of 2003, V.H. was awakened by Potts shortly after midnight when he was attempting to initiate sex. She refused. V.H. testified that Potts hit her twice in the face with a pair of jeans and injured her eye. Potts then grabbed V.H. by her arms, pulled her off the bed, and tore her shirt. V.H. testified that Potts yelled at her and pounded on the walls. V.H. testified that Potts grabbed her hair, forced her to the floor, and picked her up in an attempt to throw her out of the house. When that failed, Potts moved V.H. back to the bedroom, where he put her on the bed and again asked her if she wanted to die. V.H. testified that Potts demanded oral sex, grabbed her head, and forced it towards his penis. V.H. was crying and coughing. She went to the bathroom and vomited. When V.H. returned to the bedroom, Potts again forced her to perform oral sex against her will. After a couple of minutes, Potts told V.H. to stop, and he initiated intercourse. V.H. testified that she did not fight back because Potts was too strong, and she was scared. Potts denied all of V.H.’s allegations. According to Potts, V.H. woke when he entered the bedroom. Potts claimed that V.H. went into the bathroom and then came back with allergy medication and anti-inflammatory drugs. Potts testified that he attempted to grab the medication out of her hands, bruising her arms because he thought she was trying to commit suicide. Potts testified that V.H. initiated both oral and vaginal sex, wanting to show Potts that she could please him. V.H. went to the police, and Potts was arrested. Potts was charged with one count of domestic battery, one count of criminal threat, one count of aggravated criminal sodomy, and one count of rape for the events of June 21, 2003; one count of domestic battery for the May 2002 incident; and one count of domestic battery for the December 2001 incident. A jury convicted Potts on all charges except for the domestic battery charge involving the December 2001 incident. Potts received a controlling sentence of 331 months’ imprisonment.” Id. at 332-33.

The question the Court was tasked with answering was whether the evidence that the State used to prove force or fear was also used to sustain independent convictions for domestic battery and criminal threat. “The record on appeal shows that on the night in question, Potts grabbed V.H. by the arm and attempted to throw her out of the house. Potts acknowledges that this behavior could be used to show force. V.H. testified that Potts made a number of threatening comments. Potts acknowledges that this evidence could be used to prove the fear element.” Id. at 337.

“The problem with this is that Potts contends this force and fear evidence was also used to provide the factual basis for Potts’ domestic battery and criminal threat convictions. The State seemed to acknowledge this during closing argument, as the prosecutor referenced Potts’ threats when presenting its case for force or fear. We must then examine the record on appeal to determine if there is any independent evidence of either force or fear.” Id. at 337.

Domestic battery occurs when one intentionally causes bodily harm against a family or household member. K.S.A.2004 Supp. 21–3412a(a)(1). “The bodily harm which can sustain a conviction for simple battery may be slight, trivial, minor, moderate, or mere bruising.” State v. Moore, 271 Kan. 416, 419, 23 P.3d 815 (2001). V.H. testified that at the start of this incident, Potts hit her twice in the face with a pair of pants and injured her eye. Id. at 338.

The act of hitting V.H. seems to be pure battery, without any element of force. Therefore, the Court found there was independent evidence, apart from Potts’ movement of V.H. through the house, to sustain Potts’ conviction for domestic battery.” Id. at 338.

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