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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. Spicer, 2002, 42 P.3d 742, 30 Kan.App.2d 317

This case addresses the following issue:

What state of mind is required to prove “recklessness” for an aggravated battery charge?

On July 28, 1999, the defendant stopped by a bar where his mother worked. Defendant ordered a beer and met with his mother and his girlfriend, Jennifer Gentry. Id. at 318. When Gentry and the defendant prepared to leave the bar shortly before closing, the defendant was intoxicated and needed some assistance getting to Gentry’s car. Gentry had stopped drinking approximately 2 hours before leaving. Id.

“According to Gentry, shortly after they left the bar, the defendant began to insist upon driving. Gentry refused, believing defendant to be too intoxicated to drive. The defendant then threw the transmission into park, pulled the keys out of the ignition, and threatened to throw the keys into a field if Gentry did not allow defendant to drive. Eventually, Gentry conceded to the defendant’s demands. The defendant began to speed the car down the highway and refused to slow down as requested by Gentry. Fearing the defendant would wreck the car, Gentry climbed into the back seat. Moments later, the car failed to make a bend in the road and slammed into a utility pole.” Id. at 319.

“The defendant’s factual version of the events preceding the crash differs from Gentry’s version of the facts. Defendant claims that as Gentry and he left the bar, Gentry hounded him with questions concerning his fidelity to her. The defendant became irritated and told Gentry to move back to Lawrence because he did not want to deal with Gentry’s accusations. In response, Gentry supposedly floored the accelerator and threatened to kill both of them. The defendant tried to calm Gentry and slow down the vehicle. When Gentry did, the defendant threw the car into park, took the keys out of the ignition, and demanded to drive. As the defendant drove, he claims Gentry renewed the argument. The next thing the defendant recalled was seeing the pole right before the crash.” Id.

The State charged the defendant with recklessly causing an aggravated battery of Gentry and driving while suspended. Id. The jury convicted the defendant of the lesser included offense of reckless aggravated battery and convicted the defendant of driving while suspended. Id. at 320.

The defendant then appealed the convictions. He claimed the district court should have instructed the jury on the defense of voluntary intoxication. The defense of voluntary intoxication can only be used when the charged crime requires specific intent. Id. at 323.

The applicable statute under the Court’s consideration defined aggravated battery as “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.” K.S.A. 21-3414. Concluding the intent element of the statute to be merely a general intent requirement, this court held that voluntary intoxication was not an available defense to the offense as charged. Id. at 324.

“General intent is a state of mind in which a person is conscious of the act he or she is committing without necessarily understanding the consequences of that action, yet voluntary intoxication provides no defense for the commission of a prohibited act requiring only general intent.” Id. Specific intent requires a demonstration of a greater culpable mental state than mere recklessness or negligence. Id.

K.S.A. 21-3201 provides that general intent may be proven by demonstrating intentional or reckless conduct. Just as the “intentional” element of intentional aggravated battery merely articulates the general intent requirement, the “reckless” element of reckless aggravated battery merely articulates the general intent requirement. Id.

The reckless requirement of the charged offense, for this case, does not require any specific state of mind to commit an offense. Rather, the statute merely requires a person to take an unjustifiable risk which results in a harmful touching to the person of another. Id. In other words, the harm to another need not be intentional, in the sense the offender intended physical contact with the other person but included accidental physical contact which harms the person, although the harm may not be intended. “Recklessness” does not transform aggravated battery from a general intent crime into a specific intent crime. Id. Clearly, an instruction on the defense of voluntary intoxication was not warranted here and the conviction is affirmed.

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