State v. Gordon

In State v. Gordon, 161 Ariz. 308, 778 P.2d 1204 (1989), the Arizona Supreme Court considered whether a defendant who "used no object in perpetrating the crime, only his fists - part of his body," could be found to have used a "dangerous instrument" for purposes of a sentence enhancement statute, A.R.S. 13-604.02. Id. The court analyzed the statute's words and the legislative intent behind the statute, and effectively provided three reasons why "body parts" such as fists cannot be "dangerous instruments" within the meaning of the enhancement statute. Id. at 310-11, 778 P.2d at 1206-07. First, the court noted that the enhancement statute at issue specifically allows "enhanced punishment when the defendant assaults with a dangerous instrument or when he causes serious injury." Id. at 311, 778 P.2d at 1207 (citing A.R.S. 13-604.02). Because punishment may be enhanced if a defendant actually causes serious injury, "no purpose exists for allowing the jury to find that body parts are dangerous instruments just because they caused serious bodily harm." Id. Thus, the dangerous instrument enhancement portion may apply only if no serious physical injury occurs. The court further explained that "allowing the jury to find fists a dangerous instrument without serious physical injury creates an undefined standard - a 'not so serious physical injury' enhancement test." Id. Thus, juries would struggle, with no standards to guide them, to decide whether a fist, which did not actually cause serious physical injury, is a "dangerous instrument" capable of causing serious injury. See id. Second, the court explained that "one cannot commit an assault without using, or threatening to use, an object or body part." Id. Thus, "if bare hands are a weapon, every assault would be an aggravated assault and the legislature could not have intended to merge the two offenses." Id. The Arizona Supreme Court addressed the question whether as a matter of law a body part alone could be a dangerous instrument and whether the question should have been submitted to the jury. And, because the court's determination involved statutory interpretation, it conducted a de novo review of that issue. Gordon, 161 Ariz. at 311, 778 P.2d at 1207. In Gordon, the defendant hit the victim several times with his fists before sexually assaulting her. 161 Ariz. at 309, 778 P.2d at 1205. The trial court enhanced Gordon's sentences after finding his fists were dangerous instruments. Id. at 309-10, 778 P.2d at 1205-06. The supreme court reversed, concluding fists cannot be dangerous instruments. Id. at 311, 778 P.2d at 1207. The court stated that because the statute also allowed enhancement for serious bodily injury, no purpose existed to allow the jury to conclude that body parts are dangerous instruments and doing so could result in an undefined standard for dangerous nature crimes--"a not so serious physical injury enhancement test." It further reasoned that to conclude fists are dangerous instruments ultimately would lead to a holding that any body part could be a dangerous instrument, which would "confuse the essential elements of several crimes." Id.