Defense of Accident on Appeal (Attempted Murder)

In People v. Jones (1991) 234 Cal.App.3d 1303, the evidence showed the defendant armed himself with a shotgun and accompanied a friend to remove the power steering column from a supposedly abandoned car. En route, the duo's car was pulled over by a deputy sheriff. When the sheriff repeatedly asked for Jones's identification, Jones pulled the shotgun out and pointed it at the deputy's head. The deputy attempted to knock the shotgun barrel away. At that moment, the gun discharged, striking the deputy in the arm, wrist, and chest. (Id. at pp. 1308-1309.) When arrested shortly thereafter, Jones said, "'I didn't mean to shoot him.'" (Ibid.) Jones also testified at trial that the shooting was an accident. (Id. at p. 1314.) After his conviction for attempted murder and related firearm enhancements, Jones contended on appeal that the trial court had erred by failing to instruct, sua sponte, on the defense of accident and misfortune. Jones concluded there was sufficient evidence adduced at trial from which a juror could have concluded the firearm discharged by accident, and the trial court therefore erred by not giving an accident instruction. The error, however, was harmless. (People v. Jones, supra, 234 Cal.App.3d at p. 1314.) Jones did not expressly consider the question of the defendant's "evil design," but implicit in its holding is the proposition that accident is a potential defense even when a gun is unlawfully pointed at a victim, if there is evidence the gun discharged accidentally.