Jury Instruction Error Appeal Case In California
The issue in People v. Rodriguez (1999) 69 Cal. App. 4th 341 81 Cal. Rptr. 2d 567 was whether the defendant's prior conviction for willful resistance of a police officer, causing death or serious bodily injury to the officer in violation of Penal Code section 148.10, was a serious felony within the meaning of the "Three Strikes" law.
In order to prove that it was, the prosecution bore the burden of proving that it was a felony "in which the defendant personally inflicted great bodily injury on any person, other than an accomplice." ( Pen. Code, 1192.7.)
The trial court instructed the jury that " 'a person personally inflicts injury to another when he directly performs an act or acts that cause the physical injury.' " (69 Cal. App. 4th at p. 346.)
The court also instructed: " 'Criminal law has its own particular way of defining cause. a cause of injury is an act that sets in motion a chain of events that proceed a direct, natural and possible consequence of the act, the injury and without which the injury would not occur.' " ( Id. at pp. 346-347.)
The reviewing court held this was error, explaining: "The instruction expressly equates 'personally inflict' with 'proximate cause.' It tells the jury that personally inflict means to directly perform an act that causes injury and then expressly defines cause as proximate cause.
The problem with the instruction is that the definition of cause is inaccurate in this context. to 'personally inflict' an injury is to directly cause an injury, not just to proximately cause it." ( Id. at p. 347.)
The appellate court held the instruction was error because it allowed the jury to find against Rodriguez if the officer's injury was "a 'direct, natural and probable consequence' of Rodriguez's action, even if Rodriguez did not personally inflict the injury." ( Id. at pp. 347-348.)
The reviewing court reasoned that it should "decline to impute the proximate cause concept into the statute when the Legislature has left it out." ( Id. at p. 350.)