Supreme Court of California Justia
Citation 48 Cal. 4th 776, 229 P.3d 156, 108 Cal. Rptr. 3d 259

People v. Wyatt

Filed 5/10/10

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

THE PEOPLE,
Plaintiff and Respondent,
S161545
v.
Ct.App. 1/2 A114612
REGINALD WYATT,
Alameda County
Defendant and Appellant.
Super. Ct. No. C147107
____________________________________)

While in defendant‘s care, defendant‘s 14-month-old son died of shock and
hemorrhage due to blunt force trauma to the chest and abdomen. A jury convicted
defendant of involuntary manslaughter (Pen. Code, § 192, subd. (b))1 and assault
on a child causing death (§ 273ab). The Court of Appeal reversed the section
273ab conviction, finding the evidence insufficient to prove the requisite mens rea
for the assault element of the offense.
We conclude the Court of Appeal misapplied the mens rea standard for
assault as stated in People v. Williams (2001) 26 Cal.4th 779 (Williams). Under
Williams, a defendant may commit an assault without realizing he was harming
the victim, but the prosecution must prove the defendant was aware of facts that
would lead a reasonable person to realize that a battery would directly, naturally,

1
All further statutory references are to this code unless otherwise indicated.
1


and probably result from the defendant‘s conduct. Here, substantial evidence
established that defendant knew he was striking his young son with his fist,
forearm, knee, and elbow, and that he used an amount of force a reasonable person
would realize was likely to result in great bodily injury. We therefore reverse the
judgment of the Court of Appeal and remand the matter to that court for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In May 2003, defendant, Reginald Wyatt, was living with his girlfriend,
Tiffany Blake, and their infant daughter, Valerie. Defendant also had a 14-month-
old son, Reginald Wyatt, Jr. (Reginald), from a previous relationship with
Charrikka Harris. On the morning of May 18, 2003, Reginald stopped breathing
while in defendant‘s care during a weekend visit. He was rushed to the hospital,
but could not be revived. Although the treating doctor saw no signs of significant
injury on the body, the autopsy disclosed that Reginald died of shock and
hemorrhage due to blunt force trauma to the chest and abdomen.
Defendant admitted to police that he had hit Reginald multiple times in the
chest, head, and back while play-wrestling with him. An information was filed
charging defendant with one count of murder. (§ 187, subd. (a).) The information
also charged him with one count of assault on a child causing death, an offense
sometimes referred to as child abuse homicide. (§ 273ab.)
As we shall discuss at greater length below, the evidence at trial included
medical and physical evidence concerning Reginald‘s injuries, defendant‘s tape-
recorded statements and trial testimony, and testimony from Harris and Blake.
After the defense rested, the court granted defendant‘s motion for judgment of
acquittal as to the murder count. (§ 1118.1.) The jury found defendant guilty of
the lesser included offense of involuntary manslaughter and of child abuse
2
homicide. The court sentenced him to 25 years to life for child abuse homicide
and stayed his sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
The Court of Appeal reversed the section 273ab conviction, but otherwise
affirmed the judgment. The court concluded the evidence was insufficient to
prove the requisite mens rea for child abuse homicide, because it failed to show
defendant had ―actual knowledge‖ he was ―wrestling far too hard with his young
son.‖
We granted review to determine whether substantial evidence supported the
section 273ab conviction, and specifically, whether reversal was required under
Williams, supra, 26 Cal.4th 779.
DISCUSSION
Section 273ab defines the offense of child abuse homicide.2 The elements
of the offense are: ―(1) A person, having the care or custody of a child under the
age of eight; (2) assaults this child; (3) by means of force that to a reasonable
person would be likely to produce great bodily injury; (4) resulting in the child‘s
death.‖ (People v. Malfavon (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 727, 735; see People v.
Stewart (2000) 77 Cal.App.4th 785, 794.) The manifest purpose of section 273ab
is ―to protect children at a young age who are particularly vulnerable.‖ (People v.
Albritton (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 647, 660 (Albritton).)
At issue here is the element of the offense that the defendant caretaker
―commit an assault with force such that a reasonable person would know it was

2
Section 273ab provides: ―Any person who, having the care or custody of a
child who is under eight years of age, assaults the child by means of force that to a
reasonable person would be likely to produce great bodily injury, resulting in the
child‘s death, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for 25 years to
life. Nothing in this section shall be construed as affecting the applicability of
subdivision (a) of Section 187 or Section 189.‖
3


likely to inflict great bodily injury.‖ (People v. Malfavon, supra, 102 Cal.App.4th
at p. 743 [italics added].) In particular, the parties dispute the showing required to
establish the mens rea for assault and the sufficiency of the trial evidence on that
point. As we shall explain, these disagreements are readily resolved by applying
the analysis in Williams, supra, 26 Cal.4th 779, and the settled rules governing
sufficiency of the evidence challenges.
Even before Williams, our cases consistently recognized that assault does
not require a specific intent to injure the victim. As we explained, the criminal
intent required for assault is ―the general intent to wilfully commit an act the
direct, natural and probable consequences of which if successfully completed
would be the injury to another.‖ (People v. Rocha (1971) 3 Cal.3d 893, 899
(Rocha).) Put another way, ―[t]he mens rea is established upon proof the
defendant willfully committed an act that by its nature will probably and directly
result in injury to another, i.e., a battery. Although the defendant must
intentionally engage in conduct that will likely produce injurious consequences,
the prosecution need not prove a specific intent to inflict a particular harm.‖
(People v. Colantuono (1994) 7 Cal.4th 206, 214; see Rocha, at p. 899 [the intent
to cause any particular injury, to severely injure another, or to injure in the sense
of inflicting bodily harm, is not necessary].)
In addressing the mens rea for assault, Williams clarified: ―Logically, a
defendant cannot have [the required] intent unless he actually knows those facts
sufficient to establish that his act by its nature will probably and directly result in
physical force being applied to another, i.e., a battery. [Citation.] In other words,
a defendant guilty of assault must be aware of the facts that would lead a
reasonable person to realize that a battery would directly, naturally and probably
result from his conduct. He may not be convicted based on facts he did not know
but should have known. He, however, need not be subjectively aware of the risk
4
that a battery might occur.‖ (Williams, supra, 26 Cal.4th at pp. 787-788 [italics
added, fn. omitted].) On this point, Williams emphasized: ―[A] defendant who
honestly believes that his act was not likely to result in a battery is still guilty of
assault if a reasonable person, viewing the facts known to defendant, would find
that the act would directly, naturally and probably result in a battery.‖ (Id. at p.
788, fn. 3.)
Consistent with Williams, a defendant may be guilty of an assault within
the meaning of section 273ab if he acts with awareness of facts that would lead a
reasonable person to realize that great bodily injury would directly, naturally, and
probably result from his act. (See Williams, supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 788.) The
defendant, however, need not know or be subjectively aware that his act is capable
of causing great bodily injury. (Albritton, supra, 67 Cal.App.4th at pp. 658-659.)
This means the requisite mens rea may be found even when the defendant honestly
believes his act is not likely to result in such injury. (See Williams, at p. 788, fn.
3.)
To determine whether the evidence at trial was sufficient to support
defendant‘s conviction for child abuse homicide, ―we review the entire record in
the light most favorable to the judgment to determine whether it contains
substantial evidence — that is, evidence that is reasonable, credible, and of solid
value — from which a reasonable trier of fact could find the defendant guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt.‖ (People v. Lindberg (2008) 45 Cal.4th 1, 27.) ―We
presume in support of the judgment the existence of every fact the trier of fact
reasonably could infer from the evidence. [Citation.] If the circumstances
reasonably justify the trier of fact‘s findings, reversal of the judgment is not
warranted simply because the circumstances might also reasonably be reconciled
with a contrary finding. [Citation.] A reviewing court neither reweighs evidence
nor reevaluates a witness‘s credibility. [Citation.]‖ (Ibid.)
5
Here, the evidence presented to the jury included physical evidence and
medical expert testimony concerning the victim‘s injuries, the testimony of
Charrikka Harris (the victim‘s mother) and Tiffany Blake (defendant‘s girlfriend),
two tape-recorded interviews of defendant, and defendant‘s own testimony. Such
evidence established the following.
Defendant lived in an Oakland apartment with Blake and their infant
daughter, Valerie. Defendant‘s 14-month-old son, Reginald, came for a weekend
visit on May 17-18, 2003. On Sunday, May 18, Blake got up around 7:00 a.m. to
get ready for work. She saw defendant playing with Reginald. He was lifting the
boy up in the air over his head, spinning him around, and bouncing him down onto
the bed. Reginald had a blank look on his face, and Blake warned defendant he
was playing too rough and could hurt his son.
Blake left for work around 9:00 a.m., leaving defendant to care for
Reginald and Valerie. Around 10:45 a.m., defendant asked his neighbor, Douglas
Curtis, to call 911 because Reginald was not breathing despite defendant‘s efforts
to administer CPR. When the paramedics arrived 10 minutes later, Reginald still
was not breathing, and he had no pulse. Reginald was transported to a hospital,
where he was pronounced dead.
The next day, May 19, an autopsy disclosed that Reginald died of injuries
resulting from blunt force trauma. Defendant was at Harris‘s home when the
coroner informed Harris of the autopsy result. Defendant went to the police
department, accompanied by his brother, Oakland Police Officer Anthony
Caldwell.
That evening, Oakland Police Sergeants Rullamas and Nolan conducted
two tape-recorded interviews of defendant after reading him his rights under
6
Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436.3 In the first recorded interview,
defendant explained he got up on Sunday morning and started wrestling and
playing with Reginald. Defendant picked Reginald up and threw him on the bed,
and ―chopped‖ his back with both hands. He held Reginald up and pressed the
boy‘s stomach to his head, and then turned and flipped Reginald a distance of
about four feet onto the bed. At one point, while Blake was still at home,
defendant accidentally fell on top of Reginald while performing a move he called
―comin‘ off the top rope.‖ As defendant was about to jump on the bed, Reginald
rolled unexpectedly and defendant‘s hip came down on Reginald‘s stomach, along
with most or all of defendant‘s body weight of 170 pounds. Reginald grunted as if
the wind had been knocked out of him, but he did not cry and continued to smile
and seemed fine. When Blake later told defendant he was playing too rough with
Reginald and could hurt him, defendant stopped.
After Blake left for work, defendant resumed wrestling with Reginald for
another 20 or 30 minutes. During this period, defendant might have hit his son
harder because Blake was not there to interfere. Defendant ―body-slammed‖
Reginald about four times, and used his fists to hit Reginald in the chest about 10
or 11 times. He did an ―atomic elbow‖ to Reginald‘s head, hit him in the upper
chest with his forearm about three times, and then hit him on the back. In
addition, defendant held Reginald up by his neck, squeezed him between his legs,
and twice did a ―knee drop,‖ in which he hit Reginald in the back with his knee.
He also did ―pretend‖ head butts and boxed with Reginald, and repeatedly did a
―suplex,‖ which involved grabbing Reginald and flipping him over defendant‘s

3
Although an arrest warrant had been prepared based on the autopsy result,
defendant was not arrested before the interviews.
7


body onto the bed. Defendant said he wanted his son to be more ―active‖ and was
trying to ―toughen him up‖ because a kid cannot be ―soft‖ to grow up in Oakland.
After discussing defendant‘s first interview with members of the district
attorney‘s office, Sergeants Rullamas and Nolan interviewed defendant a second
time later that evening. When they asked what defendant was feeling when
wrestling with Reginald, defendant said he was not feeling like himself or thinking
about being rough, then clarified he was ―stuck‖ on play-fighting with his son:
―Like I just had a one-track mind. I was just stuck on toughening him up, playin‘
with Reggie, beatin‘ up Reggie . . . that‘s all that was stuck on there.‖ He further
stated, ―[M]y mind musta went blank, though, for me to really . . . hit him hard
enough . . . to hurt him, and I not notice it. I wasn‘t payin‘ attention, and I wasn‘t
thinkin‘.‖ In defendant‘s words, ―I was hittin‘ him pretty hard‖ and ―I wasn‘t
doin‘ nothin‘ to not hit him no harder.‖ As for why he did not heed Blake‘s
warning about hurting Reginald, defendant admitted he was ―[h]ard-headed‖ and
―[s]tubborn‖ and ―[d]idn‘t want a woman to be tellin‘ me how to raise my son.‖
Although he had play-wrestled with Reginald before, this was the first time he
―lost control.‖
Dr. David Levin testified he performed an autopsy on the victim‘s body on
May 19, 2003. Reginald was 31 inches tall and weighed 26 pounds. Dr. Levin‘s
external examination disclosed an abrasion on Reginald‘s chin and two abrasions
on the neck. There was a laceration of the frenulum of the upper lip4 and a
contusion on the chest. During his internal examination, Dr. Levin found an
internal contusion of the scalp at the forehead, and bleeding on the surface of the

4
The frenulum is the membranous tissue that connects the lip to the gum.
8


heart, on the tissue behind the heart, and at the hilus of the left lung.5 There were
four lacerations to the liver, which caused internal bleeding of 200 milliliters of
blood into the abdominal cavity. Dr. Levin also found hemorrhaging behind the
abdominal cavity and in the mesentery of the small and large intestines,6 as well as
acute fractures of the fifth and sixth ribs on both the right and left sides of the back
of the body. He additionally observed mild cerebral swelling.
Dr. Levin determined that Reginald died of shock and hemorrhage due to
blunt force trauma to the chest and abdomen. The injuries were consistent with
multiple instances of blunt force trauma to the back, abdomen, chest, and head,
although some of the injuries could have been caused if a person who weighed 170
pounds jumped up and landed with his hip onto the child‘s midsection. The
infliction of trauma would not necessarily result in external bruising, especially in
softer areas like the abdomen. The contusion on the chest could have been caused
by someone attempting to administer CPR, but it was highly unlikely CPR caused
the fractured ribs in the back of the body.
Dr. James Crawford testified as a pediatric expert in the medical evaluation
of child abuse. According to Dr. Crawford, Reginald‘s injuries were ―at the end of
the bell curve,‖ meaning they were at a level uncommon for a one-year-old child.
The types of injuries Reginald suffered, including the four lacerations to the liver
and the multiple sites of internal bleeding, ―are seen only in the most serious
events,‖ such as when children are in car crashes or hit by motor vehicles. The
likelihood that Reginald‘s ribs were broken during CPR was ―extraordinarily

5
The hilus is the area where the great vessels and the airways pass into and
out of the lung.

6
The mesentery is a sheet of tissue through which blood vessels course to
and from the intestines.
9


small.‖ Although the fractures could conceivably have been caused by blunt force
trauma to the child‘s back, it would have to have been ―something that would have
been quite violent, quite out of the ordinary,‖ given how uncommon rib fractures
are in children. Unless the child was unconscious or had a profound neurological
condition, he would be expected to react to the types of injuries shown here by
crying and clearly demonstrating distress. Dr. Crawford found it unbelievable that
a child with such injuries would be laughing and smiling.
In Dr. Crawford‘s opinion, there had to have been ―at least multiple, and
potentially many impacts‖ for the identified injuries to have resulted. Although it
was remotely possible that one extremely violent lateral compression could have
caused all of the significant injuries, it was more likely the injuries were caused by
more than one blow. If all the different injuries were caused by a single event, it
would have to have been ―an extraordinarily violent act.‖
Based on the foregoing evidence, a rational jury could find beyond a
reasonable doubt that Reginald, who was 14 months old, died at the hands of
defendant, a caretaker who intentionally used force that a reasonable person would
believe was likely to cause great bodily injury. (Williams, supra, 26 Cal.4th at p.
788; Albritton, supra, 67 Cal.App.4th at p. 658.) First, defendant‘s own
statements furnished substantial evidence that he intentionally acted to strike
Reginald (People v. Colantuono, supra, 7 Cal.4th at p. 214; Rocha, supra, 3
Cal.3d at p. 899); by his own account, defendant was fully aware he was striking
his son a number of times with his fist, forearm, knee, and elbow. Second, the
physical evidence amply showed that Reginald suffered extensive injuries,
including internal bleeding at multiple sites, multiple lacerations to the liver, acute
rib fractures, and cerebral swelling. Third, expert testimony established that
Reginald‘s injuries were likely caused by multiple impacts or instances of blunt
force trauma, that blunt force trauma does not necessarily result in external
10
bruising, especially in softer areas like the abdomen, and that Reginald‘s injuries
were similar to the types of injuries seen only in the most serious events, such as
when children are hit by cars or are in car crashes. Consequently, even though
Reginald‘s body lacked external signs of significant trauma, the nature and
extensiveness of his internal injuries provided sufficient evidence that defendant
used an amount of force a reasonable person would believe was likely to result in
great bodily injury on a young child. (See People v. Stewart, supra, 77
Cal.App.4th at pp. 794-795; Albritton, supra, 67 Cal.App.4th at p. 656.) On this
record, we have no trouble concluding that substantial evidence supports
defendant‘s conviction of child abuse homicide.
The Court of Appeal acknowledged that Williams‘s articulation of the mens
rea standard was pertinent to the sufficiency-of-the-evidence inquiry: ―[W]hat is
in question here is whether there was substantial evidence that [defendant] ‗was
aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize that [his] act by its
nature would directly and probably result in great bodily injury to the child.‘ ‖
(Italics added.) But in finding the evidence insufficient on this point, the court
emphasized that there was no evidence showing defendant had actual knowledge
he was wrestling far too hard with his son, and that ―it never occurred to
[defendant] that he was hurting Reginald.‖ As for defendant‘s tape-recorded
statements that he wasn‘t thinking or paying attention while play-wrestling with
Reginald, the court interpreted them as merely demonstrating defendant‘s ―attempt
to understand how he could have struck his son hard enough to fatally injure him
without knowing he was doing it.‖
This reasoning cannot be reconciled with the long-standing rule, reiterated
in Williams, that ―assault does not require a specific intent to cause injury or a
subjective awareness of the risk that an injury might occur.‖ (Williams, supra, 26
Cal.4th at p. 790; see Rocha, supra, 3 Cal.3d at p. 899.) Thus, any failure on
11
defendant‘s part to realize he was hurting and fatally injuring Reginald is of no
consequence to the issue at hand.
We repeat: the assault element of a section 273ab offense requires an
intentional act and actual knowledge of those facts that would lead a reasonable
person to realize that great bodily injury would directly, naturally, and probably
result from the act. (See Williams, supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 790; Albritton, supra, 67
Cal.App.4th at p. 658.)7 Here, the record contains substantial testimonial,
medical, and other evidence that defendant intentionally struck his young son
multiple times in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to realize great
bodily injury would likely result.
CONCLUSION AND DISPOSITION
Mindful of our duty to ―review the entire record in the light most favorable
to the judgment‖ and to ―presume in support of the judgment the existence of
every fact the trier of fact reasonably could infer from the evidence‖ (People v.
Lindberg, supra, 45 Cal.4th at p. 27), we conclude sufficient evidence supports the
child abuse homicide conviction.

7
Defendant contends the mens rea standard articulated in Williams is
inconsistent with the Legislature‘s intent in codifying the common law of assault
in section 240. Relying on section 240‘s definition of assault as ―an unlawful
attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of
another‖ (italics added), defendant claims the offense must, as a matter of
legislative intent, be understood to require the intent to inflict injury. We have,
however, thoroughly considered the legislative history of section 240 and rejected
the notion that assault requires such an intent. (Williams, supra, 26 Cal.4th at pp.
784-790; see also People v. Chance (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1164, 1169-1172 & fn. 6.)
12



The judgment of the Court of Appeal is reversed, and the matter is
remanded to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
BAXTER, J.
WE CONCUR:

GEORGE, C. J.
WERDEGAR, J.
CHIN, J.
MORENO, J.
CORRIGAN, J.

13





CONCURRING OPINION BY KENNARD, J.

I concur in the majority opinion under compulsion of this court‘s holding in
People v. Williams (2001) 26 Cal.4th 779 (Williams).
In Williams, a majority of this court defined the mental state of the crime of
assault (Pen. Code, § 240) as requiring only that the defendant have ―actual
knowledge of the facts sufficient to establish that the defendant‘s act by its nature
will probably and directly result in injury to another‖ (Williams, supra, 26 Cal.4th
at p. 782), and as not requiring ―a specific intent to cause injury or a subjective
awareness of the risk that an injury might occur‖ (id. at p. 790). I disagreed,
concluding that ―assault requires proof of an intent to injure another.‖ (Id. at p.
791 (dis. opn. of Kennard, J.); see also People v. Colantuono (1994) 7 Cal.4th 206,
225-228 (conc. & dis. opn. of Kennard, J.).)
Here, the majority applies the definition of the term ―assault‖ that it
announced in Williams, supra, 26 Cal.4th 779, to Penal Code section 273ab, which
provides: ―Any person who, having the care or custody of a child who is under
eight years of age, assaults the child by means of force that to a reasonable person
would be likely to produce great bodily injury, resulting in the child‘s death, shall
be punished by imprisonment . . . for 25 years to life.‖ (Italics added.) Based on
that definition, the majority here affirms defendant‘s conviction for violation of
Penal Code section 273ab.
1



It is reasonable to infer that the Legislature intended that the term ―assault,‖
as used in Penal Code section 273ab, be defined synonymously with its definition
in section 240, which describes the crime of assault. Because the definition of the
requisite mental state for the crime of assault that the majority announced in
Williams, supra, 26 Cal.4th 779, now has the force of precedent, it applies here.
Applying that definition to the facts of this case, I agree with the majority that
substantial evidence supports defendant‘s conviction for violating Penal Code
section 273ab, and I therefore join the majority in reversing the judgment of the
Court of Appeal, which found insufficient evidence to support that conviction.
KENNARD, J.
2

See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion People v. Wyatt
__________________________________________________________________________________

Unpublished Opinion

XXX NP opn. filed 1/31/08 – 1st Dist., Div. 2
Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted

Rehearing Granted

__________________________________________________________________________________

Opinion No.

S161545
Date Filed: May 10, 2010
__________________________________________________________________________________

Court:

Superior
County: Alameda
Judge: Jon R. Rolefson

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Appellant:

Waldemar D. Halka, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Respondent:

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A.
Engler, Assistant Attorney General, Stan Helfman, Laurence K. Sullivan, Violet M. Lee and Brent Wilner,
Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.



Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

Waldemar D. Halka
P.O. Box 99965
San Diego, CA 92169
(858) 273-8626

Brent Wilner
Deputy Attorney General
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 11000
San Francisco, CA 94102-7004
(415) 703-5896


Petition for review after the Court of Appeal reversed in part and affirmed in part a judgment of conviction of criminal offenses. The court limited review to the following issue: Did substantial evidence support defendant's conviction for a caregiver's assault on a child by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury causing death (Pen. Code, section 273ab)? Specifically, was there evidence that defendant was "aware of the facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize that a battery would directly, naturally and probably result from his conduct" (People v. Williams (2001) 26 Cal.4th 779, 788)?

Opinion Information
Date:Citation:Docket Number:Category:Status:Cross Referenced Cases:
Mon, 05/10/201048 Cal. 4th 776, 229 P.3d 156, 108 Cal. Rptr. 3d 259S161545Review - Criminal Appealsubmitted/opinion due

People v. Williams, 26 Cal. 4th 779 (2001)


Parties
1The People (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by Brent Walter Wilner
Office of the Attorney General
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 11000
San Francisco, CA

2The People (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by Violet M. Lee
Office of the Attorney General
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 11000
San Francisco, CA

3Wyatt, Reginald (Defendant and Appellant)
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974

Represented by First District Appellate Project
730 Harrison Street, Suite 201
730 Harrison Street, Suite 201
San Francisco, CA

4Wyatt, Reginald (Defendant and Appellant)
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974

Represented by Waldemar Derek Halka de Salava
Attorney at Law
P.O. Box 99965
San Diego, CA


Opinion Authors
OpinionJustice Marvin R. Baxter
ConcurJustice Joyce L. Kennard

Dockets
Mar 7 2008Petition for review filed
  The People, plaintiff and respondent by Violet M. Lee, Deputy Attorney General - S.F.
Mar 7 2008Record requested
 
Mar 10 2008Answer to petition for review filed
  Rginald Wyatt, appellant by Waldemar D. Halka, counsel
Mar 17 20082nd record request
  via email
Mar 18 2008Received Court of Appeal record
  file jacket/one box
Apr 29 2008Time extended to grant or deny review
  The time for granting or denying review in the above-entitled matter is hereby extended to and including June 5, 2008, or the date upon which review is either granted or denied.
May 14 2008Petition for review granted; issues limited (criminal case)
  The petition for review is granted. The issue to be briefed and argued is limited to the following: Did substantial evidence support defendant's conviction for a caregiver's assault on a child by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury causing death (Pen. Code, section 273ab)? Specifically, was there evidence that defendant was "aware of the facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize that a battery would directly, naturally and probably result from his conduct" (People v. Williams (2001) 26 Cal.4th 779, 788)? Votes: George C. J., Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, Moreno, and Corrigan JJ.
Jun 4 2008Counsel appointment order filed
  Upon request of appellant for appointment of counsel, Waldemar D. Halka is hereby appointed to represent appellant on the appeal now pending in this court. Appellant's brief on the merits must be served and filed on or before thirty (30) days from the date respondent's opening brief on the merits is filed.
Jun 13 2008Opening brief on the merits filed
  the People, respondent Violet Lee, Dep. Attorney General
Jul 11 2008Request for extension of time filed
  for appellant's answer brief on the merits, to 8-13-08.
Jul 17 2008Extension of time granted
  On application of appellant and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the answer brief on the merits is extended to and including August 13, 2008. No further extensions of time are contemplated.
Aug 6 2008Answer brief on the merits filed
  Reginald Wyatt, defendant and appellant Waldemar Halka, counsel
Aug 26 2008Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
  the People, plaintiff and Respondent Violet Lee, Dep. A.G.
Sep 10 2008Compensation awarded counsel
  Atty Halka
Dec 9 2009Received additional record
  from court of appeal. One large envelope containing superior court exhibits: C, 6, 6A, 40A, 40B, 41, 41A
Feb 3 2010Case ordered on calendar
  to be argued Tuesday, March 2, 2010, at 9:00 a.m., in San Francisco
Feb 19 2010Supplemental brief filed
Plaintiff and Respondent: The PeopleAttorney: Brent Walter Wilner   The People intend to cite People v. Trujillo (Feb. 9, 2010) ___ Cal.App.4th ___,2010 WL 432428 during oral argument.
Mar 2 2010Cause argued and submitted
 
May 7 2010Notice of forthcoming opinion posted
  To be filed on Monday, May 10, 2010 @ 10 a.m.

Briefs
Jun 13 2008Opening brief on the merits filed
 
Aug 6 2008Answer brief on the merits filed
 
Aug 26 2008Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
 
Brief Downloads
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Respondent's Opening Brief on the Merits.pdf (1312615 bytes) - Opening Brief for the People
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Respondent's Reply Brief on the Merits.pdf (354650 bytes) - Reply Brief for the People
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May 22, 2010
Annotated by kmtraver

Key Terms: Assault on a child causing death, child abuse, child abuse homicide, Mens Rea for assault, Pen. Code § 273ab.

Summary:
Main Opinion by Baxter., J.: Defendant’s 14-month-old son died of shock and hemorrhage while in the defendant’s care. A jury convicted the defendant of involuntary manslaughter and assault on a child causing death. The California Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeal misapplied the mens rea standard for assault under People v. Williams, 26 Cal. 4th 779 (2001) (available at http://scocal.stanford.edu/opinion/people-v-williams-32097), and therefore erred in reversing the conviction of assault on a child causing death (Pen. Code § 273ab, available at http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/273a.html).

The California Supreme Court held that Williams permits a conviction for assault even if the defendant did not realize he was harming his victim and even if he “honestly believes his act is not likely to result in such injury.” People v. Wyatt, 2010 WL 1838692, at *3. To sustain a conviction under these circumstances, however, the “prosecution must prove the defendant was aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize that a battery would directly, naturally, and probably result from the defendant’s conduct.” Id. at *1. The Court found substantial evidence that the defendant knew he was striking his son and that he used an amount of force that a reasonable person would recognize as likely to cause significant injury; thus, the Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeal for further proceedings.

Issues:
• What is the showing required to establish the mens rea for assault as stated in People v. Williams, 26 Cal. 4th 779 (2001) (available at http://scocal.stanford.edu/opinion/people-v-williams-32097)?
• Did substantial evidence show that defendant was “aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize that a battery would directly, naturally, and probably result from the defendant’s conduct” sufficient to merit a conviction under Pen. Code § 273ab for assault on a child causing death, an offense also known as child abuse homicide? People v. Wyatt, 2010 WL 1838692, at *1.

Procedural History:
Defendant was charged with one count of murder (Pen. Code § 187(a)) and one count of assault on a child causing death (Pen. Code § 273ab). The trial court granted defendant’s motion to acquit on the murder count. The jury found defendant guilty of assault on a child causing death and involuntary manslaughter. The Court of Appeal reversed the conviction for assault on a child causing death and otherwise affirmed the judgment. People v. Wyatt, 2008 WL 258175 (2008) (available at http://www.lawlink.com/research/CaseLevel3/49489) .

Here, the Court limited review to the question of whether there was substantial evidence in support of defendant's conviction for assault on a child by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury causing death (Pen. Code § 273ab)?

Main Arguments by the People in the California Supreme Court:
• The Court of Appeal erroneously concluded that a conviction for assault on a child causing death requires that the defendant knew his conduct would probably result in bodily injury.
• The evidence shows that the defendant knew of his own willful acts, which is sufficient to sustain a conviction under Pen. Code § 273ab.

Main Arguments by Wyatt in the California Supreme Court:
• The Court of Appeal correctly concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support the assault finding under Pen. Code § 273ab.

Holdings
• To be convicted of assault requires an intentional act and actual knowledge of facts that would lead a reasonable person to recognize that bodily injury would follow from the act; it does not require knowledge that the assault is likely to result in great bodily injury. People v. Wyatt, 2010 WL 1838692, at *7.
• The record contained substantial evidence that the defendant intentionally struck his son repeatedly in a manner that a reasonable person would realize would lead to great bodily injury. The record read in the light most favorable to the judgment by the Court of Appeal contained sufficient evidence to support the child homicide conviction. People v. Wyatt, 2010 WL 1838692, at *7.

Reasoning and Rules:
The court focused on the parties dispute over: (1) the showing required to establish mens rea for assault, and (2) the sufficiency of the evidence on that point.

Mens Rea for Assault:
The elements of the offense of child abuse homicide are:
(1) A person, having the care or custody of a child under the age of eight;
(2) assaults this child;
(3) by means of force that to a reasonable person would be likely to produce great bodily injury;
(4) resulting in the child‘s death.

The Court focused on element (3) above. It based its analysis on the precedents of Williams, supra, People v. Rocha, 3 Cal. 3d 893 (1971) (available at http://scocal.stanford.edu/opinion/people-v-rocha-22825), and People v. Colantuono, 7 Cal. 4th 206 (1994) (available at http://scocal.stanford.edu/opinion/people-v-colantuono-31531), concluding that intent to cause a particular injury, to severely injure another, or to injure by inflicting bodily harm are not required for an assault conviction. Instead, the Court articulated the rule as: “a defendant guilty of assault must be aware of the facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize that a battery would directly, naturally and probably result from his conduct. He may not be convicted based on facts he did not know but should have known. He, however, need not be subjectively aware of the risk that a battery might occur” People v. Wyatt, 2010 WL 1838692, at *2 (emphasis by the Court).

Sufficiency of the Evidence:
To determine whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to sustain the defendant’s conviction for child abuse homicide, the Court relied on People v. Lindberg 45 Cal. 4th 1 (2008) (available at http://scocal.stanford.edu/opinion/people-v-lindberg-33118) for the standard of review. The Court thus reviewed the entire record in the light most favorable to Court of Appeal’s judgment to determine whether it contained “substantial evidence” – defined as “evidence that is reasonable, credible, and of solid value”—from which a reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” People v. Wyatt, 2010 WL 1838692, at *3.

The court concluded that the evidence in the record met the above standard. The evidence included physical evidence such as the autopsy report, expert testimony by a pediatric medical expert, testimony of the child’s mother and the defendant’s girlfriend who was present the morning the child was injured, and the defendant’s own testimony.

The Court found the defendant’s own testimony particularly persuasive because he stated that he intentionally struck his son. The Court also stated that the physical evidence showing the nature and extensiveness of the injuries and the expert testimony “sufficient evidence that defendant used an amount of force a reasonable person would believe was likely to result in great bodily injury on a young child.” People v. Wyatt, 2010 WL 1838692, at *6.

The Court of Appeal’s Misapplication of Williams
The Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeal misapplied the “long-standing rule, reiterated in Williams, that ‘assault does not require a specific intent to cause injury or a subjective awareness of the risk that an injury might occur’” People v. Wyatt, 2010 WL 1838692, at *6 (quoting Williams, supra, at pg 790). Thus, said the Court, the Court of Appeal was incorrect to emphasize the lack of evidence that defendant had actual knowledge that he was hurting his son in reversing the trial court’s finding.

Concurrence (Kennard., J.)
Judge Kennard concurred in the opinion, writing that precedent under Williams mandated the court’s holding. The judge reiterated, however, her disagreement with the Court’s judgment in Williams. In Williams Kennard disagreed with the majority’s holding that assault did not require specific intent to cause injury or a subjective awareness that the risk of injury might occur; in Williams she concluded that assault requires proof of intent to injure. Despite Kennard’s disagreement with the holding in Williams, she found that precedent now mandated the holding in this case. People v. Wyatt, 2010 WL 1838692, at *7.

Annotated by K. Traverso.