Ignition Interlock Device Order as Evidence in California Assault Case

The California Criminal Jury Instruction N. 875 provides that to prove a defendant is guilty of assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm, the prosecutor needs to prove; (1) the defendant acted with a deadly weapon besides a firearm that due to its nature would directly, probably apply force to someone, (2) the defendant’s actions were willful, (3) when the defendant acted, she was aware of facts that would cause a reasonable person to realize the nature of her act was such it would directly, probably cause force to be applied to someone, and (4) when the defendant acted, she had the ability to apply force with a deadly weapon other than a firearm to someone. A defendant’s awareness of facts that would trigger her realization that her act would probably and directly result in application of force can be affected by prior California DUI convictions, warnings from the court, and a prior court order that she install an ignition interlock device on her car.

In a California appellate decision, a jury convicted the defendant of two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. The defendant was drunk on Memorial Day weekend when she drove a car through the fence and into her neighbor’s backyard during a get-together. The car jumped onto the porch, which was around 15-17 feet from the fence, before it temporarily stopped with wheels spinning in the gravel and then crashed into the master bedroom wall. The neighbor’s friend was almost hit and so was the neighbor’s eight-year-old son.

The door was locked. One of the neighbors asked her to unlock the door. He had to shift the gear to park and turn off the ignition. The defendant asked what was happening. She got out and went into the backyard and left.

Police officers who were dispatched to the scene saw evidence she was drunk. She didn’t perform well on field sobriety tests and when she took an alcohol screening, her BAC registered at .266%. She was arrested for a DUI. The officer checked the records, and she was only supposed to drive a vehicle with an ignition interlock device installed on the car. The officer hadn’t seen an ignition interlock device when he took a look at the car.

She was charged with alcohol-related misdemeanors and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. At trial, proof was provided of her four prior alcohol-related crimes, dating back to 1996. In a 2013 DUI arrest, she’d rear-ended another car and pled no contest to DUI and admitted a prior DUI conviction. The court ordered her not to drive without an ignition interlock device. She was also supposed to go to a multiple offender program and completely abstain from alcohol.

She was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon at her trial. On appeal, she argued the evidence wasn’t sufficient to support those convictions.

The appellate court explained a prosecutor has to show the defendant willfully acted in a way that would probably and directly cause physical force to be applied against another and also knew of facts that would lead a reasonable person to understand the probable and direct consequence of her acts.

In this case, the appellate court found there was enough evidence for a jury to decide she’d willfully been involved in actions that constituted assault. She was the only operator of the car, and the engine revved throughout. From that, the jury could reasonably think she intentionally drove the car and pushed forward until she crashed. She was able to leave the car and walk away, so there was a permissible inference she stayed conscious throughout.

The court also found there was enough evidence for the jury to decide she was aware of facts that would cause a reasonable person to understand that the direct, probable, and natural consequence of her drunk driving was an injurious crash. She had four prior misdemeanors, and after her fourth misdemeanor, she was under a court order not to drink alcohol and not to drive without an ignition interlock device. When that order was handed down, the court expressly warned her about how dangerous it was to drive under the influence and she indicated her understanding.

The defendant argued that proof of driving under the influence wasn’t enough for a conviction of assault since driving under the influence isn’t an assaultive act. The appellate court explained that there was more evidence beyond drunk driving that showed the defendant’s willful conduct. The orders not to drink alcohol and to not drive cars without an ignition interlock device, and the warning about how dangerous her actions were served as added facts bearing on whether she was guilty of assault. They showed what happened was not an isolated act of DUI.

The appellate court concluded that substantial evidence supported the jury’s verdict.

If you’ve been charged with a DUI in San Diego and you’re concerned about the possibility that you’ll need to install an ignition interlock device (IID) or face other penalties, you should consult an experienced attorney. The Law Offices of Susan L. Hartman may be able to help. Call us for a free consultation at (619) 260-1122 or susan@shartmanlaw.com.