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Name: People v. Wyatt
Case #: S161545
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 05/10/2010
Summary

For purposes of child-abuse homicide (Pen. Code, sec. 273ab), the requisite mental state is satisfied if the defendant acts with an awareness of facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize great bodily injury would directly, naturally, and probably result from his actions. The defendant need not be subjectively aware that his actions could cause great bodily injury. While appellant play wrestled with his 14-month-old son, he spun him around in the air, bounced him on the bed, performed actual wrestling moves, and accidentally fell on top of him. The child died as a result of blunt force trauma. Appellant was convicted of, inter alia, child-abuse homicide. Appellant argued on appeal there was insufficient evidence to prove the requisite mens rea for the assault element of the crime, and the Court of Appeal agreed. However, the Supreme Court reversed, finding the appellate court misapplied the law as explained in People v. Williams (2001) 26 Cal.4th 779. That case held that a defendant need not be subjectively aware of the fact that a battery might occur; rather, a defendant would still be guilty of assault if a reasonable person, viewing the facts known to the defendant, would find that the act would directly, naturally, and probably result in a battery. Applying Williams to this crime, a defendant may be guilty of child-abuse homicide 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. Those facts were present here. Appellant’s girlfriend told him he was wrestling too roughly with the child and could hurt him. And appellant admitted to police he “lost control” and was “just stuck on toughening him up.” Finally, an expert testified that for the kind of internal injuries the boy sustained, the child would be expected to react by crying and showing distress. These facts would lead a reasonable person to realize great bodily injury would likely result.