In January of this year, the Kansas Supreme Court published an opinion that clarified its position on the type of proof needed to sustain a conviction for aggravated battery. The case was State v. Hobbs (Docket No. 107,667). To sustain an aggravated battery conviction, is the prosecutor required to prove that the defendant intended the consequences of his act, or just the act itself? It is a question that is constantly present in these cases.
The facts of the Hobbes case were relatively simple. On the night of August 11, 2011, Hobbs went to an Emporia bar with some friends. Because he had recently lost his identification, he called ahead to ensure that he could get into the bar. He was informed by the bar’s owner that he would be able to enter but would not be served alcohol. When Hobbs arrived, Michael Watson, an employee of the bar, confirmed to Hobbs that he was welcome to enter but could not order or drink alcohol. Watson also warned Hobbs that he would have to leave if anyone saw Hobbs drinking. Despite the warnings, Watson eventually saw Hobbs drinking alcohol.
Watson approached Hobbs and told him that he would have to leave. Watson escorted Hobbs toward the door until he saw Clint Crawford, the bar’s bouncer, and asked him to take Hobbs outside. Hobbs and Crawford eventually reached the door of the bar. Hobbs then punched Nienke. Nienke had not touched Hobbs.
Nienke fell backwards and hit his head on the bumper of a car. Thompson, a bystander, went to help Nienke, saw blood coming from his head and told Crawford to call 911. Hobbs would eventually testify to a different version of the events. Hobbs basically asserted that Nienke grabbed him and got involved in some sort of tussle with him.
When Nienke fell, Hobbs tried to leave the premises but was detained there. Hobbs was arrested. The doctor treating Nienke determined that he had suffered a basilar skull fracture, which would have required significant force to be inflicted. At trial, the doctor testified that “[t]his was a very serious injury. This gentleman faced lifetime debility and death.” Hobbs was promptly charged with aggravated battery under K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 21- 5413(b)(1)(A), which requires that he “[k]nowingly caus[e] great bodily harm to another person or disfigurement of another person.”
At his trial, the jury found Hobbs guilty of aggravated battery. The district judge sentenced Hobbs to a prison term of 43 months. Hobbs appealed his case, and the Appellate Court ruled against him. Hobbs argued that there was insufficient evidence to find him guilty of aggravated battery because, in his view, K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 21-5413(b)(1)(A) required that he “knowingly caused the great bodily harm that was suffered.”
The panel rejected his argument, relying on the characterization of aggravated battery as a general intent crime, as opposed to a specific intent crime. As such, the panel ruled, “only the underlying act that caused great bodily harm or disfigurement must be intentional,” and there was “sufficient evidence upon which a jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Hobbs intentionally hit Nienke with such force as to cause him great bodily harm.”
Hobbes appealed further, to the Kansas Supreme Court. He basically argued that aggravated assault should be considered a specific intent crime, rather than a general intent crime. That is, he argued that a person should intend the results of the assault, not just the act of the assault alone. He believed that the statute’s reference to “knowingly” applied to both the defendant’s underlying act and its specific resulting harm.
The Supreme Court was not in agreement. It noted that aggravated assault was a general intent crime, and that
Our adoption of Hobbs’ view would add to the elements the State traditionally has had to prove to convict a defendant for a general intent crime. See Gross v. State, 24 Kan. App. 2d 806, 808, 953 P.2d 689 (1998) (general intent crime requires only that the underlying act be intentional rather than accidental); see also K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 21-7 5202) (culpable mental state may be established by proof of intentional, knowing, reckless conduct); State v. Mitchell, 262 Kan. 434, Syl. ¶ 8, 939 P.2d 879 (1997) (specific intent more than general intent required by K.S.A. 21-3201).
From the trial evidence, believed it was reasonable for a jury to infer that Hobbs acted while knowing that some type of great bodily harm or disfigurement was reasonably certain to result from the punch, even if he did not anticipate Nienke’s precise injury. The evidence against Hobbs was sufficient, the Court found, to uphold his conviction of aggravated battery.
“Knowingly,” as used in K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 21-5413(b)(1)(A), means that the accused acted when he or she was aware that his or her conduct was reasonably certain to cause the result. This does not mean that the accused must forsee the specific harm that resulted. Instead, it is sufficient that he or she acted while knowing that any great bodily harm of the victim was reasonably certain to result from the action.
Using this logic, the Court found no trouble in sustaining Hobbs’s conviction. The decision makes it clear just how dangerous physical altercations can be. Serious harm can result from them, and a person can be held responsible for the harm, even if they did not intend the precise outcome of the physical confrontation.
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