United States v. Acosta-Sierra

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 08-15-2012
  • Case #: 10-50575
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Nelson for the Court; Circuit Judges Gould and Ikuta
  • Full Text Opinion

The proper standard to apply for a “criminal assault charge based on causing the apprehension of imminent bodily injury, under 18 U.S.C. § 111, is that of a “reasonable person who observes what the official observes.”

Enrique Acosta-Sierra “threw a baseball-size piece of jagged concrete” at Officer Abram Lopez while crossing the United States-Mexico border. Lopez was unaware that a rock was thrown until it hit a metal gate. While in custody, Acosta-Sierra punched an officer during transit to the courtroom. Acosta-Sierra was convicted, during a bench trial, “of two counts of assault on a federal officer in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 111.” Acosta-Sierra raised four separate issues on appeal, arguing that the district court erred in (1) applying the “reasonable apprehension of harm prong of common law assault;” (2) failing to grant his motion for judgment of acquittal; (3) concluding that 18 U.S.C.§ 111 is a general intent crime, precluding a “diminished capacity defense;” and (4) precluding evidence of Acosta-Sierra’s mental health as it relates to a self-defense claim. The Ninth Circuit made several determinations on appeal. First, for purposes of assault under § 111, the correct standard to apply is that of a “reasonable person standing in the official’s shoes.” The district court erred in concluding that the standard was met “because [it] did not limit its consideration to the facts known to Officer Lopez.” Second, to sustain a conviction based upon the “reasonable apprehension of harm” prong of assault, the prosecution must prove “intent to assault.” Third, the “attempted battery prong” of § 111 is a general intent crime. Thus, the district court did not err in precluding evidence of “diminished mental capacity.” Finally, while mental health evidence in support of self-defense would have explained subjective belief, “it would not have supported the proposition that his actions were objectively reasonable,” which is “particularly important in the penological context.” REVERSED in part, AFFIRMED in part, REMANDED.

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