Jim Porter: Battery against a school P.E. teacher (opinion)
August 27, 2016
Fortunately, we seldom have cases like this in our area — in which a high school student punches out a P.E. instructor and knocks a walkie-talkie out of the hands of another teacher — but it happened in Richmond, Calif., and the case teaches us about the crime of battery, so here we go.
Trash Talk Your Teacher
Harry Campbell was a physical education instructor at John F. Kennedy High School in Richmond. "B.L." — whose name is withheld to protect the innocent (hardly, her name is withheld because she's a minor) — told instructor Campbell she wanted to go home early.
Campbell asked a few (appropriate) questions then B.L. made some racially charged, aggressive comments, then punched Campbell in the face with her fist. B.L. then kicked Campbell in the groin, after which another male student tackled Campbell.
At that point instructor Eaglin approached the scene. She had her walkie-talkie knocked out of her hand by B.L., but only after B.L. called Eaglin a "black bitch." Compared to her to comments to Campbell, that was mild.
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The Contra Costa County District Attorney filed two counts of "misdemeanor battery on school employees" under the Penal Code. The allegations were upheld after a hearing and B.L. was placed on probation at her mother's home with 60 days home supervision. Lucky mom.
B.L.'s attorney appealed. For the life of me I can't tell why.
Unlawful Use of Force
A battery in California is defined as an unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another. "The least touching" may constitute battery. The force need not cause harm or even leave a mark.
The battery against P.E. instructor Campbell was obvious and was not even challenged on the appeal, so again, why bother appealing the charge of battery on Eaglin for having the walkie-talkie knocked out of her hand?
As to the charges for knocking the walkie-talkie out of Eaglin's hand, the Court of Appeal looked to the leading treatise of Professor Prosser who I had at Hastings law school. He was one of the most prominent law professors in the country at the time. He wore a pink rose in his lapel every day – Prosser literally wrote the book on torts civil law.
Prosser wrote that a battery "may be committed against anything intimately connected with the person of the victim." That's my understanding of the law so I don't know why this Court of Appeal wrote that this case is a "matter of first impression", meaning these facts have never been ruled on in a case.
I could have told the Court of Appeal that the touching of a person is not necessary. For example, people have been convicted of battery for grabbing a flashlight from a police officer's hand or stabbing a bag held by the victim. Even though no contact with the person: Battery.
I should have been a judge, because the Court of Appeal agreed with me, concluding that knocking a walkie-talkie transmitter out of the hand of the person holding it is a battery. In this case, a minor committing a battery on a school worker.
I'm just guessing here, but I'll bet this is not B.L.'s last run in with the law.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno, Nevada. Jim's practice areas include: development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.