Thursday, July 14, 2011

When Is a Homicide Not a Crime?

The Yolo County (California) has indicated that he is not going to pursue criminal charges out of the homicide of Scott Heinig (pic) by one of his friends who punched him in the face and killed him.  The story by Hudson Sangree at the Sacramento Bee is pretty sad, but illustrates tough decision-making in when to pursue criminal charges in an unusual and tragic fact pattern.  Do you agree?:

Authorities said Wednesday that the death of a well-liked Davis baseball player and coach, who was punched in the face by a friend on Picnic Day and died, was a homicide.  But Yolo County prosecutors will not file charges in the killing of Scott Heinig, 22.

Though "caused by human hands," Heinig's death was "the result of a tragic set of circumstances that do not rise to the level of criminal conduct," the Yolo County District Attorney's Office said in a press release.

"We have talked to the family of Mr. Heinig, and they are behind this decision," Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral said.

The details of Heinig's death were made public for the first time Wednesday, after nearly three months of investigations by the Davis Police Department and the Yolo County Coroner's Office.  Heinig was a recent UC Davis graduate and university baseball player. He also played baseball at Davis Senior High School and was working as an assistant coach there.

On April 16, Heinig celebrated Picnic Day, the UC Davis annual open house, authorities said.   "He had been out enjoying the Picnic Day festivities and had consumed alcohol throughout the day," Lt. Paul Doroshov, Davis police spokesman, said Wednesday.

Afterward, a small number of friends gathered at a home in the 1000 block of Fifth Street, officials said.  Heinig and three or four friends were in the driveway about 8 p.m., when Heinig insisted they hit him in the face, authorities said.

A police investigation "revealed that this type of conduct was a common occurrence between Heinig and his friends," the news release said.

Heinig's friends initially refused, but then Heinig hit one of them in the face and the man punched back, it said.   The blow to Heinig's face and twisting motion of his head caused an artery in his neck to rupture, a rare injury sometimes seen in boxers, authorities said.

Heinig collapsed, hitting his head on pavement.  Lifesaving efforts at UC Davis Medical Center were unsuccessful, and Heinig died shortly after midnight.

His blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.11 five hours after the incident, authorities said. The legal level of drunkenness is 0.08.  Alcohol breaks down in the bloodstream at a rate of about 0.02 per hour, Cabral said.

Officials did not identify the man who struck Heinig but described him as a close friend who was distraught after the incident.
Many years ago I defended a biker/iron worker who hit another man in the jaw knocking him to the pavement causing one of his orbital sockets to shatter permamently disrupting an optical nerve and blinding the man in one eye.   My client intentionally struck the "victim" and yet a jury acquitted my client.  Why?

Every case exists on its own set of facts and circumstances.  In my client, Fran's case, he was confronting another biker who he had every objective and subjective right to fear.  He was at the scene to collect a terrified young woman and her few belongings who was moving out of the "victim's" house.  The victim had a long history of violence, criminal priors, and was in fact incarcerated for an aggravated armed robbery at the time the case against my client went to trial. 

Still, if the unthinking reactionary prosecutions are any indication this was a pretty brave decision by this Yolo County prosecutor.  It seems to me that once again it comes down to mens rea, although I think this is a pretty close case.  When you volitionally hit someone in the face with enough force to knock them to the ground it seems to me you are knowingly assuming the risk that this sort of outcome could result. 

1 comment:

  1. Tell me if this isn't a homicide? A drunk driver hits my son doesn't even stop keeps going the length of 1 and 1/2 football fields gets involved in another accident yet never goes back to even see what he did to my son. he hit him so hard it knocked his leg completely behind him up to his shoulder and split his head open in several places, open can at the site. My son eventually died of blunt force trauma yet this guy doesn't even get a ticket and his last name was changed on two police reports 2 pages missing out of the police reports including witness statements about the open container. Yet no ticket what so ever...Is it because he was on the clock for Ford Motor Company,and their lawyers made it go away? And is it that Tim Dollar, my sons attorney and ex prosecuting attorney got paid to make it go away? Or how about the notary who took depositions didn't bother to check to see if this guys name was correct, yet swore to it that it was. Or all the court records with the wrong name. Or the police office who picked up the open container and didn't report it, or the other officer who said my son was changing his tire when he was struck by this drunk driver and my sons injuries weren't consistent with the officers false police report or Kansas City's Prosecuting Attorney who won't even look at this case so are they covering up for their buddy Tim Dollar, the two police officers, or another case of a Ford drunk employee kills someone on Missouri's Freeways, like Asst. Brady Twenter and Jim Kanatzer, Prosecuting Attorney now promoted Judge refuse to look at this case...MY SON IS DEAD AND SHOULDN'T BE. DOESN'T ANYBODY CARE? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?