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9th Circuit (Eventually) Rules Inmate's Hands Not a Dangerous Weapon

One great thing about having the dual advantages of lifetime tenure and a cadre of clerks at your command is that you can feel free to wax poetic -- or rhapsodic, depending upon your nature -- about things that the man on the street wouldn't spend a lot of time debating.

Lowering the Bar, with its usual flair, brings us a recent example from the 9th Circuit. In United States v. Rocha (PDF), the court reversed a federal inmate's conviction for assault with a dangerous weapon. Because it was undisputed that he used nothing but his bare hands in the attack at issue.

Sounds like the right decision. So how could the court have taken nine pages to get from point A to point B? As follows:

Well, we could first discuss our "multi-faceted test for determining whether an object is a dangerous weapon," although the defendant was not holding any objects whatsoever. We could then engage in a lengthy review of cases finding that "objects that have perfectly peaceful purposes may be turned into dangerous weapons and that such use may be punished under the federal assault statute." Those cases all seem to make perfectly good sense, except for an Eighth Circuit decision that sneakers are a "dangerous weapon" if used to kick somebody, which is stupid, but they still don't have anything to do with this case.

We would then regale readers with a review of possibly every case in the United States that has dealt with "whether body parts can constitute dangerous or deadly weapons for purposes of ... assault and battery statutes."

Tongue in cheek though it might be, that description is pretty accurate. It's a long, thorough discussion of an issue that seems to call for nothing more than common sense. To be fair, some of the cases reviewed and cited by the court did manage to conclude that body parts can constitute weapons. Of course, as pointed out by LtB, none of those cases were binding on the 9th Circuit.

LtB did offer up one potential reason for the expansive treatment of a seemingly simple issue:

The opinion was written by Judge Jay Bybee, who along with his former compadre John Yoo has had some trouble in the past with what seemed like common-sense definitions, like whether something qualifies as "torture."

Oh, snap.

Posted by Eric Lipman on March 23, 2010 at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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