Superior Court, Los Angeles County
No. BA037738 (1991)
Soon Ja Du, her husband, and son operated a liquor store in Los Angeles. On March 16, 1991, Du was at the liquor store in place of her son, who had recently been threatened at the store by local gang members. One customer, a 15-year-old girl named Latasha Harlins, selected a bottle of orange juice in the back of the store. She placed the bottle in her backpack and approached the counter, from where Du had been observing Harlins. Believing that Harlins meant to pay for a cheaper item and steal the orange juice, Du accused Harlins of shoplifting. A fight ensued, during which Harlins hit Du twice in the eye. Du attempted to throw a stool at Harlins but missed. After throwing the stool, Harlins placed the orange juice on the counter and walked towards the door. Meanwhile, Du grabbed a gun behind the counter and shot Harlins in the back of the head, killing her. Du was subsequently tried for voluntary manslaughter. At trial, Du’s husband testified that he had acquired the gun for self-protection but had never taught Du how to use it. A ballistics expert revealed that, without the Du family’s knowledge, Du’s gun had been modified in a way that made the trigger much more sensitive and easier to set off than usual. Du testified that she did not remember shooting the gun, and that the killing was unintentional and in self-defense. The jury found Du guilty. After trial, but before sentencing, a probation officer noted that Du was unlikely to commit a crime again in the future and that she was not a violent person. At sentencing, the judge imposed a prison term of ten years as punishment, but then reduced the sentence to probation.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Karlin, J.)
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