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People v. Superior Court (Du)

California Court of Appeal, Second District
7 Cal.Rptr.2d 177 (1992)


Facts

Soon Ja Du, her husband, and her 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 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 toward the door. Meanwhile, Du grabbed a gun from 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. The court sentenced Du to 10 years in prison but suspended the sentence and placed Du on probation. Although Du's use of a firearm to commit the crime rendered her presumptively ineligible for probation, the court found that Du's case was an "unusual case" that overcame the presumption against probation. The district attorney petitioned the Court of Appeals of California for a writ of mandate directing the trial court to sentence Du to imprisonment, arguing that the trial court's grant of probation was an abuse of the court's discretion.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Ashby, J.)

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