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Fidel Quintanilla v. United States

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS


March 21, 2013

FIDEL QUINTANILLA, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF3-23718-10) (Hon. Florence Y. Pan, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ferren, Senior Judge:

Argued February 5, 2013

Before FISHER and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and FERREN, Senior Judge.

After a jury trial, appellant was convicted of several crimes attributable to a robbery at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and K Street, N.W.*fn1 He appeals only from his conviction for felony assault.*fn2 During the robbery, the victim, Caroline Roth, suffered injuries to her head and hand. It is the extent of those injuries that provides the basis for appellant‟s "sufficiency of the evidence" claim on appeal: that Roth did not suffer a "significant bodily injury," a prerequisite to conviction under the felony assault statute. We agree with appellant that Roth‟s injuries were not "significant," as that term is defined under the statute and our case law. We, therefore, reverse appellant‟s conviction for felony assault and, in lieu thereof, remand for entry of a conviction for simple assault.

I.

Roth explained that after the robbery her head was "throbbing," "sore" and "very tender to the touch." She stated that she had swelling from "my right eye to [] behind my right ear." The throbbing lasted for "a week and a half." Roth‟s hand was also injured, and some of her fingers "stayed swollen for about three weeks." The injury to her index finger lasted the longest -- it was "almost unusable for about two months" and "was in a lot of pain." Roth also reported "some bruising on my legs."

On the night of the robbery, after the police arrived at Roth‟s location, "an ambulance arrived as well." Roth explained that she was examined by "some EMTs on board" who took her into the ambulance. They "checked me out" and "took pictures of my head where I told them I had been hit." Roth also testified that the EMTs provided "some cold compresses for my head and hand" but did not offer medication. They also checked for a concussion but Roth stated that they told her she was "fine"; they "didn‟t think I had a concussion." Roth was worried that her "finger was broken," but the EMTs told her "it probably wasn‟t." Because she lacked health insurance, Roth declined transportation to the hospital; she "didn‟t know how serious the injuries would be" but "figured I could take care of myself and there was no need for the expense." (Roth added that, if she had been insured at the time, she "probably" would have gone to the hospital.) Roth testified that she and the EMTs then "just kind of hung out there," while she got herself "under control." She never sought further treatment for her fingers and "just kept icing them." She never took any medication, other than aspirin, for her injuries.

II.

"In reviewing appellants‟ claims, we must view all the evidence in the light most favorable to the government and give deference to the right of the jury to weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of the witnesses, and draw all justifiable inferences of fact, making no distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence."*fn3 In order to affirm an appellant‟s convictions, "[t]he evidence must support an inference, rather than mere speculation, as to each element of an offense."*fn4 However, we will reverse if "no evidence" has been "produced from which guilt may reasonably be inferred."*fn5

The District‟s felony assault statute*fn6 punishes, by up to three years in prison and a $3,000 fine, anyone who "unlawfully assaults, or threatens another in a menacing manner, and intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes significant bodily injury to another." The statute explains that "the term "significant bodily injury‟ means an injury that requires hospitalization or immediate medical attention.

This statute was enacted to "fill the gap between aggravated assault and simple assault,"*fn7 the latter being a misdemeanor that does not require physical injury*fn8 while the former is a felony, punishable by ten years in prison for causing "serious bodily injury"*fn9 -- an injury we have called "far more serious . . . than assault with significant bodily injury" under the felony assault statute.*fn10 According to the D.C. Council‟s committee report explaining the bill for felony assault, the legislative intent was "to provide a penalty for assault that results in "significant (but not grave) bodily injury.‟"*fn11 In expressing his own understanding of the need for the proposed intermediate assault statute, the District‟s Attorney General cited victims who have been "seriously beaten, sometimes leaving the victim with black eyes, lacerations, broken bones, or serious bruising all over the body."*fn12

This court has decided one case interpreting "significant bodily injury" in the felony assault statute. In R.S.,*fn13 we surveyed the legislative history and explained that "the threshold for significant bodily injury is markedly less severe than that required for aggravated assault."*fn14 We concluded that bodily injury will be "significant," within the meaning of the statute, whenever "the nature of the injury itself" would lead to "the practical need in the ordinary course of events for prompt medical attention."*fn15 The fact that an injured party immediately goes to a hospital or seeks other medical attention is not, in itself, determinative; nor is a decision not to do so.*fn16 The inquiry, therefore, is not whether the injuries were, or were not, cared for, but, rather, whether a reasonable juror could find that the injuries were of a "nature" that objectively -- "in the ordinary course of events" -- would, in the words of the statute, "require[] hospitalization or immediate medical attention."*fn17

So what kind of injury requires "hospitalization or immediate medical attention" -- the defining words for a bodily injury that is "significant"? Adopting a formulation crafted initially by Judge Byrd of the Superior Court in an earlier case, this court held in R.S. that "medical attention" means the "treatment" that is "necessary to preserve the health and well-being of the individual, e.g.,to prevent long-term physical damage, possible disability, disfigurement, or severe pain."*fn18

Thus, the "attention" required -- "treatment" -- is not satisfied by mere diagnosis; and treatment, to be "medical," must be aimed at preventing "long-term physical damage" and other potentially permanent injuries -- or at least to abating pain that is "severe." Treatment is not "medical," therefore, if applied to lesser, short-term hurts. And we may infer, accordingly, that everyday remedies such as ice packs, bandages, and self-administered over-the-counter medications, are not sufficiently "medical" to qualify under the statute, whether administered by a medical professional or with self-help. Treatment of a higher order, requiring true "medical" expertise, is required.

In sum, our understanding of injuries that "require[] hospitalization or immediate medical attention" -- meaning "significant bodily injuries" -- excludes those which, although seeminglysignificant enough to invite medical assistance, do not actually "require" it, meaning the victim would not suffer additional harm by failing to receive professional diagnosis and treatment.

III.

After applying the objective test from R.S. ("in the ordinary course of events") and the definitional language we have adopted from R.P. ("treatment . . . necessary to . . . prevent long-term physical damage, possible disability, disfigurement, or severe pain"),we must conclude that a reasonable jury could not have found that Roth‟s bodily injuries were "significant." First, no medical treatment was provided in this case, only cold compresses; and Roth reported no long-term effects beyond "a week and a half" of headaches, swollen fingers "for about three weeks," and two months of an "almost unusable" index finger.*fn19 The "attention" Roth received from the EMTs, therefore, was not "require[d]" to preserve her health.

Second, Roth‟s subjective opinion that she was capable of treating her injuries without further attention from medical personnel may not indicate that, objectively, medical attention was not required -- especially because her decision not to seek further examination of her injuries was motivated, to an appreciable extent, by her lack of medical insurance. On the other hand, Roth‟s opinion about her injuries was corroborated, to a meaningful extent, by her testimony repeating the statements of the EMTs, who told her that she probably did not have a concussion or a broken finger.

In this case, the evidence, objectively viewed, revealed that Roth received no medical attention, as properly defined, and suffered no long-term consequences as "significant" bodily injury requires. The jury, therefore, as a matter of law, could not have found appellant guilty of felony assault, and the trial court erred in submitting that offense to the jury rather than limiting the jury‟s consideration to the lesser included offense of single assault. Accordingly, appellant‟s conviction for felony assault must be reversed for insufficient evidence. Because the evidence suffices for conviction of simple assault,*fn20 however, as counsel for appellant acknowledged at oral argument, we remand for entry of conviction, including sentencing, for that offense.

So ordered.


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