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Assault on a Postal Employee: When is a Stun Gun not a Deadly Weapon?

  • September 7, 2012

ASSAULT ON A POSTAL EMPLOYEE, 18 U.S.C. §§ 111(A)(1) AND 111(B), PLEAD TO A MISDEMEANOR AND PROBATION.

On September 30, 2005, CJI was arrested on State charges which were subsequently dropped. The United States Attorney “picked up” the charge by obtaining an indictment for assault on a federal employee, to-wit: a postal worker.

Federal prosecutors maintained that CJI had a personal grudge against a contract worker for the post office. The government asserted that CJI ran up to the postal worker’s car and, without cause, began to use a stun gun on the postal worker. Federal prosecutors maintained that the stun gun constituted a deadly weapon.

Following her initial arrest, CJI retained Jeffrey H. Garland. Attorney Garland, in turn, retained Brad Perron, a staff investigator with Investigative Support Specialist, Inc., to assist in the defense. The defense investigation would establish that the circumstances were highly unusual.

Initially, it was established that CJI and her fiancé were very good friends with a couple across the street. The postal worker was very good friends with the same couple.

CJI and her fiancé had been in the wedding party for this couple when they were married. There was, unfortunately, a “falling out” with both the couple across the street and the postal worker. This falling out caused certain activities and recrimination among CJI, her fiancé and the couple across the street.

CJI noticed that she was not receiving mail properly. She filed a complaint with the local post office. It happened that the postal worker, who was good friends with the couple across the street and also attended their wedding, was the primary person responsible for delivering mail. The evidence disclosed that the postal worker had left threatening messages on CJI’s telephone. In addition, the postal worker had made very unusual comments to the mother of CJI’s fiancé. All of these factors suggested that there may have been “hard feelings” between the postal worker and CJI.

On September 30, 2005, CJI maintained that she was lawfully driving her car, when the postal worker began using her own car in a provocative and threatening manner. Due to these circumstances, CJI drove into a shopping center parking lot where she knew that the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office maintained a substation. Unfortunately, the substation was closed at the time of the incident.

The postal worker would later give police a statement that she was on her lunch break, and that she was in route to a restaurant at the shopping center which just happened to be very close to the Sheriff’s substation. The postal worker denied following CJI’s car or threatening her in any fashion.

The defense investigation obtained from the post office information pertaining to postal routes and regulations. The defense established that a postal worker is required to follow a prescribed route and not deviate from it without good cause. Deviations are to be approved by a superior.

In this case, the postal worker had obtained approval from her superior to have lunch before the incident in question. The superior had given permission to the postal worker to have lunch at a location some six miles from the place of the alleged assault.

Federal investigators had spoken with other people who had shared lunch with the postal worker on the day in question. These statements confirmed that the postal worker had already had lunch before the incident in question. The postal worker’s route did not take her to the shopping center at the time she was there. These circumstances contradicted the postal worker’s “story”.

In this case, it was noteworthy that the postal worker was driving a personal vehicle. CJI maintained that, during the incident, there was no indication that the postal worker was performing official government functions. The postal worker was not dressed in any type of clothing which would be indicative of postal employment, nor did her vehicle have any markings on it to indicate postal-related activities.

The postal worker admitted that she was wearing no clothing which would indicate that she was working for the post office. However, she claimed that there was a magnetic sign on the side of her car, and that she had boxes of mail in the front seat.

The seriousness of the case was greatly amplified by the use of a stun gun. Federal prosecutors maintained that such a stun gun would constitute a deadly or dangerous device causing a statutory enhancement.

The defense retained an electrical engineer, Peter Szabo, to assist in evaluating the stun gun. By agreement, Mr. Szabo was allowed to examine and test the stun gun which had been seized by law enforcement. Mr. Szabo would later conclude that the device was incapable of directly causing serious bodily injury. Mr. Szabo explained that the injury potential of this type of electronic defense device is related to several factors. Such factors include amperage, voltage, and means of administration. The particular stun gun in this case was used by placing the two contacts onto a person’s body.

Mr. Szabo explained that the contacts would primarily affect only the surface of the skin, if it came in contact with the skin. If the skin was covered by thick clothing, the clothing may act to insulate the discharge. The area to be affected by the electrical discharge was related to the distance between the two electrodes. Since the electrodes were quite close together on this device, Mr. Szabo concluded that the device would effect primarily the skin and underlying muscle of the area immediately beneath the point of contact. In most circumstances, the effect of the stun gun would be minimal and not last very long. It would be highly unlikely that such a device would actually stop a person or prevent the person from committing a crime. In extreme circumstances, the stun gun might interfere with a pacemaker or a secondary effect might cause the loss of control of a car or equipment or cause an individual to fall and hurt themselves. The secondary effects would have to be separated from the stun gun’s primary effects which would be minimal in most uses.

The government listed as its expert Eric S. Aronowitz. Mr. Aronowitz was a highly qualified firearms instructor. His CV also showed extensive experience in taser training and unspecified “defense technologies”. The taser is an essentially different type of electronic device than the stun gun. A taser shoots a pair of hook-type electrical contacts. Small wires connect the hook-type contacts with the device. The hook-type contacts penetrate the skin of a person and have much greater results. A taser has the capability of stopping most people in their tracks. In some instances, taser use has been associated with serious personal injury and even death.

The skin has a great deal of resistance to electrical current. The stun gun must first overcome the skin’s resistance in order to have an effect.

The taser, in contrast, penetrates the skin via the hook-type contacts. The taser does not have to overcome skin resistance.

The contacts on a stun gun are at a fixed distance, in the neighborhood of 2-4 inches. By contrast the taser’s hook-type contacts can be several feet apart. The distance between contacts is another major factor contributing to the effectiveness of the electrical jolt. The tser’s jolt affects the entire area between the hook-type contacts.

Federal prosecutors maintained that there would be no right to self-defense against a federal agent acting in the course of his or her duties. Attorney Garland maintained that the authority relied on by federal prosecutors pertained to law enforcement/customs agents/border agents performing police-related activities. Attorney Garland argued that a series of United States Supreme Court decisions establish the right to self-defense when the federal officer is not engaged in the lawful performance of duties: Gourko v. United States, 153 US 183 (1894); Starr v. United States, 153 US 614 (1894); Thompson v. United States, 155 US 271 (1894); Beard v. United States, 158 US 550 (1895); Wallace v. United States, 162 US 466 (1896); Allen v. United States, 150 US 551 (1893); and Rowe v. United States, 164 US 546 (1896). See generally The Self-Defense Cases: How the United States Supreme Court Confronted a Hanging Judge in the 19th Century and Taught Some Lessons for Jurisprudence in the 21st, www.davekopel.com/2A/LawRev/Self.Defense-Cases.htm.

In light of these circumstances, the defendant and the government agreed that the case should be plead to “minor assault”, a misdemeanor. CJI subsequently received a 2-year term of probation. US v. CJI, 05-XXXXX-CR (Martinez) Grahm, Southern District of Fl

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