Thursday, December 6, 2018
C.A. Overturns Man’s Assault Convictions, Extolls 64-Year-Old Williamson Rule
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal has reversed the conviction of a man on two counts of assault with a deadly weapon based on shining a laser into a police helicopter cockpit because the conduct is the subject of a specific statute.
Acting Presiding Justice William W. Bedsworth delivered Div. Three’s opinion Tuesday, applying and praising a rule derived from the 1954 Supreme Court case In re Williamson.
Bedsworth explained that the rule “provides that a special criminal statute is considered an exception to a general statute with which it conflicts.”
“We publish to underscore the continued vitality and adaptability of the venerable Williamson rule, which we believe has aged well.”
The defendant, Mengyan Sun of Irvine, shined a laser at a police helicopter above his house at night. The two pilots tracked the light’s source and arrested Sun, who was charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a peace officer and six counts of violating Penal Code §247.5, which makes guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony “Any person who willfully and maliciously discharges a laser at an aircraft, whether in motion or in flight, while occupied….”
Orange Superior Court Judge Lance Jensen dismissed the assault on a peace officer counts, finding a lack of evidence that Sun had known his target was a police aircraft. He denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss based on Williamson.
Sun’s subsequent plea bargain resulted in three years’ probation. He waived his right to appeal on any basis other than the violation of the Williamson rule.
Two Williamson Tests
Bedsworth noted that the Williamson rule where the specific statute will “necessarily” result in a violation of a general one, or if it will “commonly” do so.
He agreed with the prosecution that a violation of §247.5 is not necessarily an assault with a deadly weapon, in violation of Penal Code §245—but, he said, “a violation of section 247.5 will commonly result in a violation of section 245.”
The jurist continued:
“The record shows appellant violated section 247.5 by discharging a laser into the cockpit of an airborne helicopter in the middle of the night. Due to the obvious and foreseeable danger of such conduct, it would commonly constitute an assault with a deadly weapon within the meaning of section 245. Therefore, appellant should not have been prosecuted under that section.”
The case is People v. Sun, 2018 S.O.S. 5777.
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