Brief Fact Summary. This appeal follows the conviction of the Defendant, Soon Ja Du (Defendant), upon the charge of voluntary manslaughter following the death of Latasha Harlins (Harlins). The events giving rise to the Defendant’s conviction occurred after an altercation between the Defendant, an owner of a convenience store, and Harlins, a fifteen year old patron of the convenience store whom the Defendant thought was shoplifting.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Any self-defense claim will be heavily scrutinized and only applied in limited situations.
If the court finds the case to be unusual, it must then decide whether to grant probation, utilizing the statutory criteria set forth in California Rules of Court, rule 4.414.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Should the Defendant be convicted on the charge of voluntary manslaughter despite her allegation that she acted in self-defense? Furthermore, if convicted, should the Defendant be given probation or sentenced to state prison?
Held. The jury found the Defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter and rejected the Defendant’s defenses that the killing was unintentional and that the Defendant killed in self-defense. After the Defendant’s conviction, the case was referred to a Los Angeles County Probation Officer, who prepared a pre-sentence probation report. The probation officer’s ultimate conclusion and recommendation was that probation be denied and the Defendant be sentenced to state prison.
Discussion. Much of the decision focuses on the probation report compiled by the Los Angeles Probation Officer. In that report, the officer detailed the fact that the Defendant and her family had moved from Korea and, eventually, purchased the Empire store despite being told that it was in a “bad area.” Furthermore, the report stated that the Defendant’s family often had problems with harassment from gang members, including an incident in 1990 when gang members robbed their son at the store. Alternatively, the probation report revealed that Harlins had experienced an unusually hard life, including the violent death of her mother. The probation report concluded that, although the Defendant would most likely not repeat this crime in the future, she expressed very little remorse for the victim and her family. The recommendation that the Defendant be sentenced to prison rather than probation seemingly revolved around her lack of sympathy for the victim.