Citation. 5 Cal. App. 4th 822, 7 Cal. Rptr. 2d 177, 1992 Cal. App. 525, 92 Cal. Daily Op. Service 3464.
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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.
On March 16, 1991, the Defendant was working at the Empire Liquor Market, one of two convenience stores owned and operated by the Defendant. On that day, the Defendant was working at Empire so that her son could work at the other store owned by the family because her son had recently been threatened by local gang members. The Defendant was waiting on two customers when Harlins entered the store. Harlins proceeded to the section of the store where juice was kept and she selected a bottle of orange juice, put it in her backpack and proceeded to the checkout. Although the orange juice was in Harlins’ backpack, it was partially visible. As Harlins approached the counter with two or three dollars in her hand, the Defendant called her a “bitch” and asked Harlins to pay for the juice. When Harlins responded “what juice?” the Defendant concluded that Harlins was attempting to shoplift. The Defendant began pulling on Harlan’s sweater in an attempt to retrieve the bottle of juice. As a
result, the two women struggled and, eventually, Harlins ended up striking the Defendant twice in the eye with her fist. The Defendant fell to the ground and testified later that Harlins told her that she would be killed. Subsequently, the Defendant picked up a stool from behind the counter and threw it in the direction or Harlins, narrowly missing. After throwing the stool, the Defendant grabbed a .38 caliber revolver. Harlins put the juice back on the counter and proceeded to exit the store. However, as Harlins tried to exit the store, the Defendant shot her in the back of the head, killing her instantly.
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?
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.
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.