Hobbs v. State

Citation251 P.3d 177,127 Nev. Adv. Op. 18
Decision Date19 May 2011
Docket NumberNo. 54933.,54933.
PartiesTimothy Lee HOBBS, Appellant,v.The STATE of Nevada, Respondent.
CourtSupreme Court of Nevada

251 P.3d 177
127 Nev.
Adv. Op. 18

Timothy Lee HOBBS, Appellant,
The STATE of Nevada, Respondent.

No. 54933.

Supreme Court of Nevada.

May 19, 2011.

[251 P.3d 178]

Gibson & Kuehn, LLP, and Harold Kuehn, Pahrump, for Appellant.Catherine Cortez Masto, Attorney General, Carson City; Brian Kunzi, District Attorney, and Wesley S. White, Deputy District Attorney, Nye County, for Respondent.Before CHERRY, SAITTA and GIBBONS, JJ.

By the Court, SAITTA, J.:

In this appeal, we consider two primary issues. We first address whether spitting on another constitutes a battery under NRS 200.481. We hold that it does. Next, we consider whether the State sufficiently established the requisite prior domestic battery misdemeanor convictions to enhance appellant Timothy Lee Hobbs' current offense to a felony. We hold that it did not. We therefore affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of conviction, and we remand to the district court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Patricia McClain was at a nail salon having her nails done when Hobbs, her ex-boyfriend, entered and became angry. He was upset that she was spending money to have her nails done. After a relatively short public argument between the two, Hobbs briefly left the salon, only to return a short time later. Hobbs again became angry with McClain for having her nails done. He then spit in her face. She immediately broke down into tears, feeling embarrassed and humiliated. Hobbs then left the salon and subsequently returned with a rock in his hand, approached McClain's vehicle, and threw the rock through the vehicle's windshield.

Respondent State of Nevada charged Hobbs by criminal complaint with domestic battery, injury to other property, and a habitual criminal enhancement. In particular, the complaint alleged that because Hobbs had two prior domestic battery misdemeanor convictions, the State would seek to elevate the current offense to a felony under NRS 200.485, Nevada's domestic battery statute, if it obtained a conviction. The complaint also alleged that the State would seek a habitual criminal enhancement under NRS 207.010, Nevada's habitual criminal statute, due to Hobbs' prior felony convictions. A preliminary hearing was held in justice court, at which time the State offered Hobbs' two prior domestic battery convictions into evidence. Hobbs stipulated to their admission. He was then bound over on the charges, and a criminal information was filed in the district court. The evidence from the preliminary hearing—specifically, the certified copies of the two prior domestic battery misdemeanor convictions—was transferred to the district court.

Subsequently, Hobbs filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which was opposed by the State, arguing that spitting did not constitute the use of force or violence required for a battery under NRS 200.481. The district court held a hearing on the matter, found that spitting did amount to the use of force or violence as contemplated by NRS 200.481, and dismissed the petition. The case then proceeded to trial, where the jury found Hobbs guilty of domestic battery and injury to other property.

At sentencing, the State sought to sentence Hobbs as a habitual felon and offered the presentence investigation report (PSI) and six certified copies of Hobbs' prior felony convictions in support. The district court inquired whether there were any errors of a factual nature in the PSI, which described the two prior domestic battery misdemeanor convictions. Hobbs' counsel responded in the negative. Notably, although the State submitted evidence of Hobbs' prior felony convictions, it did not, at the sentencing hearing,

[251 P.3d 179]

present any evidence of or mention Hobbs' prior domestic battery misdemeanor convictions, nor did it attempt to demonstrate the constitutional validity of those convictions. The district court also did not indicate that it had reviewed the certified prior convictions that were transmitted from the justice court or that it had determined that they were constitutionally valid. Ultimately, the district court enhanced Hobbs' current domestic battery conviction to a felony and determined that he should be sentenced as a habitual criminal, sentencing him to 10 to 25 years in prison for domestic battery and 1 year for injury to other property, both sentences to run concurrently. Hobbs now appeals.

Spitting on another constitutes the “use of force or violence” required for a battery under NRS 200.481

Hobbs argues that the act of spitting on another does not amount to a battery. In particular, he asserts that spitting does not constitute the “use of force or violence” required for a battery under NRS 200.481 1 and contends, based on the cases he relies on, that a battery must be violent or result in physical harm or pain. Hobbs' argument presents us with an issue of first impression, as we have not previously addressed this question or the scope and meaning of the phrase “use of force or violence” in NRS 200.481.

Statutory interpretation is an issue of law subject to de novo review. Firestone v. State, 120 Nev. 13, 16, 83 P.3d 279, 281 (2004). Our objective in construing a statute is to give effect to the Legislature's intent. State v. Catanio, 120 Nev. 1030, 1033, 102 P.3d 588, 590 (2004). Traditional rules of statutory interpretation are employed to accomplish that result. Id. Our initial inquiry focuses on the language of the statute, and we avoid statutory interpretation that renders language meaningless or superfluous. Butler v. State, 120 Nev. 879, 892–93, 102 P.3d 71, 81 (2004). If the statute's language is clear and unambiguous, we enforce the statute as written. Sheriff v. Witzenburg, 122 Nev. 1056, 1061, 145 P.3d 1002, 1005 (2006). Only when the statute is ambiguous, meaning that it is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation, do we “look beyond the language [of the statute] to consider its meaning in light of its spirit, subject matter, and public policy.” Butler, 120 Nev. at 893, 102 P.3d at 81.

The statutory definition of battery is “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” NRS 200.481(1)(a). At first blush, NRS 200.481 might appear to include physical harm or pain as an element of the offense of battery, given that it requires the use of force or violence. The presence or absence of “substantial bodily harm” does affect punishment (NRS 200.481(2)(a)-(g)); however, it is not included as an element of simple battery. See NRS 200.481(1)(a). Instead, Nevada's battery statute requires the “use of force or violence.” Id. A common definition of “force” is “[p]ower, violence, or pressure directed against a person or thing.” Black's Law Dictionary 717 (9th ed. 2009). Thus, the language of NRS 200.481 indicates that nonharmful and nonviolent force suffices, given the Legislature's use of the phrase “force or violence”; otherwise, the use of the word “or” is rendered meaningless. NRS 200.481(1)(a) (emphasis added). In sum, under NRS 200.481, the “willful and unlawful use of ... force ... upon the person of another” amounts to criminal battery; that force need not be violent or severe and need not cause bodily pain or bodily harm. Our construction comports with the common law definition of battery. 2 Charles E. Torcia, Wharton's Criminal Law § 177, at 414–15 (15th ed. 1994) (“At common law, the contact need not result in physical harm or pain; it is enough that the contact be offensive.”).

Moreover, California's caselaw interpreting its battery statute, California Penal Code section 242, supports our interpretation. In 1925, when the Nevada Legislature adopted

[251 P.3d 180]

the current definition of battery, it replicated California's battery statute, which remains the same...

To continue reading

Request your trial
73 cases
  • Ibarra v. State, 69617
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Nevada
    • November 8, 2016
    ...new variation of the phrase for this case. 11. We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo. Hobbs v. State, 127 Nev. 234, 237, 251 P.3d 177, 179 (2011). In interpreting a statute, we begin with its plain meaning and consider the statute as a whole, awarding meaning to each word,......
  • Moultrie v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Nevada
    • December 24, 2015
    ...purposes, and not as part of the underlying charge. Moultrie is also misguided in relying on Hobbs v. State, 127 Nev. 234, 241, 251 P.3d 177, 181–82 (2011), where the State presented evidence of the prior convictions at the preliminary examination but failed to present the evidence at sente......
  • Byars v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Nevada
    • October 16, 2014
    ...battery broadly to be “the intentional and unwanted exertion of force upon another, however slight. ” Hobbs v. State, 127 Nev. ––––, ––––, 251 P.3d 177, 179–80 (2011) (emphasis added). California has further clarified that battery is a general intent crime. People v. Lara, 44 Cal.App.4th 10......
  • Gonzales v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Nevada
    • October 1, 2020
    ...is a matter of statutory interpretation, which, as a question of law, is subject to de novo review. See Hobbs v. State, 127 Nev. 234, 237, 251 P.3d 177, 179 (2011). Statutory interpretation begins with the plain language of the statute in question. State v. Lucero , 127 Nev. 92, 95, 249 P.3......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT