Where a defendant acknowledged touching his co-worker’s shoulders during a dispute, and the co-worker and other witnesses testified that the contact was intended to prevent the co-worker from leaving the room, the defendant’s self-serving testimony that the contact was minimal and not intended to be offensive was insufficient to create reasonable doubt over his guilt of the crime of simple assault.
The defendant, Dr. Stephen L. Jaffe, is a staff neurologist at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in Richmond, and a clinical professor of neurology at the VCU School of Medicine. Dr. Serendipity Rinonos is a neurology resident at the university who was assigned to the medical center as part of her neurology rotation.
On May 3, 2018, a dispute arose between Jaffe and Rinonos over whether Jaffe should wear gloves while administering a trigger point injection to a patient in an examination room at the medical center. Jaffe claimed the glovers were unnecessary and affected the precision of his hands and, therefore, steadfastly refused to wear them. Rinonos inquired about his glove size and offered to obtain better fitting gloves. As she moved toward the door, Jaffe instructed her not to go and grabbed her by the shoulders with both hands. Jaffe acknowledges the contact, but claims it was minimal and was only intended to stabilize the situation.
These events were observed by a licensed practical nurse, Linda Beatty. The patient, Connie Rhem, overheard Jaffe tell Rinonos not to leave the room, but he was not in a position to observe the actual physical altercation because, at the time, he was lying on his back facing away from the door.
Later that day, Rinonos met with officer Albert Harris, an investigator at the medical center. Although Harris claims that Rinonos characterized Jaffe’s contact with her as a bear hug, Rinonos denies having described her contact in such a manner.
Jaffe was convicted of simple assault after a bench trial before a magistrate judge. Jaffe now appeals, claiming the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction.
Under Virginia law, simple assault requires an intentional offensive touching. Under the common law, however, simple assault does not require an intent to injure. In interpreting the federal law prohibiting simple assault, the magistrate judge essentially applied Virginia law, as requested by Jaffe, and held that the government was required to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally touched Rinonos in an offensive matter.
Our review is thus limited to the question of whether, taking the view most favorable to the government, there is substantial evidence to support the verdict. Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable finder of fact could accept as adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In this case, the magistrate judge noted that the evidence presented a battle of credibility and concluded that the government’s witnesses were more credible than the defendant’s testimony. Specifically, he found that Beatty, Rhem and Rinonos, were persuasively credible while Jaffe’s testimony was self-serving and directly in conflict of these credible witnesses. Mindful of the fact that the magistrate judge was in a better position than we are to make such credibility determinations, we find that there was substantial evidence to support the guilty verdict.
United States v. Jaffe, Case No. 3:18-cr-142, Feb. 12, 2019. EDVA at Richmond (Hudson). VLW 019-3-067. 7 pp.