Saturday, March 13, 2010

Supreme Court Update (Mar. 12, 2010)

State v. Bunch. Trial court error, in 1st degree murder case, on instructing jury on felony murder theory was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. In Neder v. US (1999), Supreme Court uses harmless error analysis for determining if court's omission of elements during charge to the jury.

The Court, while instructing the jury on felony murder, appears to have accidentally left out two paragraphs of the pattern instruction, failing to instruct that they must find that, while committing burglary or robbery, the defendant killed the victim and this was the proximate cause. This error was harmless as there was overwhelming evidence of this and an earlier, briefer instruction did include a finding necessary that a killing occurred.

Justice Edmunds dissented.

State v. Giddens. Per curiam affirmance of Court of Appeals decision. Blog post on COA decision here.

State v. Jacobs. First degree murder conviction, under felony murder theory that defendant killed the victim while robbing him (jury rejected p&d).

Trial court sustained state objections to defendant putting on evidence of the victims prior armed robbery convictions, the victim's reputation for carrying a firearm, and defendant's belief that victim had previously shot people. Defendant's theory of the case was self-defense. For some of these objection, because there was no adequate offer of proof at trial of the significance of the excluded evidence, the issue is not properly preserved. For others, the court found that it was irrelevant because the jury did not find premeditation and deliberation, only felony murder--and these facts would not be relevant to finding whether the victim was killed in the course of a robbery (cannot plead self-defense to a robbery). For others (such as victim's prior convictions), the court found that this was error, but it was harmless.

For post on lower court decision, see here.

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