Monday, May 9, 2011

Featured Case - Hall - Instructions on Lesser-Included Offense

Douglas Wayne Hall v. Commonwealth, 2009-SC-000244
Opinion of the Court by Chief Justice Minton- Affirming, in part, and reversing and remanding in part.
Schroder, J., concurs in part and dissents in part by separate opinion.

Hall was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, first-degree assault, first-degree burglary, and first-degree robbery.  Hall argued that a strict same-elements test should be used for determining the appropriateness of instructing on a lesser-included offense, and that under such an approach, the jury should not have been instructed on assault as a lesser- included offense of murder. 

The Supreme Court rejected this approach and followed Perry v. Commonwealth.  A strict elements test calls for looking at the elements of a crime rather than looking at the facts set out in a particular case.  For example, if a person is charged with murder, under a strict elements test, assault could not be given as a lesser- included offense because the state of mind for assault is not included in the elements of murder.  However, under the facts of a particular case, a jury could find assault when someone is charged with murder.  The Court concluded that under the facts of this case, the jury could have found assault.  Hall objected to an assault instruction but asked that if one were given, that a facilitation- to- assault instruction also be given.  The Court found that despite Hall’s denials of knowing of his co-defendant’s intent and of providing a gun to his co-defendant, there was evidence to support an instruction on facilitation to assault.  That is, the jury was not obligated to accept Hall’s denial of knowledge of the co-defendant’s intent or his denial of giving the gun to him and could have inferred Hall did have such knowledge but did not intend to promote the assault.

Contributed by Brandon Jewell