One of the most critical phases of a trial is providing instructions to the jury before deliberation. There are form jury instructions that the judge can use, but the parties are also allowed to offer suggested jury instructions. The type of instructions that the jury receives can have a serious impact on the ultimate verdict that they return. Additionally, if you believe an error was made during jury instructions, it is critical that you object to it on the record so that you can later appeal the matter. At Tilem & Associates, our team of New York criminal defense lawyers has guided numerous clients through the jury instruction phase.
A recent New York appellate opinion discusses alleged errors in jury instructions. The defendant was charged with a number of crimes, including coercion involving his ex-girlfriend. The defendant was accused of making physical threats against the former girlfriend and threatening to ruin a business that she operated after the girlfriend asked the defendant to move out of her apartment. The defendant allegedly made these threats in an attempt to stay at the apartment. The defendant was on parole at the time he made these threats, so the girlfriend reported the threatening conduct to his parole officer. The parole officer then had the defendant arrested. Evidence at trial suggested that the defendant continued to make threats against his ex-girlfriend while he was in prison.
During trial, the defendant asked the judge to instruct the jury on coercion in the second degree as a lesser-included offense of coercion in the first degree. In making this request, the defendant asserted that his conduct did not rise to the level of heinousness contemplated by coercion in the first degree. The trial court denied his request. At the close of trial, the jury returned a verdict convicting the defendant of coercion in the first degree on two counts. The defendant appealed.