Thursday, April 14, 2016

State v. Randle

Opinion handed down August 4, 2015
        After a conviction of second-degree assault, Anwar Randle appealed on the grounds that it was error not to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of third-degree assault.[1]  The Supreme Court of Missouri held that the circuit court erred in this respect and vacated the judgment.[2]

I.  Facts and Holding
        Things escalated quickly for Anwar Randle in November 2009.[3]  At that time, Randle and two other men broke into a home that was occupied by Cameron Bass and Kena Coleman.[4]  Randle had been in a relationship with Coleman.[5]  Randle entered the home armed with a bottle of vodka.[6]  After chasing Bass through the house, Randle smashed the bottle of vodka over Bass’s head repeatedly until the bottle shattered.[7]
        In the resulting criminal case against Randle, the State charged Randle with first-degree burglary, first-degree assault, and two counts of armed criminal action.[8]  The present case focuses on the jury instructions for the assault charge.  During the trial, the court gave a jury instruction for second-degree assault, stating that the jury could find Randle guilty of second-degree assault if they believed the State proved Randle “knowingly” caused injury to Bass, beyond a reasonable doubt.[9] The trial court rejected Randle’s request to include an instruction on the lesser-included offense of third-degree assault.[10]
        Randle was ultimately convicted of trespass, second-degree assault, and armed criminal action.[11]  Randle appeals on the ground that the trial court erred in its refusal to include a jury instruction on the lesser-included offense of third-degree assault.[12]
II.  Legal Background
        Under Missouri law, a trial court must “instruct the jury with respect to a particular included offense only if there is a basis in the evidence for acquitting the defendant of the immediately higher included offense and there is a basis in the evidence for convicting the defendant of that particular included offense.”[13]  In 2014, the Supreme Court of Missouri held there is almost always a “basis in evidence for acquitting” because a jury is free to disbelieve all, or none, of the evidence presented to it.[14]
        A “basis in evidence for convicting” includes situations where lesser-included offenses are separated from the greater offense by one element for which the state bears the burden of proof.[15] These types of lesser-included offenses are referred to as “nested,” in that the “nested” lesser-included offense contains a subset of the elements of the greater offense.[16]  Because of this relationship, it is impossible to commit the greater offense without committing the “nested” offense.[17]  When a “nested” offense exists within a charge, a defendant is entitled to request and receive an instruction on the “nested” offense.[18]
        Second-degree assault is defined as “knowingly” causing physical injury to another person.[19]  Third-degree assault is defined as “recklessly” causing physical injury to another person.[20]  Under Missouri law, if a person acts “knowingly,” a culpable mental state of “recklessness” has also been established.[21]
III.  Instant Decision
        The question of law presented in this appeal was whether a “basis in evidence for convicting” Randle of the lesser-included offense of third-degree assault existed.[22]  Both Randle and the State agreed that the first prong of the analysis was satisfied in that there was indeed a “basis in evidence for acquitting” Randle because the jury could have chosen to disbelieve all of the State’s evidence.[23]
        The State argued that different mental states constitute different elements for purposes of determining “nested” lesser-included offenses, but the court disagreed.[24]  Randle was convicted of second-degree assault, which required a finding that he “knowingly” caused an injury when he smashed the vodka bottle over Bass’s head.[25]  Third-degree assault requires that Randle caused the physical injury “recklessly.”  Under Missouri Revised Statutes Section 562.021.4, a finding of “knowingly” necessarily establishes a finding of “recklessness.”[26]  If there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find Randle acted “knowingly” in committing second-degree assault, then there was also necessarily a “basis in evidence for convicting” Randle of the “nested” charge of third-degree assault.[27] 
        Therefore, Randle was entitled to a jury instruction on the “nested” lesser-included offense of third-degree assault.[28]  The judgment was vacated, Randle’s convictions were vacated, and the case was remanded.[29]
IV.  Comment
        A big takeaway from Randle is that the Supreme Court of Missouri did not accept the State’s argument that different levels of culpability did not constitute different elements of the charges.  Because of this, one can imagine that Randle will not be limited in its holding only to assault cases.  One would expect that any criminal statutes that have charges broken down into various degrees on the basis of culpable mental states are now subject to requiring instruction on the “nested” lesser-included offenses at the defendant's request.
         What this case does not do is require courts to give “nested” instructions sua sponte.  Randle was only entitled to his instruction on the lesser-included offense because he requested it in a timely manner.  This appears to be an advantage for defendants in that they will be able to make the strategic decision of whether or not to ask for these lesser-included instructions.
– Travis Braun

[1] State v. Randle, 465 S.W.3d 477, 478 (Mo. 2015) (en banc).
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id. at 479; third-degree assault requires a jury determination that Randle injured Bass recklessly.” Id.
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Id. (citing Mo. Rev. Stat. § 556.046.3 (Cum. Supp. 2013)).
[14] Id. (citing State v. Jackson, 433 S.W.3d 390, 399 (Mo. 2014) (en banc)).
[15] Randle, 465 S.W.3d at 479.
[16] Id.
[17] Id. (citing Jackson, 433 S.W.3d at 404).
[18] Id. (citing Jackson, 433 S.W.3d at 401-02).
[19] Id. (citing Mo. Rev. Stat. § 565.060 (Cum. Supp. 2013)).
[20] Id. (citing Mo. Rev. Stat. § 565.070 (Cum. Supp. 2013)).
[21] Id. (citing Mo. Rev. Stat. § 562.021.4 (Cum. Supp. 2013)).
[22] Id. 
[23] Id.
[24] Id.
[25] Id. at 480.
[26] Id.
[27] Id.
[28] Id.
[29] Id.