People v. Black.
2020 COA 136. No. 17CA0317. Criminal Procedure—Jury Deliberations—Impasse—Jury Instructions.
September 17, 2020
While being be arrested for DUI, defendant resisted arrest and scratched a police officer’s forearm with her fingernails. Defendant was charged with second degree assault on a peace officer, DUI, and two counts of resisting arrest.
During deliberations, the jury submitted a question to the trial court suggesting that it might be at an impasse. Without further inquiry into whether the jury had reached an impasse and how intractable that impasse was, the trial court instructed the jury to continue deliberating. The jury found defendant guilty of DUI, third degree assault, and two counts of resisting arrest.
On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred by instructing the jury to continue deliberating without first determining whether it was deadlocked and, if so, how intractably. When faced with a jury question that indicates the possibility of an impasse, the trial court should determine whether further progress toward a unanimous verdict is likely. After making this threshold determination, the trial court should then decide whether and how to instruct the jury to continue deliberating.
Here, the trial court failed to make the threshold inquiry, so it abused its discretion. This error was not harmless because the court then proceeded to tell the jury to continue deliberations, which risked coercing the jury to reach a compromise verdict.
Defendant also argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the third degree assault conviction. However, the officer’s testimony about defendant scratching his arm and photographs depicting faint marks of the scratches sufficiently established that defendant caused bodily injury.
The convictions were reversed and the case was remanded for retrial.
Criminal Procedure Jury Deliberations Impasse Jury Instructions