Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

Carroll v. State – Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In Carroll v. State, 428 Md. 679, 53 A.3d 1159, 1161 (2012), the Defendant was convicted of attempted robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and related counts.  During the jury instruction phase of the trial, defense counsel requested that the trial court supplement the Maryland Pattern Jury Instruction on reasonable doubt (MPJI-Cr 2:02), by adding that “the State has the burden to prove each element of a charge beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Id. at ___, 53 A.3d at 1163 (emphasis added).  The standard instruction under 2:02 only provides, in pertinent part:

The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges.  This presumption remains throughout every stage of the trial and is not overcome unless you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.  The State has the burden of proving the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.

Id.

Instead of instructing the jury that “each element” of the crime had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the Court instead instructed that the presumption of innocence remains “throughout every stage of the trial and is not overcome unless you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant is guilty of each charge.”  Id.  (emphasis original).  On appeal, the Defendant argued that the Pattern reasonable doubt instruction violated the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment and Article Twenty-Four of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.  Id. (citing In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970) (“[T]he Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime which he is charged.”)).  The Defendant further argued that the Court failed to satisfy the mandate of Maryland Rule 4-325(c), which provides that “[t]he court . . . at the request of a party shall, instruct the jury as to the applicable law and the extent to which the instructions are binding.”  Id. at ___, 53 A.3d at 1164.

It is well settled in Maryland that a trial court must give a requested instruction where (1) the instruction correctly states the law; (2) the instruction is applicable to the facts of the case; and (3) the content of the instruction was not fairly covered elsewhere in the instructions actually given.  Id. (quoting Cost v. State, 417 Md. 360, 368-69 (2010), quoting in turn, Dickey v. State, 404 Md. 187, 197-98 (2008)).  The Court of Appeals noted that in this case, there was no dispute as to prongs (1) and (2) as the requested instruction correctly stated the law and was applicable under the facts of the Defendant’s case.  Id. at___, 53 A.3d at 1165.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeals focused on whether the content of the requested instruction was fairly covered by the other instructions given.  Id.

Relying on Victor v. Nebraska, 511 U.S. 1 (1994), the Court of Appeals held that the proper standard for evaluating whether an instruction is constitutional under Winship, requires a reviewing court to determine “’whether there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury understood the instructions to allow conviction based on proof insufficient to meet the Winship standard.’”  Id. at ___, 53 A.3d at 1165 (emphasis original) (quoting Victor, 511 U.S. at 6)).  In other words, the Court of Appeals “adhere[d] to Victor, which declare[d] that the constitutional ‘inquiry is not whether the instruction “could have” been applied in an unconstitutional manner, but whether there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury did so apply it.’”  Id. at ___, 53 A.3d at 1166 (quoting Victor, 511 U.S. at 6, citing in turn, Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 72 & n.4 (1991)).

Under this standard, requiring a reasonable likelihood that that the jury understood the instructions as allowing for a conviction on proof insufficient to meet the State’s burden as to every element, the Court held that the instruction was sufficient, i.e., was fairly covered elsewhere in the instructions:

The court instructed the jury with a near verbatim recitation of MPJI-Cr 2:02.  The detailed description of the concept of proof beyond a reasonable doubt set forth in that pattern instruction conveyed to the jurors that they must evaluate guilt based on the standard of proof.  Then, in each of the separate instructions on the offenses charged, the court referred to the burden of proof when introducing the elements of each charged offense with the words “the State must prove” those elements.  Read together, the reasonable doubt instruction (emphasizing the meaning and importance of the standard of proof) and the repeated message in every instruction that the State “must prove” the elements of each charged offense adequately imparted to the jury the mandate that the State must prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt.

Id. at ___, 53 A.3d at 1165.

Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals “urge[d] the State Bar Association Committee on Maryland Pattern Instructions to consider amending MPJI-Cr 2:02 to include explicit language instructing that the State has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of each charged offense.”  Id. at ___, 53 A.3d at 1167.