The Second Department, reversing defendant’s conviction, determined that the failure to include the justification defense on the verdict sheet may have led the jurors to believe they had to reconsider the justification defense for each count. The judge had correctly instructed the jurors to acquit on all counts if the justification defense applied, but the omission from the verdict sheet was enough to call the verdict into question:
Supreme Court properly instructed the jurors to consider justification as an element of each count submitted for their consideration. The court also properly instructed the jurors that they must find the defendant not guilty of all counts if they found that the People failed to disprove the defendant’s justification defense.
However, the verdict sheet did not mention justification, and instructed the jurors to “continue to” the following count if they found the defendant not guilty of count one, two, three, or four. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s instructions, taken together as a whole, may have led the jurors to conclude that deliberation on each crime required reconsideration of the justification defense, even if they had already acquitted the defendant of the previous count based on justification … . There is now no way of knowing whether the jurors acquitted the defendant of the greater counts on the ground of justification so as to mandate acquittal on the lesser counts … . People v Smith, 2019 NY Slip Op 06004, Second Dept 7-31-19