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Malheur Refuge Trial: Why Mental State Matters

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by: Ryan Scott • October 30, 2016 • one comment

I did not follow the trial closely, but unlike a lot of people in a similar position, I don't have a strong opinion about the verdict, other than recognizing that the defense lawyers include some of the best lawyers in the state.

But it's plain from reading the jury instructions on conspiracy, and especially the comments of Juror #4, that what was often referred to as the defendant's "state of mind" played a large role in the acquittals.

There is one exception to my lack of strong opinion about the verdict. More precisely, I have a strong opinion about the reaction to the verdict. Many people were quick to claim "white privilege" as a reason for the acquittals. After reading the comments of Juror #4, it's obvious that the jury engaged in thoughtful and careful analysis, and claims of white privilege are not only glibly dismissive but born out of ignorance, even as they might burnish one's liberal bona fides. You may feel that in a different trial, with different jurors, black defendants might not be afforded the same care and analysis, and I might agree with that, but the fact that these jurors did their jobs is not a reason to diminish their thoughtful application of the law to the facts.

Anyway, back to the reason I'm writing this post. The verdict would seem to show that holding the state to proving the defendant's mental state beyond a reasonable doubt can result in an acquittal, even if the actions are not really in dispute. And yet, we still have defendants going to trial with the juries almost certainly being instructed erroneously on the appropriate mental state, thereby relieving the government of its burden of proof.

For reasons I have explained at length before, I believe the standard instructions on assault I, assault II, numerous theft charges, and most statutory rape offenses are erroneous: they let the jury convict on what is a lesser mental state than the law requires. If you have one of these cases, let me know, and I will provide you with sample instructions. My e-mail is ryan@ryanscottlaw.com.

Remember that when it comes to erroneous jury instructions. or the denial of correct jury instructions, there is no better standard of review on appeal. All we need are defense attorneys who take these cases to trial to adequately preserve the issues. I want to help you. Let me.