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June 07, 2013

COA holds that it is reversible error to refuse a jury instruction on lesser charge where evidence supports it

In People v. Mitchell, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the trial court committed reversible error when it denied the defendant's request for a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter, where there was evidence the defendant was provoked and the jury asked if it could convict on the lesser charge.

Defendant Bradford Mitchell was convicted of second-degree murder under MCL 750.317 and carrying a weapon with unlawful intent under MCL 750.226. Mitchell challenged his convictions on two grounds. First, he argued that the trial court committed reversible error when it denied his request for a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter. At trial, Mitchell presented evidence of provocation by the victim, including that the victim owed the defendant money, that there were prior verbal altercations between the defendant and victim, and the victim's friend testified that the victim previously stated his intent to 'beat [the] defendant's ass.' The court of appeals stated that all of those facts were relevant to its finding of sufficient evidence to support the jury instruction. The court found the error reversible because the jury inquired about whether they were allowed to find defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter and the evidence was sufficient to support that finding. The court of appeals ordered a new trial on the second-degree murder conviction.

Second, Mitchell challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for carrying a weapon with unlawful intent. The court of appeals found that MCL 750.226 requires that the accused 'leave a place' or 'depart' with a weapon. While a knife and baseball bat were found in the victim's apartment, the court of appeals found that no evidence the defendant departed from any place with them. The court of appeals reversed the defendant's conviction for carrying a weapon with unlawful intent.

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