An appellate court may review a jury verdict that convicts a defendant of two mutually exclusive offenses, said the Michigan Court of Appeals in People v Davis, No. 332081. Generally, “juries are permitted to reach inconsistent verdicts and appellate courts may not interfere with their judgments.” However, situations involving guilty verdicts of two mutually exclusive offenses serve as an exception to this general rule.
In Davis, the jury convicted the defendant of aggravated domestic assault and assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder (“AWIGBH”). The defendant appealed his convictions arguing that they violated his rights under double jeopardy principles. The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed that the defendant was improperly convicted. However, it noted that the proper initial focus of the argument should be the mutual exclusivity of the offenses, not double jeopardy. Aggravated domestic assault requires the defendant to act without the intent to inflict great bodily harm less than murder, whereas AWIGHB requires him to act with the intent to inflict great bodily harm less than murder. Thus, the court concluded that “a defendant cannot violate both statutes with one act as he or she cannot both intend and yet not intend to do great bodily harm less than murder.”
Instead of remanding the case to remedy the error, the court affirmed the AWIGBH conviction and vacated the conviction for aggravated domestic assault. It reasoned that “[t]he jury affirmatively found that defendant acted with the intent to do great bodily harm less than murder when it convicted defendant of AWIGBH.” Moreover, the court determined that it had authority to grant relief because “the issue now before this Court is not a typical inconsistent-verdict matter.” Typical inconsistent-verdict cases focus on situations where acquittal on one charge renders it seemingly impossible to find a guilty verdict on another charge. In such cases, it remains unclear whether the plaintiff or defendant is being damaged by the inconsistent verdict.
The court added that the trial court was not required to instruct “the jury regarding the lack of intent to do great bodily harm necessary to meet the statutory definition of aggravated domestic assault because the Michigan Supreme Court has directed that such provisions are not elements of an offense.” The reasoning behind the Michigan Supreme Court’s directive is that an offense cannot have a negative element. The fact that the prosecutor did not have to prove the lack of intent and that the trial court did not have to instruct the jury about it did “not nullify the error of convicting the defendant of mutually exclusive offenses.”