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State v. Dozah, 2016 UT App 13 (Jan. 22, 2016)

Jan 22, 2016

Defendant was charged with and convicted of aggravated assault, among other crimes, following a gruesome night of abuse the victim endured partly at defendant’s hands. The abuse ended with Defendant leaving victim at the side of a rural road in the cold with very little clothing. The jury was instructed as to the elements of aggravated assault, but during deliberations, the jury sent a note to the court asking whether leaving the victim at the road side constituted aggravated assault. The court referred the jury back to the instructions, and further directed “[i]t is for the jury to decide” whether leaving the victim at the roadside constituted aggravated assault. The jury convicted defendant of aggravated assault. Defendant appealed on the basis that the jury may have confused the court’s instruction that it was to decide whether leaving the victim at the roadside substituted the required elements of aggravated assault, thereby misstating the law. The Court of Appeals held that “it is reasonably possible that the jury interpreted the court’s response as a new instruction, despite the court’s apparent intent to simply refer the jury back to the earlier instructions (which would normally be prudent), and [] the new instruction had the potential to confuse the jury in a way that misstated the law,” and vacated and remanded the conviction.