First Department Reverses Murder Conviction on Erroneous Jury Instruction

In People v. Minor, the Appellate Division, First Department unanimously reversed a second degree murder conviction on the ground that the judge erred in her instruction on assisted suicide defense to murder.

In Minor, the defendant had been charged with murdering  Jeffrey Locker,  a motivational speaker who was deeply in debt  and who was found dead in his car from multiple stab wounds.  The defendant claimed Locker had enlisted his aid to make his suicide look like a murder so his family could recover his recently purchased $12 million of life insurance.  The defendant allegedly held a knife on the steering wheel as Locker leaned forward into it.  When the defendant left the car, Locker was still alive.  Based on expert testimony that the wounds were inconsistent with the defendant’s story, the prosecution claimed that the defendant had murdered the victim.

In her instructions, the trial judge attempted to explain the affirmative defense of assisted suicide by stating that while murder was an “active,” assisted suicide was not.  When the jury asked for additional clarification the judge, over objection, responded with further instructions that failed to clarify the distinction.  The First Department reversed the conviction.  It held that neither the term “active” nor its opposite, “passive” are present in the statute and that the instructions were confusing and misleading.

Read People v. Minor, No. 10291, 2013 N.Y. Slip Op. 6444 (App. Div. 1st Dep’t 2013).

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