People v. Manning, 2018 IL 122081 (March). Episode 480 (Duration 21:31)
Jury wanted to know what happens if they can’t agree on second degree murder.
Illinois supreme court puts a murder conviction back on the table.
The issue presented in this appeal, distilled to its essence, is whether jurors’ inability to unanimously agree upon whether a mitigating factor exists, for purposes of second degree murder, results in a finding of first degree murder, as charged, and as necessarily found by the jury in the required statutory progression.
To see other cases with complications in an Illinois criminal trial go here.
This Was A Second Trial
The second trial, like the first, generally established that the victim was highly intoxicated and ultimately an unwelcome visitor at a residence occupied by defendant and at least five other individuals.
The victim was asked to leave and refused to do so.
A fight ensued between the inebriated victim and four of the residents, including the defendant. Defendant was armed with a knife.
Stabbed 3 Times
In the course of that fight, the victim, who was apparently unarmed, was stabbed three times.
A stab wound to the chest proved fatal.
Defendant admitted to stabbing the victim twice: once in the arm and once in the back. There was no evidence that anyone other than defendant was armed.
Self Defense And Second Degree Murder
Pursuant to defendant’s request—and the appellate court’s prior directive—the trial court instructed the jury on self-defense.
Relatedly, the court also granted defendant’s request to instruct the jury on second degree murder, based on both statutory mitigating factors: an unreasonable belief in the need for self-defense and provocation, with mutual combat being the requisite provocation. See 720 ILCS 5/9-2(a).
The instruction then informed the jury
(1) if it found that the State had failed to prove each element of first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt, it should stop deliberating and return a verdict of not guilty;
(2) if it found that the State had proven each of those elements beyond a reasonable doubt, it should then decide whether defendant had proven that a mitigating factor existed; and
(3) if it found that defendant had met that burden, it should find him guilty of second degree murder; however,
(4) if it found that defendant had failed to meet that burden, it should find him guilty of first degree murder.
IPI Criminal 4th No. 26.01A instructed the jury that it would receive three verdict forms—
(1) not guilty,
(2) guilty of first degree murder, and
(3) guilty of second degree murder—and that its verdict must be unanimous.
The instruction directed the jury to sign only one verdict form.
During the course of deliberations in this case, the following colloquy occurred outside the presence of the jury:
THE COURT: *** We received a question from the jury: For approving mitigating factors to reduce charge to second degree murder, if vote on mitigating factor is not unanimous, does it revert to first degree murder? Okay. Proposed responses?[THE STATE]: Yes. [DEFENSE COUNSEL]: My response would be no, Judge.
There’s very interesting conversation between the court, the state and the defense attorney.
The defense was mainly arguing that if some jurors believed a mitigating factor was proved then they they don’t believe a first degree murder happened.
The jury subsequently returned a verdict finding defendant guilty of first degree murder.
Polling The Jury
After the verdict was read, the trial court asked the parties if either would like the court to poll the jury.
Defense counsel responded:
“I would, Judge, and I also ask to poll the jury on [if] they found the mitigating factor did not exist.”
The clerk then asked each juror:
“Was this then and is this now your verdict?”
Each juror responded,
Thereafter, defense counsel stated:
“I would like the specific question, if they found the mitigating factor did not exist, so—.”
The court stated its belief that the polling was sufficient:
“I think they answered the question.”
Defendant was subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Lower Appellate Court
On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court reversibly erred where it:
(a) failed to give a direct answer when the jury asked if non-unanimity regarding the mitigating factor meant that the charge would “revert” from second degree murder to first degree murder; and
(b) refused to poll the jury specifically to determine if any juror believed that a mitigating factor existed.
The appellate court held that defendant was entitled to relief on the basis of his second argument, concluding that the trial court had abused its discretion when it refused to ask each juror, in polling, whether he or she believed that a mitigating factor existed for purposes of second degree murder.
The appellate court reasoned:
“The jury’s question starkly revealed the jury’s uncertainty as to whether a split vote on the presence of a mitigating factor should (or should not) produce a verdict of guilty of first degree murder. After the jury delivered that verdict, the trial court’s use of the standard polling question—‘Was this then and is this now your verdict?’—did not resolve the uncertainty. To be sure, as shown by the jurors’ unequivocal responses, there was no uncertainty as to whether the jurors’ verdict was that defendant was guilty of first degree murder. The uncertainty at issue, however, concerned whether that verdict was wrongly the product of a split vote on defendant’s guilt of second degree murder.”
Now You See The Issue?
The core question in this case—the resolution of which determines whether the trial court’s response to the jury’s question was correct, and whether juror polling was sufficient—is whether the jurors’ inability to unanimously agree, with respect to the existence of a mitigating factor for purposes of second degree murder, results in a finding of first degree murder, as charged by the State, and as necessarily found by the jury in the required statutory progression.
Here is a little more from the trial discussion between judge, prosecutor and defense attorney:[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Judge, I think if they are—if we use the language that they have found guilty on first degree murder, and now that they are on the second theory, if they are not unanimous, doesn’t say, all right, you six are wrong since we can’t agree, or you 11 are wrong since you can’t agree so it’s guilty of first degree murder; that’s not correct at all. So simply answering that question yes is leading the jury to believe that if one says a mitigating factor exists and 11 state a mitigating factor doesn’t exist, if [sic] guilty of first degree, that’s not true at all, Judge. [THE STATE]: To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. If they found 12 to nothing for first degree murder, and they contemplate second degree murder, I don’t know what the answer to that question is. I think it has to be 12 to nothing to find that mitigating factor, but if we get to a point in time
that they are deadlocked on that, if it’s six to six, I don’t think that’s a hung jury, Judge. I might be wrong about that. I would have to do some research on that. But what’s the hung—what are they hung on at that point in time?
How The Jury Question Was Answered
THE COURT: Here’s what I’m proposing responding and willing to listen
to either side, simply to say: “Your verdict must be unanimous. Continue deliberating.”
The Old Murder Law
As this court explained in People v. Jeffries, 164 Ill. 2d 104, 113 (1995), under the old homicide statute, the State—as now—had the burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the elements of murder. The defendant then had the opportunity to present evidence of a factor in mitigation, either serious provocation or unreasonable belief, which must have been present to reduce an offense of murder to voluntary manslaughter.
The State then had the burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the absence of the factor in mitigation.
As this court observed in Jeffries:
“Under the new act, *** the defendant now bears the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, one of the factors in mitigation which must be present to reduce an offense of first degree murder to second degree murder.”
Obviously, as this court recognized in Jeffries, the significant change the legislature saw fit to make was to take the burden of proving the absence of a mitigating factor from the State and to place the burden of proving the presence of a mitigating factor on the defendant.
Lesser Mitigated Offense
This court also clarified, in Jeffries, that second degree murder is properly characterized as “a lesser mitigated offense of first degree murder,” that it is “first degree murder plus defendant’s proof by a preponderance of the evidence that a mitigating factor is present.”
As the Jeffries court recognized, as the jury in this case was instructed, and as this court continues to affirm,
“[t]he State must prove the elements of first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt before the jury can even consider whether a mitigating factor for second degree murder has been shown.” People v. Staake, 2017 IL 121755, ¶ 40. See Episode 260 (Second degree murder is not a lesser included offense of first degree murder; it is a lesser mitigated offense of first degree murder.)
“The jury”—not some jurors, rather the jurors unanimously—must first find that the State has proven defendant guilty of first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt before “the jury” can consider whether defendant has met the burden the legislature has imposed upon him, the burden of proving the existence of a mitigating factor by a mere preponderance of the evidence. See IPI Criminal 4th No. 7.06B (advising the jury that it “may not consider whether the defendant is guilty of *** second degree murder until and unless” it has “first determined that the State has proved beyond a reasonable doubt each” of the elements of first degree murder).
It is defendant’s position that his failure to meet the modest burden the legislature has imposed upon him, i.e., to convince “the jury” that a mitigating factor exists, should negate what is necessarily a unanimous finding that the State has proven defendant guilty of first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt.
His failure to meet his burden should, in effect, render the entire proceeding a nullity.
The appellate panel in this case appears to have come to that conclusion by taking a disjunctive view of the statutory scheme.
According to the appellate court, “if some jurors vote to find the presence of a mitigating factor, and if other jurors vote otherwise, the jury is not unanimous on the defendant’s guilt of first degree murder.” 2017 IL App (2d) 140930, ¶ 15.
Defendant would have us believe,
(1) despite the legislature’s decision to take the burden of proving the absence of a mitigating factor from the State and to place the burden of proving the presence of a mitigating factor on the defendant and
(2) despite the legislature’s requirement that “the jury” first find that the State has proven defendant guilty of first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt before “the jury” can even consider whether defendant has met the burden the legislature has imposed upon him,
that his inability to convince “the jury,” even by a preponderance of the evidence, that a mitigating factor exists, should result in a hung jury, essentially nullifying the entire proceeding.
Unjust & Absurd Results
“The process of statutory interpretation should not be divorced from consideration of real-world results, and in construing a statute, courts should presume that the legislature did not intend unjust consequences.” Fort, 2017 IL 118966, ¶ 35.
Defendant’s reading of this statute leads to unjust and absurd results here.
We conclude that the legislature clearly intended that a defendant’s failure to sustain his burden—the burden of convincing all 12 jurors that a mitigating factor exists for purposes of second degree murder—does not nullify the jurors’ unanimous finding that the State has proven defendant guilty of first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt.
Given our holding, the trial court’s response to the jury’s question was correct when considered in conjunction with instructions the jurors had already received. The jurors, who had obviously proceeded beyond a unanimous finding of first degree murder—having followed the required, sequential statutory progression—were advised that their verdict must be unanimous.
They then returned a verdict of first degree murder, and subsequent polling verified that was indeed the verdict of each juror. The trial court’s response to the jury’s question was correct; the polling the trial court conducted was appropriate.
Nothing more was required.
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the appellate court is reversed, and the circuit court’s judgment is affirmed. Appellate court judgment reversed.
- Episode 308 – People v. Fort – Second Degree Murder Is Not An Automatic Transfer Offense So What Happens When Minor is “Acquitted” of First Degree Murder?
- Episode 367 – People v. Brown – The jury signed the not guilty of first degree murder conviction and they signed the second degree murder instruction, this was inconsistent, yet the conviction is sustained.
- Episode 260 – People v. Staake – Originally Charged With Second Degree Murder, Then Amended To First Degree Murder, Problem?