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Kidnapping Jury Instruction

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CaseState of Tennessee v. Jerome Maurice Teats and State of Tennessee v. Ricco R. Williams

Issue:  Is a Defendant denied due process when he is convicted of kidnapping one victim and an accompanying felony of a second victim?

Facts: In these two similar but not consolidated cases, the Defendants were convicted of kidnapping against some victim(s) and an accompanying felony of against another victim(s) for conduct transpiring during single episodes. The trial court in each case denied the Defendants’ request for a jury instruction asking whether the kidnapping charge arose out of the same conduct as the accompanying felony, pursuant to State v. White, 362 S.W.3d 559 (Tenn. 2012).

Appellate Decision:  The Court of Criminal Appeals issued divided opinions in both cases coming down on opposite sides.  In Teats, the majority held that a White instruction was not required, largely because the convictions were against different victims, rather than against a single victim. Moreover, the court held that moving one victim was not necessary to the commission of the robbery of the other victim. Judge Tipton dissented, writing that the recent White decision did not overrule the merger principals of the earlier decision in State v. Anthony, 817 S.W.2d 299 (Tenn. 1991), and in this case the question should have been given to the jury.

In Williams, the majority reversed and remanded, holding that there is a reasonably probability that a jury, if instructed, could find that the binding of the victims was essentially incidental to the robbery. Judge Witt issued an opinion dissenting and concurring, writing that it should be left to the supreme court to overrule Anthony’s holding that due process principles constrict the use of kidnapping convictions against victims even though those victims were not victims in any accompanying felony.

Review Granted:  May 15, 2014.

Prediction: Ben thinks that the supreme court will craft a rule providing that the White instruction be liberally issued to let juries decide when the kidnapping of one victim is incidental to an accompanying felony against another victim. Otherwise, prosecutors would have too much discretion as to whether a defendant faces a conviction for kidnapping or the accompanying felony.