Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

To Instruct, or Not to Instruct, That Is the Question: State V. Jackson

Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

To Instruct, or Not to Instruct, That Is the Question: State V. Jackson

Article excerpt


A criminal trial is an arduous process. By the end of this process, the fact-finder--often a jury--makes a determination regarding the defendant's culpability for the crimes with which she is charged. Sometimes, the State's evidence is insufficient to prove guilt of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. In such cases, the jury may also consider the defendant's guilt as to a lesser charge that is included within the charged offense. The jury's job is to ensure justice is done, and the defendant is convicted on the correct charge or acquitted entirely.

However, judges do not always provide juries with the opportunity to consider all possible options. Sometimes, judges deny juries the ability to consider a lesser included offense. They do this by refusing to instruct the jury that it may consider the lesser offense, and what must be proven in order to determine guilt for that offense. As a result, guilt becomes an all-or- nothing proposition. Some guilty defendants may escape punishment entirely, while those guilty of a lesser crime may be punished more severely than their actions deserve.

In State v. Jackson, the Supreme Court of Missouri considered whether a trial court must instruct the jury regarding a lesser included offense. (1) Specifically, it confronted this question in the context of a "nested" lesser included offense: an offense whose elements are entirely subsumed by the greater offense, and the greater offense has some "differential element" that the State bears the burden to prove. (2) The court ultimately concluded that a jury instruction on such a lesser included offense, when requested by the defendant, must always be granted. (3) A judge's refusal to grant the requested instruction jeopardizes the defendant's right to a trial by jury. (4) Thus, the court ensured that juries would have the opportunity to consider a lesser degree of liability for the defendant's actions.


A jury found that Denford Jackson walked into a coffee shop/convenience store the morning of August 29, 2009, and robbed the store's cash register while holding a gun on an employee. (5) Jackson was convicted of robbery in the first degree and armed criminal action. (6)

Only three people were in the store at the time of the robbery, two customers and the employee. (7) The customers testified that Jackson entered the coffee shop side of the store and spoke with one of them for a short time. (8) Neither customer saw a gun in Jackson's possession, but Jackson kept one of his hands in his pocket during the entire conversation. (9) After the conversation ended, Jackson went to the other side of the store, where the cash register was located. (10) When the customers next saw Jackson, he was standing at the cash register, behind the store's employee. (11) Neither customer saw whether Jackson had a gun, and neither knew a robbery occurred until the employee ran out of the kitchen to say she had been robbed. (12)

The employee testified she was in the kitchen when Jackson entered the door behind the cash register. (13) As she approached him, Jackson grabbed her arm and turned her toward the door and the cash register. (14) She said she "felt something in [her] back," and that she "[l]ooked down and it was a gun." (15) She testified that she "could see it after [she] had looked down and he guided [her] forward," (16) and she noted that it had a "six-inch barrel," was "silverish," and "was a revolver." (17) After he took the money from the register, Jackson took the employee back to the kitchen, made her lie down, and checked her pockets for more money. (18) He then left through a door on the shop's convenience store side. (19)

The State introduced video surveillance tapes from the shop into evidence, which showed Jackson entering the shop and standing near the customers while always keeping one hand in his pocket. (20) The video shows Jackson taking something out of his pocket and examining it after walking away from the customers. …

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