WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE IS AN ERROR IN A JURY INSTRUCTION MAKING IT HARDER TO CONVICT A DEFENDANT?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Soulia, No. 113,819, 2016 WL 2943262, at *1 (Kan. Ct. App. May 20, 2016).
This case answers the following question:
In a criminal trespass conviction, does it matter that the instructions to the jury used the word “residence” while the charges used the words “premises”?
The issue in this case is whether there was sufficient evidence to support a conviction of criminal trespass under the narrower term “residence” in the jury instructions. Criminal trespass is knowingly, willfully, and without authorization or privilege entering or remaining in a structure, upon land, or in a vehicle, in defiance of an order not to enter or to leave such premises.
In this case, Soulia appealed two counts of criminal trespass based on insufficiency of evidence that he entered his mother’s residence. Throughout 2014, Soulia lived with his parents on and off, with permission to come and go as long as he followed conditions that his mother had set. These conditions included that Soulia would not consume alcohol, was to keep reasonable hours, and was to pick up after himself. In October 2014, Soulia’s parents had gone out of town for a few days, and upon their return, they noticed Soulia had left a mess in the house. Soulia arrived home “reeking of alcohol” and got into an argument with his parents about the mess he had left. As a result of the argument, Soulia’s brother, Mark, came over to help his parents. Soulia’s mother told Soulia he was no longer welcome in their home, and Soulia eventually gave the house key to Mark. Ten days later, Soulia came back to the house and asked his mother if he could come in to use her phone. His mother refused, and Soulia became very agitated yelling at his mother and making threats through the locked door. Police officers were called, but they were unable to locate Soulia. The next day, Soulia was found attempting to pry open a window of the house to gain entry, and he was arrested. The jury found Soulia guilty of two counts of criminal trespass.
Criminal trespass is knowingly, willfully, and without authorization or privilege entering or remaining in a structure, upon land, or in a vehicle, in defiance of an order not to enter or to leave such premises. Soulia appealed the convictions of criminal trespass based on insufficiency of evidence that he entered his mother’s residence as stipulated in the jury instructions. Soulia argued that the jury instructions were more limited with the use of residence whereas the charges used the broader term premises. Soulia argued that the evidence is undisputed that he never entered the residence, but the State argued that the property itself could be considered the residence. Based on the reasoning in Musacchio v. United States, the court held that judicial review for sufficiency of the evidence should be based on the elements of the charged crime, rather than faulty jury instructions. The court held that it was not unfair to Soulia even though Soulia had prepared his defense based on the broader allegation in the charging document. Despite the narrower meaning in the jury instruction, the State still successfully proved that Soulia trespassed by entering the premises without authority after being told not to be there.
The Court of Appeals of Kansas affirmed the convictions of criminal trespass. Despite the narrower meaning in the jury instructions, the State was still able to prove that Soulia had trespassed.