CRIMINAL: Reversible error in failure to instruct on extreme emotional distress as element of murder instructions in case: MARCUS BENJAMIN V. COM. (SC 10/23/2008)

CRIMINAL:  Reversible error in failure to instruct on extreme
emotional distress as element of murder instructions in case
DATE RENDERED: 10/23/2008

SC reversed Benjamin's conviction for murder and life sentence and remanded for a new trial. TC committed reversible error in failing to include an instruction pertaining to extreme emotional disturbance as an element of the jury's murder instructions. The night before the homicide, Marcus Benjamin was confronted with allegations of infidelity as well as the news that his wife had been engaging in an extramarital affair with a family member. The following morning, the victim returned and the argument between the two resumed, this time including assertions that Benjamin would never see his children again. Further, Benjamin claims that he was physically attacked by the victim during this final argument, at which point the altercation turned deadly. This series of events, while not necessarily establishing that extreme emotional disturbance existed, is wholly sufficient to warrant an instruction for EED for the jury's benefit. Therefore, the trial court committed reversible error by failing to instruct the jury on EED. SC stated when giving combination jury instructions reflecting distinct theories of culpability which bear equal punishment, trial courts should preliminarily determine if there is evidence to support a combination instruction ; if the trial judge finds that the evidence is unlikely to support a combination instruction, the court should include separate verdict forms, and if the evidence suffices, the court may use a combination instruction which permits the jury to distinguish upon which theory it bases its findings.

SC found no reasonable probability that possession of the evidence of an alternative suspect would have led to a different result or that its absence undermines confidence in the verdict. Thus, there was no Brady violation, as the evidence was not material. Benjamin's confessions were properly admissible as they were voluntarily given. Introduction of inadmissible hearsay was cured by Trial Court's admonition. Benjamin's request for funds for expert witnesses was properly denied. TC did not abuse its discretion in allowing prior bad act evidence against the Defendant. No prosecutorial misconduct.

Digested by Scott Byrd

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