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Ohio High Court Rules on Instructing Juries

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In a unanimous decision, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that trial courts can give instructions to juries on lesser-included offenses, which are smaller crimes that comprise similar elements to a more severe offense. Whether or not this instruction is given is dependent upon the court's discretion.

This ruling stemmed from an Auglaize County gross sexual imposition conviction that was appealed in the Third District Court. The appeals court ruled in favor of the imposition conviction, prompting the defendant to appeal his case to the Supreme Court.

The defendant was convicted of this lesser offense after initially being indicted for rape. After reviewing the evidence, the trial court decided to explain lesser charges of sexual battery and gross sexual imposition. The jury found the defendant guilty of the lesser offense of gross sexual imposition. The defendant appealed on the grounds that the jury should never have been instructed on these lesser offenses, because if they hadn't, the defendant would have been found not guilty because the rape charge would have been the only charge introduced.

In the written decision, a Supreme Court Justice explained that it is the quality of the evidence that should guide the court on whether or not to instruct juries on those lesser offenses.

According to Justice Pfeifer,

The trial court must give an instruction on a lesser included offense if under any reasonable view of the evidence it is possible for the trier of fact to find the defendant not guilty of the greater offense and guilty of the lesser offense.