Supreme Court Hand Down 9/23/10

Boyd v. State.  James Earl Boyd was indicted and subsequently convicted of aggravated assault for stabbing Wanda Sherrod.  Boyd went to Sherrod’s house, and after being invited to sit down:

“Boyd then moved to a seat that was closer to Sherrod and her grandson. As Sherrod got up to get her grandson some juice, Boyd said “Hold up Wanda, I got something
for you.” He then produced a knife and cut Sherrod several times.”
A subsequent mental exam found Boyd competent to stand trial, and, after Boyd took his paints off and threw them at Judge Kitchens at the beginning of the trial, Judge Kitchens found that it was an act, and they proceeded to trial.  Not surprisingly, the jury found him guilty, and he appealed on the ground that the jury instructions failed to state that a knife was a deadly weapon.  The majority held, “But we find, as we have before, that no fair-minded and properly instructed jury could fail to find that Boyd’s knife was a deadly weapon, and that Boyd’s cutting and stabbing Sherrod multiple times was likely to produce serious bodily injury.”
Justice Kitchens, in his dissent, stated: “The majority finds that jury instruction S-2 “did not properly instruct the jury . . . .”  Maj. Op. at ¶ 14. Yet, in the same paragraph, the majority opines that “no fair-minded and properly instructed jury could fail to find that Boyd’s knife was a deadly weapon . . . .” Id. (emphasis added). Because the trial court’s instructions fell short of apprising the jury of all the essential elements of the crime of aggravated assault, thus failing to put before the jurors the question of whether the instrument wielded by the defendant was, in fact, a deadly weapon – a question entirely within the jury’s province – I respectfully dissent.”
He goes on to say, “Whether a thing is a deadly weapon is not a query that is susceptible of judicial interpretation in the State of Mississippi, unless we are willing and ready to overrule well over a century of jurisprudence to the effect that this is always an issue of fact for determination by the trier of fact, in this case, the jury. Although the term a knife may have an ominous ring to it, and while we may, from our lofty perch on High Street, wisely opine that no one could doubt that the knife at issue in this case is a deadly weapon, such a determination is not within the province of jurists, but of jurors. The jurors who were empaneled to decide the present case were not given that opportunity, no matter how fervently we may believe that we know what they would have decided if only they had been asked. No matter how compelling we may believe the evidence to have been, no matter how graphic the photographs in the record before us may be, the issue of whether the knife allegedly wielded by Boyd should be classified as a deadly weapon was, and continues to be, a question of fact that should have been placed before the jury for the jury’s resolution, not the trial judge’s and not ours.”

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