Today’s case review is focused on Jury Instructions.  This is one of the final stages in a proper criminal trial.  However, the Jury Instructions are probably one of the most important aspects, except maybe the Jury Verdict Form. These are the instructions that the Jury is expected to rely on to determine guilt or innocence. In the present case, Mr. Watkins was accused of violation of a Domestic Abuse No-Contact Order (DANCO).  

A DANCO is a very common tool with Domestic Abuse charges, although it has received a lot of criticism by both defendants and victims alike. In order to violate a DANCO, the individual must “knowingly violate” the DANCO. While Mr. Watkins may (or may not) have knowingly violated, that question was never presented to the jury.  

Think of it like being convicted of murder, but the jury was never told that someone had to be killed in order to be convicted.  It may seem like an obvious element, but it still needs to be clearly stated.

A11-1793        State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. George Cornelius Watkins, Appellant.

Hennepin County District Court, Hon. Daniel C. Moreno.
1.   To be convicted of a felony for violating a domestic abuse no-contact order under Minn. Stat. ยง 629.75, subd. 2(d)(1) (2010), the defendant must have intentionally engaged in prohibited conduct, knowing that such contact was prohibited.
2.   When a jury instruction omits an element of the offense, the error affects the defendant’s substantial rights.

Reversed and remanded.  Judge Larry B. Stauber, Jr.

By: Landon J. Ascheman, Esq.
(B) 612.217.0077 (C) 651.280.9533