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Oregon Jury Instruction Error: Murder Conviction Reversed


One of many things that pro se (aka self-represented) litigants have a difficult time learning is that even if you read the laws, the rules, the cases, and the jury instructions, you still can’t predict the outcome of your case.

Many people want black and white rules and think there is a simple answer to, for example, the question “what is the statute of limitations on x ?”  They also think that if the statute says x and y, then x and y are The Law.
Lawyers, and law librarians, are faced every day with someone, statute book and statute in hand, asking “what does this mean?”  Who knows?  We can respond “ask the Legislature – they wrote the statute,” but in all seriousness, they often don’t have a clue either.  They certainly don’t know how a judge will interpret the statute. Or how the next judge will, or the appellate court …. 
There is also the immutable Law of Unintended Consequences.  Every solution has a problem.
So, we all do the best we can and cross our fingers that Justice will prevail.  Sometimes it does and sometimes not.  Then the Legislature has another go at re-writing the law.  Then the cycle continues….
Linder, J.
We allowed review in this case to consider whether a uniform criminal jury instruction on aiding and abetting correctly states Oregon law. As did the Court of Appeals, we conclude that it does not. We further conclude, as did the Court of Appeals, that giving the instruction was prejudicial in this case. We differ, however, in our determination of which crimes were potentially affected by the instructional error. Consequently, we affirm in part and reverse in part the decision of the Court of Appeals, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court, and we remand for further proceedings….
In sum, we conclude the uniform instruction at issue here, Uniform Criminal Jury Instruction 1051, incorrectly advises that a defendant can be criminally responsible for any other crime that is a natural and probable consequence of a crime that a defendant aided in committing. It was error for the trial court to give that instruction. We further conclude that the error prejudiced defendant on his convictions for assault, felony murder, and aggravated murder, and we therefore reverse those convictions….” (Link to full opinion.)
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