The Court of Appeals has just made an important Post-Conviction ruling, in Savoy v. State. The Court granted a new trial on the grounds that the trial court judge had given an erroneous “reasonable doubt” jury instruction.
Despite some procedural idiosyncracies, the case is a reminder of just how potent the reasonable doubt issue can be in cases in which the judge gave a flawed instruction.
In Savoy, the trial court gave the following instruction:
“After the jury has fairly and carefully reviewed all the evidence in this case,
if you feel that the prosecution has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt
and to a moral certainty all of the evidence necessary to convict, then you
must acquit the defendant.
The test of reasonable doubt is that the evidence that the State has produced
must be so convincing that it would enable you to act on an important piece of
business in your every day life. The words “to a moral certainty” do not
mean an absolute or mathematical certainty but a certainty based upon
convincing grounds of probability. The phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt”
does not mean beyond any doubt or all possible doubt. But as the words
indicate, beyond a doubt that is reasonable.”
The Court found that the instruction had the effect of lowering the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard.
Even though there was no objection to the instruction at trial, and the issue was not raised on appeal, it was successfully resuscitated on post-conviction.
Critical to the success of the petitioner was the fact that the State conceded that the instruction was erroneous.
Any person considering a post-conviction should have their attorney carefully review their jury instructions to see if Savoy v. State is applicable.