Case Caption: Jamal Justin Fahie v. People of the Virgin IslandsCase Number: S. Ct. Crim. No. 2013-0042Date: 05/15/2015Author: Swan, Ive Arlington Citation: Summary:

No reversible error is found on appeal from convictions for murder, assault, and possession of an unlicensed firearm. Superior Court Rule 135 authorizes a trial court to weigh the evidence and the credibility of witnesses to determine whether there has been a miscarriage of justice. Here, however, even discounting certain proof challenged on this appeal, the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions on all charges with proof on the essential elements of the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to grant defense motions for a judgment of acquittal and for a new trial. Even though the people did not present this case at trial on an aiding and abetting theory, there was ample notice of this theory and the defense itself contended that another individual murdered the victim. Thus the People were entitled to an aiding and abetting instruction to rebut that theory, and the trial court did not err in giving the instruction. Jury instructions indicating that the prosecution is not required to introduce certain scientific evidence, such as DNA or fingerprint proof - often called "anti-CSI effect" instructions - risk invading the exclusive province of the jury to decide what conclusions should be drawn from evidence admitted at trial. In this case the defense never misstated the People's burden to introduce any specific type of evidence, and it was error for the Superior Court to give this instruction. Here, that error was harmless because, considering the entire record and the other jury instructions, it cannot be found that this instruction contributed to the convictions. A cautionary instruction regarding accomplice testimony should be given whenever a witness has a strong incentive to fabricate or mold testimony as the government desires in order to escape prosecution or lighten a sentence, unless there is a compelling reason to omit the instruction. Some circumstances reduce the need for the instruction, such as wide latitude given to the defense in challenging the credibility of the accomplice, and in drawing attention to the witness's plea agreement with the People. Under the established standard the trial court's failure to give the instruction in this case in the form requested by the defense was not plain error. Finally, the Superior Court did not abuse its discretion in admitting photographs depicting the victim's bullet-ridden corpse, which had probative value on issues in the case that was not substantially outweighed by their prejudicial effect. The judgment and commitment in this case, entered on May 10, 2013, is affirmed.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion