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SVP – Trial – Jury Instructions – Acts of Sexual Violence

State v. John Lee Laxton, 2002 WI 82, affirming unpublished court of appeals decision
(Affirmed on other grounds, habeas review, John L. Laxton v. Bartow, 421 F.3d 565 (7th Cir 2005))
For Laxton: Margaret A. Maroney, SPD, Madison Appellate

Issue: Whether the trial court adequately instructed the jury on “acts of sexual violence.”

Holding:

¶28. … The court instructed the jury, in part: “Acts of sexual violence means acts which constitute sexually violent offenses. Acts of window peeping or exposure of the penis, absent any other behavior toward another person, do not alone constitute sexually violent offenses under chapter 980.” Laxton claims that this instruction is erroneous because the jury should have been instructed that acts of exhibitionism and voyeurism are not sexually violent. According to Laxton, “absent any other behavior toward another person” is an impermissibly vague jury instruction. Laxton therefore asks this court to exercise discretion under Wis. Stat. § 751.06 and grant a new trial.¶29. We do not find Laxton’s arguments persuasive. The circuit court is afforded great latitude when giving jury instructions. State v. Pletz, 2000 WI App 221, ¶17, 239 Wis. 2d 49, 619 N.W.2d 97. Only if the jury instructions, as a whole, misled the jury or communicated an incorrect statement of law will we reverse and order a new trial. Fischer v. Ganju, 168 Wis. 2d 834, 849, 485 N.W.2d 10 (1992). “If the overall meaning communicated by the instructions was a correct statement of the law, no grounds for reversal exist.” Id. at 850. Laxton’s complaint is based on one sentence in the jury instructions relating to acts of exhibitionism and voyeurism, and ignores the fact that the circuit court specifically instructed the jury: “Acts of sexual violence means acts which constitute sexually violent offenses.” Furthermore, the instructions given were virtually identical to the Wisconsin pattern jury instruction, Wis JI–Criminal 2502. We conclude, therefore, that the overall meaning communicated by the instructions given in this case correctly stated the law regarding “acts of sexual violence” and “sexually violent offenses.” The instructions did not mislead the jury or communicate an incorrect statement of the law. Accordingly, we decline to grant a new trial. The real controversy was fully and fairly tried.

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