Court Clarifies Rule on Jury Instruction in Ariz.

     PHOENIX (CN) – Arizona trial judges may instruct juries on lesser included offenses supported by evidence over the objections from the defense and the prosecution, according to an Arizona Supreme Court ruling.
     The ruling comes after a judge instructed a jury on second-degree murder over a defendant’s objection and on manslaughter over the objections of the defendant and the state.
     The defendant, Gary Gipson, shot and killed Billy Huff III after Huff drove to Gipson’s house to resolve a financial dispute. Gipson was initially indicted for first-degree murder, but was convicted of manslaughter.
     Vice Chief Justice Andrew Hurwitz writes that “although a judge should hesitate to give the instruction in such circumstances, it was not reversible error in this case to do so.”
     Trial judges were once required “to instruct on every lesser included offense supported by the evidence in all homicide cases, whether or not such an instruction was requested,” but that was abandoned following an amendment to the Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure, the ruling states.
     Hurwitz writes that “the defendant is on notice from the beginning of the proceedings against him that the jury may be asked to consider any lesser included offenses supported by the trial evidence,” and “trial judges should ignore the objections of both the defendant and the state to a lesser included offense instruction.”

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