Sen Trial: Jury Instructions

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Events in 4th Judicial District Court Friday morning were originally scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., but delays in preparation of jury instructions in the case of the State vs. Dharminder Vir Sen postponed Court going into session until 11:50. The jury was brought in at 11:54 a.m.

Judge Fenn made a short record on a couple of issues before giving the jury their instructions, and then proceeded to go through the 20-item list before Counsel began their Closing Arguments.

The instructions to the jury were very specific. The jury was instructed to remain dispassionate and objective, with each verdict reflecting individual decisions. They were to choose a Jury Chairperson, and their verdict was to be unanimous.

They were to keep the Presumption of Innocence until reaching the verdict. If there was any reasonable doubt, they had to acquit.

The defendant had the right to remain silent, and the jury was not to hold it against him for not testifying in court. He was being charged on three counts, and each count was to be considered separately. They were also only to consider statements the defendant had made voluntarily. The jury was instructed to weigh both direct evidence and circumstantial evidence equally.

In order to find the defendant Not Guilty by Mental Illness or Deficiency, or NGMI, the Defense had the burden to prove that plea. Wyoming law says that mental illness or deficiency must present in a manner showing severe abnormalities prohibiting the defendant from appreciating the responsibility of his conduct in committing the crime. If the jury found him lacking that appreciation, they must find him not guilty.

If they did not agree with the NGMI plea, the jury was instructed to then consider on each count whether or not the State had reached the burden of proof over the past week of the trial. Judge Fenn instructed them per each count:

On Count 1, they were to determine if the State proved that on August 26, 2009 in Sheridan County, Wyoming, the defendant did kill Robert Ernst while in the commission of a burglary. If they found the State did not prove beyond reasonable doubt, they were to find him not guilty.

On Count 2, they were to determine if on August 26, 2009 in Sheridan County, Wyoming, the defendant did enter into an agreement with at least one other person to arm themselves with deadly weapons in order to break into homes and steal from them, and carried out the objectives of that plan.

Before discussing Count 3, Judge Fenn defined Burglary as entry into an unoccupied structure with the intent to commit larceny.

On Count 3, the jury was to determine whether, sometime between August 19th and August 26, 2009 in Sheridan County, the defendant did enter into the vehicle belonging to Thomas and Terri Hatch with the intent to commit larceny, and in so doing did become armed with a deadly weapon.

Judge Fenn then defined Deadly Weapon as a firearm, vehicle, animal, instrument, etc. which in the manner used is capable of producing the death or serious bodily injury of another.

Regarding possession of the weapon -- in this case, the 9 mm handgun stolen from the truck -- Judge Fenn instructed the jury that possession of recently stolen property with no explanation of how it was obtained, the jury may reasonably determine the person in possession of it participated in the theft. Judge Fenn added that possession is a strong characteristic of circumstantial evidence.

And lastly, the jury was to determine whether or not the defendant was acting under Duress. Judge Fenn defined duress as being admissible if the Defense proved it was imminent. Past threats or threats of future harm were not acceptable. Duress also was not admissible if the jury determined the defendant put himself in a position where duress could happen.

After reading the Jury Instructions, Counsel began their closing arguments.

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