United States v. Petty, No. 15-1421 (10th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
The test applied in evaluating the constitutionality of a reasonable doubt jury instruction instruction is not whether a court finds it exemplary. Rather, the proper inquiry requires a court to consider the instructions in their entirety and ask whether a “reasonable likelihood” exists that the jury “understood the instructions to allow conviction based on proof insufficient to meet the [reasonable doubt] standard.” The Government charged Defendant Ishmael Petty with assaulting three employees at the federal correctional facility in Florence, Colorado. At Defendant’s trial, the district court tendered the jury a reasonable doubt instruction that tracked verbatim the Tenth Circuit’s Pattern Jury Instruction on reasonable doubt. The district court overruled Defendant’s objections to the instruction, and a jury found Defendant guilty. Defendant contended the district court’s instruction diluted the Government’s burden of proof contrary to his Fifth Amendment right to due process and his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. After review, the Tenth Circuit rejected Defendant’s argument that the reasonable doubt instruction as tendered was unconstitutional, and affirmed.