2012 UT 50
Filed August 10, 2012
In order to be convicted of aggravated assault, a defendant must intend to commit serious bodily injury; it is not sufficient to merely intend to commit the act which results in the serious bodily injury. Further, while failing to object to a confusing jury instruction may be deficient performance on the part of a criminal defense lawyer, it is not ineffective assistance of counsel unless the error prejudices the outcome of the case.
A few days after a fight with his girlfriend, Mr. Hutchings went to her apartment and kicked the door in with such force that the door was ripped from its frame. Mr. Hutchings then entered the apartment, grabbed his girlfriend by the neck and began choking her, saying that he was going to kill her. Each time his girlfriend broke away from his grip he tackled her and resumed choking her. Her hand was broken during the altercation. The State of Utah charged Mr. Hutchings with aggravated assault, criminal mischief, and aggravated burglary. Mr. Hutchings was convicted of aggravated assault and criminal mischief. He appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals, where his convictions were affirmed. He then appealed to the Utah Supreme Court.
A conviction for aggravated assault requires a showing that the defendant committed a simple assault and that the defendant had the intent to commit serious bodily injury. Mr. Hutchings and his criminal defense attorney argued that the instructions given to the jury at trial were confusing because they could have been understood to mean that a conviction for aggravated assault requires only intent to take the action which causes the serious bodily injury instead of intent to cause the serious bodily injury. At the Utah Court of Appeals level, the court incorrectly held that only intent to perform the action was required. The Utah Supreme Court reversed this holding.
At the Utah Supreme Court, Mr. Hutchings’ criminal defense lawyer further argued that Mr. Hutchings’ criminal defense attorney at the trial level was ineffective for failing to object to the confusing jury instruction. The Utah Supreme Court agreed that the criminal defense attorney’s failure to object fell below the standard of professionalism for criminal defense lawyers. However, in order for the deficiency to rise to the level of ineffective assistance of counsel Mr. Hutchings was required to prove that without this error the result in his case would have been different. Mr. Hutchings failed to reach this bar. Mr. Hutchings’ trial criminal defense attorney argued the correct standard for intent throughout the trial and in closing arguments. Further, the conclusion that Mr. Hutchings intended to cause serious bodily injury to his girlfriend was entirely supported by the evidence. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed Mr. Hutchings’ convictions.