State v. Makee R.
Relaying information to the jury regarding the consequences of a guilty verdict, or about the sentencing process, is improper. Makee R., the minor, paternal uncle of the minor victim, lived in a home with his parents, grandmother and four siblings where the victim received before and after school care. The child testified about two instances in which Makee made her perform fellatio. Following a jury trial, Makee R. was convicted of sexual assault in the first degree and risk of injury to a child. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The defendant appealed claiming that the Appellate Court improperly affirmed the judgment because he was denied a fair trial in violation of the fifth, sixth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, he claimed that the trial court's preliminary jury instruction regarding post-trial sentencing procedures and final instruction regarding the victim's credibility were improper. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. Relaying information to the jury regarding the consequences of a guilty verdict or the sentencing process is improper and trial courts should refrain from doing so in the future. But, the Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Court that mentioning sentencing proceedings in the preliminary instructions to venire panels did not affect the overall fairness and integrity of the proceedings as a whole. The preliminary instructions did not mislead the jury by conveying the false impression that the jury was not solely responsible for fact-finding, as claimed. The trial court explicitly instructed that the jury's role is that of fact finder, properly advised each venire panel regarding the presumption of innocence and burden of proof and prefaced and concluded the instructions by stating that sentencing is not the function of the jury. The preliminary instructions properly explained the roles of the jury and trial court. The challenged instruction was only one part of the instruction giving general background information about a criminal trial. The instructions, considered as a whole, demonstrated that the court left all issues of fact-finding to the jury. Secondly, the trial court's final instruction with respect to the credibility of young witnesses did not dilute the state's burden of proof or prejudice the defendant. The trial court has discretion to give a special instruction on the testimony of young children.