Law School Case Brief
State v. Smith - 262 N.J. Super. 487, 621 A.2d 493 (Super. Ct. App. Div. 1993)
In considering whether a jury verdict was against the weight of the evidence, the task is to decide whether it clearly appears that there was a miscarriage of justice under the law, N.J. Evid. R. 2:10-1, and determine whether any trier of fact could rationally have found beyond a reasonable doubt that the essential elements of the crime were present. But an appellate court may not overturn the verdict merely because it might have found otherwise upon the same evidence. Appellate intervention is warranted only to correct an injustice resulting from a plain and obvious failure of the jury to perform its function. Where the jury's verdict is grounded on its assessment of witness credibility, a reviewing court may not intercede, absent clear evidence on the face of the record that the jury was mistaken or prejudiced.
Defendant Gregory Dean Smith was convicted of attempted murder, aggravated assault, and terroristic threats. While an inmate, Smith, who was infected with HIV, threatened to kill correctional officers by biting and spitting at them. On a trip from the hospital for a fall, Smith bit an officer. Criminal charges were levied against Smith over the biting incident. At trial in New Jersey state court, Smit argued that, without dispute, a bite could not transmit HIV and that he knew this when he bit the officer. The jury found Smith guilty of attempted murder, aggravated assault and terroristic threats. The trial judge imposed an aggregate 25-year term with a 12 1/2-year period of parole ineligibility. On appeal, Smith argued that the trial judge erroneously charged the jury that it could find him guilty of attempted murder upon proof that he intended to kill the officer by biting him, regardless of whether it was medically possible that the bite could have transmitted HIV.
Did the trial court erroneously charge the jury that it could find Smith guilty of attempted murder upon proof that he intended to kill the officer by biting him?
The appellate division affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court held that the trial court did not err in failing to charge the the jury that it should consider the probable efficacy of a bite in spreading HIV because Smith could be found guilty of attempt without a concomitant finding that a bite would more probably than not spread HIV. The court found that Smith intended the result whether it was possible or not and the evidence did not show that a bite could not spread HIV. The court also held that the verdict was not against the weight of the evidence because whether Smith in fact knew that a bite would not spread HIV, his threats and acts were evidence that he did in fact believe it. The jury adjudged the credibility of Smith's belief. Finally, the court ruled that the trial judge did not err in not mitigating the sentence.
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