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Jeffries v. State

Supreme Court of Nevada

July 6, 2017

MICHAEL JOSEPH JEFFRIES, Appellant,
v.
THE STATE OF NEVADA, Respondent.

         Appeal from a judgment of conviction, pursuant to a jury verdict, of second-degree murder. Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County; J. Charles Thompson, Senior Judge.

          Gentile Cristalli Miller Armeni Savarese and Vincent Savarese III, Las Vegas, for Appellant.

          Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General, Carson City; Steven B. Wolfson, District Attorney, Steven S. Owens, Chief Deputy District Attorney, and Binu G. Palal, Deputy District Attorney, Clark County, for Respondent.

          BEFORE DOUGLAS, GIBBONS and PICKERING, JJ.

          OPINION

          DOUGLAS, J.

         In this appeal, we consider whether the district court abused its discretion in denying appellant's motion for a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct and his motion for a new trial based on juror misconduct, and whether the district court abused its discretion in declining to provide the jury with a supplemental clarifying instruction on malice aforethought. We conclude that appellant failed to establish any prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct and that appellant's trial counsel failed to adequately develop the record to assess whether he was prejudiced by juror misconduct. We further conclude that because the instructions on malice given to the jury were correct and appellant failed to indicate what supplemental clarifying instruction the district court should have provided, appellant fails to demonstrate error. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of conviction.

         We take this opportunity to provide guidance on two recent cases. First, we provide guidance on the applicability of Bowman v. State, 132 Nev., Adv. Op. 74, 387 P.3d 202 (2016), regarding the district court's duty to instruct the jury not to conduct independent research or investigation. Second, we provide guidance on the scope of Gonzalez v. State, 131 Nev., Adv. Op. 99, 366 P.3d 680 (2015), concerning the district court's duty to provide additional instruction when a jury's questions during deliberations suggest confusion or lack of understanding of applicable law.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 22, 2011, appellant Michael Jeffries invited a few guests to his house in Las Vegas, including his longtime friend, Eric Gore. Jeffries' then live-in girlfriend Mandy and her 13-year-old daughter Brittany were also present at the house that entire evening. Both Jeffries and Gore were intoxicated when Gore became angry with one of the guests. Jeffries took Gore outside in an effort to calm him down. The two then returned to the house and continued to drink, but Gore was still upset. The other guests left as a result, but Gore refused to leave. An altercation ensued, which prompted Jeffries to retrieve his gun from under the mattress in his bedroom. As Jeffries exited his bedroom, an unarmed Gore approached, and Jeffries fatally shot him once in the heart from a distance of 2 to 3 feet.

         The only other eyewitness to the shooting, Brittany, recounted the details of that night in statements to police and testimony at the preliminary hearing. Her statements and testimony discredited the defense theory that Gore ran aggressively toward Jeffries before Jeffries shot him in self-defense. When the State called Brittany as its first witness at trial, she could not remember many of the details she previously recounted. In the State's rebuttal closing argument, the prosecutor suggested that Jeffries might have indirectly influenced Brittany's trial testimony and made statements regarding her credibility. On this basis, Jeffries objected and later moved for a mistrial. The district court denied Jeffries' motion.

         During deliberations, the district court received three questions from the jury presented in two notes. The first note indicated that a juror had conducted outside research, which prompted the district court to reinstruct the jury pursuant to both parties' request. The second note inquired about the jury instructions; however, the district court did not provide a supplemental clarifying instruction.

         Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of second-degree murder. Jeffries filed a motion for a new trial, which the district court denied. The court then sentenced Jeffries to serve a prison term of 10 years to life for the murder and a consecutive prison term of 1-6 years for the deadly weapon enhancement. Jeffries now appeals from the judgment of conviction.

         DISCUSSION

         Prosecutorial misconduct

         Jeffries argues that the district court erred by denying his motion for a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct. Jeffries contends that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct by vouching for Brittany and arguing that Jeffries influenced Brittany's testimony at trial. Conversely, the State argues that Jeffries raises his vouching argument for the first time on appeal and that this claim does not constitute reversible plain error. The State further denies that its argument concerning Jeffries' influence on Brittany's trial testimony amounted to prosecutorial misconduct because its rebuttal closing argument was appropriate based on the evidence and a proper response to ...


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