Aggravated Sexual Assault

Reporter’s Note

Sexual Act. Where the State’s information specifies the type of sexual act alleged, the trial court should use the term “the alleged sexual act” rather than “a sexual act” when instructing the jury on the essential elements. State v. Stephens, 2020 VT 87, ¶ 19, 213 Vt. 253. Additionally, to avoid juror confusion, the court should instruct on the specific sexual act charged, rather than identifying all the statutorily defined types of sexual acts when explaining the elements of sexual assault. Id.

CR27-411, -461, -471: Serious Bodily Injury. The revised definition of “serious bodily injury,” derived from 13 V.S.A. § 1021(2), reflects the legislative determination that strangulation constitutes serious bodily injury. Because the statute’s structure sets out Subsections 1021(2)(A) and (2)(B) as separate, alternative definitions, the updated instruction includes brackets to indicate that the entire definition may not be appropriate in all cases. For instance, where no evidence of strangulation is presented, there is no reason to instruct the jury on the definition of strangulation as provided in Subsection (2)(B). Conversely, in cases where the only evidence is of strangulation, there is no reason to instruct the jury on the definition in Subsection (2)(A) or, for that matter, the definition of “bodily injury.”

The Committee recognizes that some cases might present evidence of both types of serious bodily injury (strangulation and non-strangulation). In those cases, it may be appropriate to instruct the jury on the entire statutory definition, and the jury would likely have to reach a unanimous decision as to either Subsection (2)(A) or (2)(B). Unlike the three “ascending mental states” for second degree murder, which are applied as a hierarchy, see State v. Boglioli, 2011 VT 60, ¶¶ 11–12, 190 Vt. 542; State v. Bolio, 159 Vt. 250, 253-54 (1992), the two definitions of serious bodily injury are presented as alternatives where one does not necessarily subsume the other.

In cases involving evidence of strangulation, the state may proceed either upon a theory that the defendant recklessly caused serious bodily injury to the victim or that the defendant intentionally strangled the victim by intentionally impeding normal breathing or circulation of blood by applying pressure on the throat or neck or by blocking the nose or mouth of another person.  As suggested in State v. Carter, 2017 VT 32, ¶ 16, 204 Vt. 383, the state should elect between those two options, and the instructions should not blend or commingle the two separate definitions.

CR27-421 (“Joined by Others”). See State v. Wilder & Campbell, 2010 VT 17, 187 Vt. 383.