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Supreme Court Affirms Simple Assault Conviction

In State of Vermont v. Ronald Bean, 2016 VT 73 (July 1, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for simple assault.

Issue: Defendant was charged with domestic assault after an incident at a residential facility for individuals with mental illnesses, but was ultimately convicted of simple assault as a lesser-included offense. Defendant then appealed, arguing that simple assault is not a lesser-included offense of domestic assault and that only the defendant should have the authority to request the inclusion of a lesser offense.

Holding: The Court affirmed the conviction, finding that simple assault is a lesser-included offense of domestic assault. Defendant’s argument rested on three ideas – first, that the domestic assault instruction included a “household member” requirement and the simple assault instruction did not; second, that the simple assault instruction had a proximate cause requirement and the domestic assault instruction did not; and third, that simple assault and domestic assault have different intent elements – purposely and willfully, respectively. The Court disagreed with all three of Defendant’s arguments, finding that simple assault is composed “exclusively of elements shared” with domestic assault, but lacks one element of it – the household member requirement. The Court also found that while a proximate cause instruction was provided as part of the simple assault instruction, it was superfluous and would have similarly been superfluous for the domestic assault instruction. As such, it did not add an additional element to simple assault, allowing the lesser-included offense to stand. With regard to Defendant’s third argument, the Court found that there was no meaningful difference between purposely and willfully – both suggest intentional rather than accidental actions. Finally, the Court concluded that the Vermont statute on lesser-included offenses explicitly provides for a lesser-included instruction on the request of either the prosecution or the defense.

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