[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday in Musacchio v. US [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that sufficiency of the evidence appeals should not be based on the elements in an erroneous jury instruction, but rather on the elements of the crime charged. Musacchio was found guilty of unauthorized access to the protected computer of a competitor and conspiracy to make unauthorized access. During the trial, the jury instructions added an element to the charged crime, but the government did not object to that instruction. The instruction required the jury to find that Musacchio both agreed to make unauthorized access and exceeded authorized access, when the statute requires only that he agreed to make unauthorized access or exceed authorized access. In the unanimous decision, the court held:
When a jury finds guilt after being instructed on all elements of the charged crime plus one more element, the jury has made all the findings that due process requires. If a jury instruction requires the jury to find guilt on the elements of the charged crime, a defendant will have had a “meaningful opportunity to defend” against the charge. And if the jury instruction requires the jury to find those elements “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the defendant has been accorded the procedure that this Court has required to protect the presumption of innocence.The Government’s failure to introduce evidence of an additional element does not implicate the principles that sufficiency review protects. All that a defendant is entitled to on a sufficiency challenge is for the court to make a “legal” determination whether the evidence was strong enough to reach a jury at all.
Additionally, the court held that a statute of limitations defense cannot be raised for the first time on appeal.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in November after granting certiorari [JURIST reports] in June. This ruling affirmed the decision [opinion, PDF] of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website].