State v. Rogers
Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
2006 WL 2716870 (2006)
The State of Tennessee (plaintiff) prosecuted Matthew Lee Rogers (defendant) for aggravated arson, statutorily defined as knowingly damaging any structure by fire or explosion without the owner's permission, with the aggravating factor being that the structure was occupied at the time. The statute did not define "structure." Trial evidence established that Rogers deliberately set fire to wall-to-wall carpeting in another man's vacant apartment, without the man's permission, while many people occupied other area of the building. Although the burned area was not extensive, the fire burned through to the subflooring and the entire carpet needed replacement. The judge instructed the jury on the elements of aggravated arson and reckless burning, which was statutorily defined as recklessly starting a fire "on the land, building, structure or personal property of another." The jury suspended their deliberations to ask the judge for an instruction on the meaning of "structure." The judge denied the request, reasoning that he should leave it to the jury's common sense to determine if carpeting was part of the apartment building's structure. The jury found Rogers guilty of aggravated arson, and he appealed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Rogers contended that: (1) the evidence did not show that the burned carpet was part of the apartment building's structure, (2) the judge gave a confusing instruction on aggravated arson and reckless burning, and (3) Rogers was denied a fair trial because, after the judge refused the jury's request for an instruction on the meaning of "structure," some jurors consulted an electronic dictionary's definition of the term.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (McLin, J.)
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