A single criminal case may include different victims, multiple victims, and/or multiple offenses. This can complicate the analysis of double jeopardy questions and due process when attempting to distinguish which convictions should merge and which are separate offenses. For example, Tennessee courts in recent years have been attempting to answer the question of whether a kidnapping can ever be incidental to a robbery, rape or assault when the kidnapping conviction relates to a different victim than the robbery, rape or assault. Different panels of the Court of Criminal Appeals had arrived at different conclusions. The state Supreme Court has, this week, settled the question with the ruling that offenses involving specific victims can never be ‘incidental’ to each other when they apply to different victims.
The issue, as most recently addressed, arises from fairly recent Tennessee law requiring a jury to determine whether a charged kidnapping offense is really a separate offense or merely incidental to another offense such as robbery, rape, or assault (as these crimes also involve some restriction of a victim’s movement).
In the recent case of State v. Teats, M2012-01232-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. 7-14-2015), the defendant had been convicted of multiple crimes, including especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery, involving different victims during a robbery of a Shoney’s restaurant. On appeal, the defendant alleged the trial court had committed reversible error by not providing the jury instruction on how to determine if the kidnappings were separate crimes or incidental to robbery. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions, reasoning that the instruction is only required where the kidnapping and robbery offenses are of the same victim. In this case, there was one victim of a robbery and additional and different victims of especially aggravated kidnapping, who the defendant had not been charged with robbing. However, other panels had reached a different conclusion considering essentially the same question.
The state Supreme Court addressed this issue conclusively in the Teats case (as well as in others under consideration simultaneously), reasoning that crimes targeting separate victims are never incidental to each other (and therefore the trial court was correct to decline the requested instruction).
Interestingly, Justice Kirby’s concurring opinion (referencing a concurring opinion by Justice Bivins in another recent case) called into question whether the prevailing due process analysis of these questions is proper at all, as it essentially adds a judicially imposed element to kidnapping offenses. Yet, as she noted, that was not the question before the Court in this particular case. The views of Justices Kirby and Bivins leave open the possibility that the Court may one day revisit the question of whether a due process analysis should be applied to these situations at all, or whether they should be resolved simply by double jeopardy analysis instead.