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Jury Instructions Research Guide: Jury Instructions in General

Jury instructions are directions from the judge to the jury regarding the applicable law specific to the case being tried. They serve as a guide to assist the jurors in understanding the legal and factual issues and in reaching a verdict.

Finding Jury Instructions

Find instructions using these databases. Access is restricted and requires username and password credentials.


Bloomberg Law - Choose Litigation → Dockets Tab → Litigation Resources → Other Court Materials → Federal and State Jury Instructions

 

LexisAdvance - Choose Browse → Sources by Category → Jury Instructions

 

Westlaw - Choose All Content → Secondary Sources → Jury Instructions

Getting Started

This Research Guide provides information about jury instructions and tips for finding model jury instructions available at Marquette University Eckstein Law Library, on free websites and through subscription databases. Neither this guide nor the resources mentioned are meant to be an exhaustive bibliography about jury instructions. Rather, the contents of this research guide are intended to aid the researcher in locating jury instructions and other resources about instructions.

This Getting Started page is a quick-reference guide to finding forms and jury instructions. See the headings tabbed at the top of this guide for more specific information on Federal, Wisconsin, Seventh Circuit, States and Subject-Specific jury instructions as well as Current issues related to jury instructions.

GETTING STARTED

To properly focus your research, identify the jurisdiction for the instructions needed:

Federal - United States Circuit Courts of Appeals or United States District Courts

State - Individual state's court(s)

LOCATING BOOKS AND TREATISES AT MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY ECKSTEIN LAW LIBRARY

Search the Marqcat online catalog for the title, if known, or try a keyword or subject search for "jury instructions". Forms, deskbooks and practice guides may provide the information needed.  For example, a subject search for "jury instructions - united states" would help find federal materials.

TOPICAL INSTRUCTIONS

Determine if subject-specific, or topical, instructions are available for your area of interest:

PRINT

Check the Marqcat catalog for Law LIbrary holdings. The American Bar Association, for example, publishes several titles that provide discussion and sample jury instructions for a specific topic or area of law such as real estate.

ONLINE

Some subject-specific instructions may be found online by searching Google or another search engine.

LOCATING ONLINE INSTRUCTIONS

FREE WEBSITES provide links to jury instructions:

Court websites may include model or pattern instructions. Search for a specific jurisdiction using a search engine such as Google.

Compilations provide lists of websites with jury instructions, usually with links to the instructions. Here are a few links to such compilations:

United States Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit Library

United States Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit Library

Federal Evidence Review - Federal Jury Instructions Resource Page

COMMERCIAL DATABASES are available by subscription and may provide model jury instructions. The suggested research paths listed below for Bloomberg, Lexis and Westlaw will take the researcher to lists of jury instructions provided in each database. This is just one method for locating instructions. Other search strategies may be performed to locate instructions. These databases may also be searched for actual court documents/jury instructions filed in a specific case. Access is restricted to Marquette University Law School students and faculty and require individual passwords and usernames. See a list of Subscription Databases at Marquette University Eckstein Law LIbrary along with brief descriptions of the database and access restrictions.

Bloomberg Law

Choose Litigation → Dockets Tab → Litigation Resources → Other Court Materials → Federal and State Jury Instructions

LexisAdvance

Choose Browse → Sources by Category → Jury Instructions

Westlaw

Choose All Content → Secondary Sources → Jury Instructions

LOCATING ARTICLES IN PERIODICALS INDEXES

To locate relevant law review or law journal articles about jury instructions use an indexing service that offers references to many journals.

PRINT

Current Law Index (CLI)

Index to Legal Periodicals and Books (ILPB)

ONLINE

Searching online for law journal articles can be more efficient than searching print indexes. For some databases, access may be restricted to Law School students and faculty and may require individual passwords and usernames. See a list of Subscription Databases at Marquette University Eckstein Law Library along with brief descriptions of the database and access restrictions.

Google Scholar

HeinOnline (Access is restricted to members of the Marquette Community.)

JStor (Access is restricted to members of the Marquette Community.)

LegalTrac (Access is restricted to faculty and students of Marquette University Law School and patrons visiting the law library.)

Lexis (Access is restricted to faculty and students of Marquette University Law School through individual usernames and passwords)

LexisNexis Academic (Access is restricted to members of the Marquette Community.)

Westlaw (Access is restricted to faculty and students of Marquette University Law School through individual usernames and passwords.)

MODIFYING MODEL JURY  INSTRUCTIONS

Model jury instructions typically need to be modified to fit the facts of a specific case. For examples of modified jury instructions, check:

Court filings of trial documents for jury instructions filed in actual cases using resources such as Lexis and Westlaw

Companion handbooks which may include filings, model  instructions and tips on modifying the instructions, such as the Federal Jury Practice and Instructions: Civil Companion Handbook.

 

 

 

 

Importance of Jury Instructions

Jury instructions are an important component of a trial because they focus the jury on the specific  issues and laws applicable to the case being tried. Jury instructions should identify the issues the jury will need to decide and help them understand the legal principles of the case. The importance of jury instructions to the outcome of the case cannot be stressed enough. Jurors cannot issue a proper verdict if the jury instructions are not understandable or if they do not appropriately address the legal issues of the case. Trial courts can be reversed for providing a poorly worded or inadequate instruction. An erroneous jury instruction may require a new trial. Therefore, a successful jury instruction is understandable with clear, simple statements which are less likely to contain errors.

Jury instructions are also an important legal research tool because they explain the law in plain language, include what elements need to be proven and provide citations to relevant cases and statutes. From a research standpoint, the most helpful are annotated forms and jury instructions that provide citations. Pattern or model jury instructions may also provide commentary and summarize the authority behind the instruction as well as serve as a checklist for the points of law that will need to be covered in the instructions and at trial. Therefore, jury instructions can be an invaluable resource for preparing complaints, defenses and courtroom arguments.

 

 

Definitions

The following definitions are derived from Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed., 2014), the Wolters Kluwer Bouvier Law Dictionary (2011) and other miscellaneous sources: 

Jury Instruction - A direction or guideline that a judge gives a jury concerning the law of the case. A jury instruction is given by the judge to the jury to explain what is happening in the court, to explain the points of law relevant to the case, to explain certain aspects of the evidence presented and to assist the jurors in understanding their duties in reaching a verdict. Also called jury charge, charge and jury direction.

Cautionary Instruction - An instruction by the judge to the jurors to ensure that some aspect of the trial, some evidence introduced, testimony made, action involving a party or other personnel does not influence the jurors in an inappropriate way or encourage a mistaken or false impression. It may also be the judge's instruction regarding the influence of outside factors such as news reports or social media.

Model Jury Instruction - A form jury instruction usually approved by a state bar association or similar group regarding matters arising in a typical case. Courts usually accept model jury instructions as authoritative. Model instructions usually set forth the legal standards to be applied given claims and defenses for a particular case. The instructions must then be modified to fit the circumstances in that particular case. Also called pattern jury instruction, pattern jury charge, model jury charge, model jury direction, pattern jury direction.

Pattern Jury Instruction - See Model Jury Instruction

Preliminary Instruction - Instruction to the jury at the beginning of the trial to aid jurors in performing their duties. Generally, cautionary instructions, matters concerning the credibility of witnesses and definitions of terms are considered proper subjects for instructions to the jury before evidence is heard.

Jury Instructions in General

The following selected titles and articles may provide an overview of jury instructions in general and also provide an evolutionary look at jury instructions.