Best Practices: Jury Instructions

**This post was written by guest author and MRB attorney Richard Riley**

How the jury is instructed on the law greatly impacts its decision.  Many defense practitioners urge the trial judge to adopt a stack of jury charges drafted with subtle phraseology favoring their client; some plaintiff practitioners do this too. Because the Alabama Pattern Jury Instructions (“APJI”) have been honed to near perfection over the past four decades, practitioners seeking objectivity and accuracy have at least five good reasons to urge their judges to use the APJI predominantly and party-drafted charges sparingly.

1.  Accuracy.  Case law tells us an incorrect charge may be the basis for the granting of a new trial. But we know the APJI “represent a scholarly effort on the part of a group of experienced and dedicated judges and lawyers” to “reduce the number of appeals grounded on alleged erroneous instructions”. Wren v Blackburn, 304 So.2d 187, 193 (Ala. 1974).

2. Clarity.  Case law tells us that instructions that are potentially confusing, misleading, or incomplete require a new trial.  Since 2004, the APJI Committee has converted the APJI to plain language instructions that “not only..use words..that can be understood by most jurors, but frame[d]..in a way that will help tell the jury how to return a legal verdict based upon its findings.” Hanes, 68 Ala. Law. at 375.

3. Fairness.  Unlike many party-submitted charges, the APJI “are not weighted for either party and contain a simple, direct and impartial statement of the law”. Wren, 304 So.2d at 194. This is reflected in the fact that the APJI Committee is composed of appellate and trial judges, and practicing attorneys from both sides of the bar.

4.  Efficiency.  According to the Wren decision, the APJI was specifically designed to “enable busy trial judges to prepare and deliver [charges] in less time and with greater accuracy and thus allow them to devote more attention to other important aspects of trials”.  Wren, 204 So.2d at 193.

5.  Brevity.  Jurors (like all of us) have short attention spans and are eager to deliberate.  Even if repetitive charges are even-handed, they lengthen the trial and detract the jury from its mission.  The APJI cover nearly every aspect of most civil actions.  Thus, the need to use a party-drafted charge is rare.

These five reasons should be sufficient to encourage any circuit judge seemingly inclined to wade through a party-drafted stack of charges to reconsider.  it is suggested that the practitioner have a short brief with these points ready to counteract such a stack if it appears.

i 3 Table of Contents

We listen. Your story matters to us.

We have a team of courtroom lawyers with a proven track record to help you tell your story. And we have the resources, the experience and the reputation to make sure you’re heard.

Tell Us About Your Case

Check Consent Box

Honored To Be a Part of Their  Story
"They took a case that others would have stayed clear of.."
I have the utmost respect for Rip Andrews and the lawyers at MRB Law. They took a case that others would have stayed clear of because the issue of state immunity was involved. Through determination and unwavering commitment they were able to a find resolution to an extremely difficult matter.
Nancy Owen
"They took a case that others would have stayed clear of.."
I have the utmost respect for Rip Andrews and the lawyers at MRB Law. They took a case that others would have stayed clear of because the issue of state immunity was involved. Through determination and unwavering commitment they were able to a find resolution to an extremely difficult matter.
Nancy Owen
"They...brought justice to my family through a multi-million dollar verdict ."
These lawyers took a complicated issue, revealed the truth in a way 12 jurors unfamiliar with the topic could understand, and brought justice to my family through a multi-million dollar verdict. They were able to relate my “invisible” medical condition to the jury better than I can to my own friends. And because of that, the jury hugged me and cried with me when it was all over. That meant more to me than any amount of money.
Caroline Malatesta
"They...brought justice to my family through a multi-million dollar verdict."
These lawyers took a complicated issue, revealed the truth in a way 12 jurors unfamiliar with the topic could understand, and brought justice to my family through a multi-million dollar verdict. They were able to relate my “invisible” medical condition to the jury better than I can to my own friends. And because of that, the jury hugged me and cried with me when it was all over. That meant more to me than any amount of money.
Caroline Malatesta
"Our relationship began as strangers but ended in friendship thanks to the compassion he showed ."
I can’t adequately put into words the appreciation I have for Mr. Derrick Mills and MRB Law. He was assertive in his fight for justice for our family during our time of tragedy. Mr. Mills is knowledgeable, passionate and a great communicator. Our relationship began as strangers but ended in friendship thanks to the compassion he showed. Thank you Mr. Mills for being a dedicated professional! Justice done right!
Dana Owens
"Our relationship began as strangers but ended in friendship thanks to the compassion he showed."
I can’t adequately put into words the appreciation I have for Mr. Derrick Mills and MRB Law. He was assertive in his fight for justice for our family during our time of tragedy. Mr. Mills is knowledgeable, passionate and a great communicator. Our relationship began as strangers but ended in friendship thanks to the compassion he showed. Thank you Mr. Mills for being a dedicated professional! Justice done right!
Dana Owens
Related Articles
Police Shooting Case Moves Forward

This is the story of one of the police shooting cases the attorneys of Marsh Rickard & Bryan are handling: On April 24, 2014, Aubrey Williams was complying with a police officer’s command to get on the ground. Once Williams was on his hands and knees the officer...

Fair Courts

Our country's state courts do not reflect the racial and gender diversity of the communities they serve.  That is the conclusion of a new study on state supreme court diversity published by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.State...

Re-victimizing the Victims

This is not a pretty story.  And it certainly doesn't reflect well on our country's civil justice system.We're talking about how "purchasing" companies buy up structured settlements on the cheap from people desperate for immediate cash -- evidently in full view of our...

Related Videos
Personal Account
Business Account
Investments
Insurance Services
Ohter Services
Debit Card
Credit Card

Your story matters to us

Tell Us Your Story