Monday, September 10, 2007

Jury instructions: some before-and-after language

Professor Joseph Kimble had said that "the traditional language of jury instructions, while maybe not the worst legal writing, represents the worst failure of legal writing." This is because life, liberty, and property are on the line when lawyers write to jurors, and we've done a poor job. Here are some jury instruction before and after. They're not perfect, and the changes aren't even that dramatic. But when tested, the revision scored better than the original with mock jurors.

Do not conceal information or give answers which are not true. Listen to the questions and give full and complete answers.

Do not make personal inspections, observations, investigations, or experiments nor personally view premises, things or articles not produced in court.

If you do not obey the instructions I am about to give you, it may become necessary for another jury to re-try this case with all of the attendant waste of your time here and the expense to the litigants and the taxpayers of this county for another trial. We shall try the case as fast as possible consistent with justice, which requires a careful and correct trial.

Be honest when the lawyers ask you questions, and always give complete answers.

Do not view or inspect places or items from this case unless they are presented as evidence in court.

If you don't follow these instructions, I may have to order a new trial and start this process over again. That would be a waste of time and money, so please listen carefully to these instructions. I assure you we will handle this case as fast as we can, but we cannot rush things. We have to do it fairly and we have to follow the law.

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