Jury Instructions & Verdict Forms

Jury instructions and verdict forms are often hurriedly put together in the middle of trial, when an attorney has 100 other things on the mind.  And yet, these documents are critical to success at trial.  They are the entire framework within which the jury must work to render its verdict.  On Wednesday, the Hillsborough County Bar Association’s Trial & Litigation Section presented a CLE on these key components at trial.  The advice that ran through all three presentations:  Prepare your draft instructions and verdict form early and revisit them throughout trial.  Here’s a few other points from the CLE:

  • Mark your proposed instructions and verdict form and make sure they are filed in the court record.
  • Keep the charge conference “on the record.”
  • If you propose a special jury instruction, do not overreach.  The trial court is only compelled to give that instruction if it is:
    • An accurate statement of the law;
    • Supported by the facts of the case;
    • Necessary for the jury to properly resolve the issues; and
    • Not covered in the other instructions given to the jury.
  • If a case has multiple claims or defenses, a special interrogatory verdict may be key.  But read it carefully, aloud even, to ensure the jury will be able to follow it.
  • In civil cases, failing to properly preserve issues regarding the jury instructions or verdict form will almost always be fatal to any appeal.
  • In criminal cases, some errors in instructions or verdict forms will be considered fundamental (assuming there was no possible strategic reason for the defendant to invite or stay silent about the error).

Special thanks to co-presenters Hon. Matthew Lucas, Hon. Nelly Khouzam, and Jessica Goodwin Costello.

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