In my last column, I discussed some of the differences between bench trials and jury trials, and how jury trials are so much more challenging for a variety of reasons, one of which is the process of writing, compiling, submitting and arguing over jury instructions.
For civil cases in Missouri, there is a big fat book entitled Missouri Approved Jury Instructions, affectionately called “MAI” by practitioners. It is promulgated by the Missouri Supreme Court, which maintains a committee of leading trial attorneys from around the state to meet, and draft, update and submit for approval to the court pattern instruction forms, comments, and notes on use that go into MAI.
The instructions in MAI are designed to follow the law as provided in the statutes and cases on the books, and in its 1,000-plus pages it sets forth a number of types of pattern instruction forms to be used to instruct juries in civil trials in the state of Missouri.
These include explanatory instructions, instructions on the burden of proof, instructions on determining damages, definition instructions, verdict directors and verdict forms.
Explanatory instructions are just that, instructions that are given to the jury in every civil case regardless of what type of case it is that applies generally to the functions and obligations of jury service.
Burden-of-proof instructions describe the quantum of proof that a jury must find in a given case, and also which party has the burden of proof on which claims and issues. The burden of proof can vary, depending on the type of case. Generally, the plaintiff has the burden of proof on its claim, and the defendant has the burden of proof on any applicable affirmative defenses.
Damage instructions include what can be considered by the jury in determining damages, and what can’t be, depending on the applicable law.
Definition instructions are, well, definitions that are used throughout the different types of jury instructions. Many of the terms used in the various instructions require a definition instruction.
Verdict directors are instructions that set out the elements of the parties’ claims and defenses that a jury must find in order to enter a verdict in favor of that party.
And, verdict forms are the actual forms that the jurors fill out and sign to give their verdict.
Just last month, the MAI committee wrote and the Missouri Supreme Court adopted and approved a new explanatory instruction entitled “Juror Bias.”
This instruction was promulgated based on the recommendation of the American Bar Association that all states come up with a bias instruction as part of the ABA’s Achieving an Impartial Jury project.
This is to be read in all civil cases prior to jury selection, and also as part of the overall collection of instructions that are read to the jury before they begin deliberations, and are then given to the jury, in written form, to take back with them during deliberations, with all of the other instructions in the case.
I think it is very well-conceived. It reads:
Justice depends on careful and fair decisions based on a conscious and unbiased analysis of the evidence in this case. It is the duty of every juror to determine the facts based upon the evidence presented at trial. Automatic or reflexive responses influenced by conscious or unconscious preconceptions or stereotypes should not enter into that determination. Bias based upon factors such as race, sex, gender, gender identity, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, or marital status has no role in the pursuit of justice. Your conclusions in this case should be based on a fair and unbiased consideration of the evidence and respect for the views of other jurors whose backgrounds and perspectives may be different from yours.
Beautiful and marvelously stated! This new juror bias instruction gives important guidance to jurors and serves to remind them of the importance of unbiased consideration in each and every case. It is an instruction that an attorney can point to when representing someone who may otherwise be a victim of bias or prejudice. And, it is an example of the ongoing effort of our bar and judiciary to improve the jury system in our good state.
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.