You have been asked to prepare a set of jury instructions and a verdict form for trial . . . for the first time. What do you do? Where do you start? We offer some basic guidelines for drafting jury instructions or a verdict form, preparing for the charge conference, and preserving any error that may occur during or after the charge conference. The importance of having clear jury instructions, objections, and rulings on objections cannot be underestimated. Jury instructions are usually a fertile ground for appeal. Because they involve questions of law, jury instructions are often reviewed de novo, so it is imperative that you preserve all potential issues.
When you begin to draft jury instructions, consult a number of sources. Start with your jurisdiction’s standard or pattern instructions. Many jurisdictions provide model instructions and verdict forms for particular claims or defenses. Trial courts will usually use these instructions, unless you can show that they do not accurately describe the current state of the law or are otherwise insufficient. If you determine that additional instructions are necessary, these instructions are referred to as “special instructions.”