Why should I consult instructions from outside my circuit?
Not all circuits have pattern instructions. If your circuit does not have pattern instructions, it is obviously beneficial to look at how each circuit views your theory of the case, and to pick the language that best presents your client's view.
Even circuits with pattern instructions may miss statutes or subjects covered in other circuits.
If your circuit's instructions are several years old, they may not address the latest legal developments (e.g., new legislation or a new Supreme Court decision).
A topic treated in a cursory manner in your circuit might be the subject of an extended, well-reasoned annotation in another circuit, and suggest a claim or defense that had not occurred to you.
You won't know until you have looked at every circuit. That's why they are
all collected here.
The trialdex search box on the front page works by sending your queries to Google, where documents containing the search term are displayed on a results page. The default search is for federal instructions, but you have the option to select state instructions. You may need to use Ctrl F (find in page) to locate your search term after opening the target document.
Some courts do not post jury instructions on the Internet, so those instructions will not be picked up by the search engine. Also, although the trialdex queries attempt to screen out documents that are not jury instructions, some documents that are not instructions may show up in the results.
Alternatively, you can click on "search titles" to search the tables of contents. Presently this feature only includes official federal criminal instructions (circuits three and five through eleven).
This is, therefore, an imprecise tool, but a helpful one.
Keeping current with new or amended instructions is a challenge, since the courts post the changes without any notice. So I check the federal sites for changes every week. Keeping up with state changes is a bit problematic, but links for checking them are
When I see a federal update, I detail the changes on the trialdex
jury instruction blog, and email jury instruction alerts to anyone who has
signed up for them. This is a free service, and that list is not used for any other purpose.
Note that subscription sites like Westlaw and Lexis are much more casual about updates; they can take months (sometimes over a year) to post new or modified federal instructions.
No matter which service you use, it is good practice to double check the official sites
(conveniently linked here) before citing a pattern instruction.
Can I sign up to be notified when instructions are revised?
Yes. Send an email request to email@example.com to receive free jury instruction email alerts whenever a federal circuit adds or revises a pattern jury instruction. The email will link expert commentary in the trialdex
jury instruction blog with, where helpful, a redline/strikeout view of the changes.
Your email address will be stored offline, and will not be used for any other purpose. All emails will come with an "opt out" link.
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