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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Why are pattern jury instructions so important?

  • The pattern instructions explain—in plain language—how evidence should be viewed, what needs to be proven, and what the defenses are.
  • They are accompanied by concise legal annotations written by judges that address all commonly litigated trial issues. In other words, they are bullet-proof authority on most issues of consequence.

Competent trial lawyers know them cold at the very beginning of every case.

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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 in a common index.

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What instructions are indexed on trialdex?

Trialdex indexes all federal civil and criminal instructions and annotations that have official or quasi-official status (i.e., are posted on a federal court Web site). These instructions are freely available on the Internet on these sites:

first | third | fourth (criminal) | fifth | sixth (criminal) seventh | eighth | ninth | tenth (criminal) | eleventh
They may also be full text searched.

Trialdex does not index secondary source instructions (which are only available on pay sites). This would include O'Malley (sometimes called "Devitt/Blackmar") instructions (available on Westlaw), Modern Federal ("Sands") (Lexis), and DC Red/Blue book instructions (Lexis). These instructions are helpful if you have the proper subscriptions, but they are not as authoritative as official instructions.

Other sources for federal jury instructions are listed in the Third Circuit's Model Civil Jury Instructions at Appendix Two. See also the 1987 Federal Judicial Conference instructions.

Trialdex does not index state instructions, but links to any state instructions that are posted on the Internet can be found here, along with a box that allows you to full text search them.

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How does the full text search box work?

Trialdex search boxes work by sending your queries to Google, where they are displayed on a results page. There are some quirks:

  • Due to Google limits on query size, which in turn limits the number of sites that can be searched simultaneously, the search box uses "radio buttons" to break up the search into three discrete searches: federal (all the federal circuits); state (AL-LA) (Alabama-Louisiana); and state (MA-WA) (Massachusetts-Washington).
  • On a second or subsequent query, the Google results page may show the results of the previous query instead of your current one. If this happens, just press CtrlR or F5 to refresh the page.

  • Some courts do not post instructions on the Internet, so those instructions don't appear here. Also, although the query attempts to screen out documents that are not jury instructions, some documents that are not instructions may show up in the results.

This is, therefore, an imprecise tool, but, we think, a helpful one. For best results, supplement your search by using the other jury instruction research tools on the site.

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How up-to-date are the trialdex instructions?

Keeping current with new or amended instructions is a challenge, since the courts post the changes with little if any notice. So we check the official sites every week, and update our indexes and links accordingly.

When we do these updates, we 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. Folks on that email list will get immediate detailed descriptions of changes or additions to state or federal pattern jury instructions.

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 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.

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Can I sign up to be notified when instructions are revised?

Yes. Send an email request to to receive free jury instruction email alerts whenever a circuit or state adds or revises a pattern jury instruction. The email will include expert commentary and, 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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Do the First and Fourth Circuits have official instructions?

Technically, no. But the trialdex federal jury instruction index indexes unofficial instructions that are posted on official federal court sites in these circuits. Two of these are First Circuit instructions currently edited by Judge Torresen:

Eric Wm. Ruschky is the author of a set of regularly updated Fourth Circuit criminal instructions and annotations, Pattern Jury Instructions for Federal Criminal Cases, District of South Carolina. The current version (March 2018) is posted on the District of South Carolina Web site, and indexed on trialdex.

Carl Horn's Federal Criminal Jury Instructions for the Fourth Circuit is also widely used, but are not posted on the Internet, and consequently are not indexed here.

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Are the Judicial Conference instructions indexed on trialdex?

No. In 1982 a Federal Judicial Conference subcommittee drafted a set of jury instructions that were revised in 1987, but have not been revised since then. The subcommittee that drafted them no longer exists, and there are no plans for a new edition. Though influential in the past, their age makes them too unreliable to index here.

The 1987 revised version is posted on the Federal Judicial Center Web site for "historical interest."

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Is there a table of cases or statutes?

Every United States Supreme Court decision cited in a federal instruction or annotation appears in the trialdex index. Case names starting with "United States v." are listed by the defendant's name, e.g., ROSEMOND rather than UNITED STATES v. ROSEMOND.

Every reference to a United States Code (U.S.C.) statute, C.F.R. provision, or federal rule in a federal instruction or annotation is linked linked as well. Just click on the usc, cfr, or rules links at the end of the alpha list.

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Why does the link take me to page one of the PDF?

Trialdex index links are of two types: PDF, and (when available) DOC links. These links open a copy of the document containing the instruction that is on the court's official site. There is a way to craft PDF links so that they take you to the specific page where the instruction appears, and trialdex PDF links are constructed to work that way.

This works fine if you are using Chrome, Firefox, or Opera, but other browsers, notably (at this writing) Edge and Safari, will ignore the page number and send you to page one of the PDF (explanation). Also, the page numbers in some circuit tables of contents are unreliable; in those cases the link may take you to the beginning of a section of instructions.

This should not be a critical issue. If the link does not send you to the precise page, just scroll down, or use your browser's Ctrl-F ("find in page") command to navigate to the specific instruction.

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What are trialdex tools?

Trialdex tools are a series of questions and answers (Q&As) that walk you through complex legal problems. Current tools include:

How do they work?


How do they work?

Trialdex litigation tools may be used to spot issues and identify important authority (rules, statutes, Supreme Court cases). They are intended to replicate the organized thinking process of a legal expert. They work like flowcharts, but the format permits brief explanations of the legal terms.

For example, a flowchart for the lawful interrogation tool would look like the image on the right (click to view full size pdf), but there is no room on the chart for definitions of the legal terms (e.g., "custody" or "interrogation") or case citations. That information is available in the Q&As.

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Are the tools formal legal advice?

No, they are not, and they do not create an attorney-client relationship with the reader. The suggested answers are the beginning of your legal research, not the end. This should be self-evident, since trialdex tools are functionally similar to any secondary legal resource (just a bit smarter). A trialdex tool will give you a suggested issue or result, and a case or other authority to use in continuing with conventional research.

It should be noted that the answers are based on federal law, and do not directly address state constitutions or statutes. But federal authority is often persuasive in state litigation (state rules tend to be modeled on federal rules).

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Are the tools just for lawyers?

No. The lawful interrogation and automobile search tools, for example, can be used by defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges to spot issues and leading cases before proceeding with conventional legal research.

But they may also be used by police officers. In most cases, officers will know from training and experience whether to proceed with questioning or a search, but these tools can be used to confirm those judgments, and to assist in framing questions for police legal advisors. The charts posted here are also freely available as training aids.

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How do I offer suggestions, corrections, or get more help?

Click on the contact link at the bottom of the page.

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