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Researching Texas Law: Court Documents

Introduction

Jury instructions, also called jury charges, are the legal rules that jurors are expected to follow when deciding a civil or criminal case. These instructions are delivered to the jury members either verbally or in writing by the judge or one of the parties' attorneys.

Accurate, understandable jury instructions are vital to the outcome of a case. There are numerous examples of criminal verdicts, including death sentences, being overturned due to inaccurate or biased jury instructions. In addition, giving inadequate instructions can result in the jury misunderstanding your argument and delivering a verdict for your opponent.

To meet trial attorneys' and judges' need for easy-to-use instructions, model jury instructions were developed. These are standardized, statutorily sound instructions for many types of trials, which are intended to be read to the jury members by the judge or an attorney. They typically cover definitions, offense elements, defenses, and other foundational matters that a jury needs to understand in order to make a informed decision.

While it's often best for attorneys to draft their own instructions specifically tailored to the facts of their case, using model instructions as a foundation ensures that the jury receives statutorily accurate information and minimizes the chances of cases being lost due to inadequate instructions.

Finding Jury Instructions

Print source:

Texas Pattern Jury Charges - Published by Texas State Bar, this set of books includes volumes on civil and criminal topics. This division by topic makes it easier for practitioners to only purchase the volumes they need. The set includes sample forms, comments and annotations.

Online sources:

  • Westlaw offers model civil and criminal instructions. Note that these instructions are not the same as those published in Texas Pattern Jury Charges, so the wording and terminology may differ.
  • Lexis Advance offers access to civil and criminal instructions. These instructions are the same as those published in Texas Pattern Jury Charges.
  • Westlaw & Lexis Advance both include some filed Texas jury instructions in their trial court document databases.