Notice Inviting Comment
Proposed Model Jury Instructions on Homicide
The Supreme Judicial Court's
Committee on Model Jury Instructions on Homicide
Invites Comments on Proposed
Revised Model Jury Instructions on Homicide
In 1999, the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court approved and recommended the use of Model Jury Instructions on Homicide (1999 Model Instructions). In 2010, the Justices created a new Committee on Model Jury Instructions on Homicide (Committee), and charged it with reviewing and updating the 1999 Model Jury Instructions on Homicide. The Justices appointed Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Ralph Gants as chair of the Committee, and the following as members: Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Margot Botsford; Superior Court Justices Kenneth Fishman,
The Committee members have prepared Proposed Revised Model Jury Instructions on Homicide in light of the following goals:
-To update the jury instructions to reflect current constitutional, statutory, and case law, and provide explanatory comments and citations to relevant precedent;
- To tie together cohesively and in a logical order the crimes charged, lesser included offenses, and common defenses so that juries will better understand the instructions;
- Where legal terms differ from the ordinary meaning given those words by jurors, to use words consistent with their ordinary meaning. For example, the Committee no longer uses the term "malice" because its legal meaning differs from its lay meaning, and its legal meaning for murder in the first degree with deliberate premeditation differs from its legal meaning for murder in the first degree with extreme atrocity or cruelty and murder in the second degree. The Committee has not replaced other legal terminology (e.g. "wanton and reckless," "heat of passion") because these terms, while archaic, are used consistently with their ordinary meaning.
The instructions are intended to reflect the law of murder, not revise it, and detailed citations have been provided in support of each instruction. While the Committee aimed for clarity and precision, it quickly recognized that it could not reasonably aspire to transform the homicide instructions into "plain language." Our law of murder is too complex to permit plain language as to many issues relevant to homicide.
Because of the many relevant legal developments since 1999 and the Committee's decision to reorder some of the instructions, a black-line version of the Proposed Revised Model Jury Instructions that tracks the Committee's changes to the 1999 Model Instructions would not be helpful. Nor would it be helpful to attempt to identify each change in wording or ordering between the 1999 Model Instructions and the Proposed Revised Instructions, because there are so many.
The Justices have authorized the Committee to post the Proposed Revised Model Jury Instructions on Homicide (see link below) for public comment. Please note that these revised instructions do not include instructions for motor vehicle homicide; the revision of those instructions has not yet been completed. The Committee welcomes all comments pertaining to the issues raised by this proposal and will make recommendations to the Supreme Judicial Court after reviewing the comments submitted. When submitting comments, please clearly identify the page number, specific instruction, and the specific language in the instruction that you are commenting on; suggest alternative language, if appropriate; and provide any applicable authority for your position.
Comments should be directed to The Committee on Model Jury Instructions on Homicide, c/o Attorney