uscourtmartiallawyers149Substance to Form. Instructions Generally

Substance to Form. Instructions Generally

Substance to Form. Instructions Generally

Three essential presumptions underlie the use of instructions at trial:

  1. The panel or jury hears and listens to the instructions. United States v. Smith, 25 C.M.R. 86 (C.M.A. 1958).
  2. The panel or jury understands the instructions. United States v. Quintanilla, 56 M.J. 37, 83 (C.A.A.F. 2001).
  3. The panel or jury follows the instructions. Quintanilla, 56 M.J. at 83.

Instructions should be written in plain language that is easy for lay people to understand. See Carolyn G. Robbins, Jury Instructions: Plainer is Better, Trial, Apr. 1996, at 32.

Instructions should be carefully tailored to the specific facts in each case. United States v. Harrison, 41 C.M.R. 179 (C.M.A. 1970).

Instructions must provide meaningful legal principles for the courts-martial’s consideration. United States v. Dearing, 63 M.J. 478, 483 (C.A.A.F. 2006).

Instructions must be given orally on the record in the presence of all parties and members. Written copies of the instructions or, unless a party objects, portions of them may also be given to the members for their use during deliberation. R.C.M. 920(d).

Further readings

  1. Colonel R. Peter Masterton, “Instructions: A Primer for Counsel” Army Law, Oct. 2007, at 85.
  2. The Army Trial Judiciary publishes an annual update on instructions in The Army Lawyer. See, e.g., Colonel Timothy Grammel and Lieutenant Colonel Kwasi L. Hawks, Annual Review of Developments in Instructions, Army Law., Feb. 2010, at 52.