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Mississippi Updates Jury Instructions For First Time in 30 Years

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 24 Oct 2012 03:44pm | comments
Jury guildlines.

Mississippi Judges now have a new set of recommended instructions for juries around the state. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports the goal of the overhaul is to make the instruction easy understand, remove outdated language, and include guidance on new crimes.

Before Mississippi juries deliberate, judges give jurors a set of instructions.

Appeals court judge David Ishee says those guild lines can be heavy with legalese and confusing.

"I think it is very important that we get away from a lot of the more elite or intellectual or cerebral type language from the law. And allow for everybody to understand it because it is written for every citizen, not just those who are well versed in the law," Ishee said.

Ishee says a main goal of the three year long overhaul is to have the instructions be specific but also written in 'plain language'.

The new set of guild lines cover every criminal and civil statute in the state making each several hundred pages long.

However, juries are only given instruction relevant to their case.

Judge Ishee says it is essential that juries understand their instructions in order to reach accurate decisions.

"The law is a shield to protect the citizens and to protect the individuals. It is not a club for the government to beat people about the head and shoulders. And that's what the courts are there for. We are there to be the great leveler and make all things equal. And I think this goes a long way to make things fairer for all parties," Ishee said.

Supreme Court presiding justice George Carlson says understandable instructions can help reduce cases where convictions are challenged because juries were given vague or incorrect guide lines.

"Certainly, I think it will help and maybe cut down on reversals on jury instructions. But than again, this court and the court of appeals have to stand open to look at each case on a case to case basis," Carlson said.

This is the first update since the 1970's.

The model instructions are suggestions to Mississippi judges, who are free to change them to fit the specific facts of each case.

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Jury guildlines.


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