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Judge Doesn’t Have to Give Jury Written Instructions


by in Criminal Appeals

In this recent New Jersey criminal appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the defendant’s conviction on other grounds, but declined to rule that the trial judge’s refusal to supply the jury with written instructions deprived the defendant of a fair trial.

State v. Peter J. O’Brien, ? N.J. ?, 2009 N.J. LEXIS ? (December 29, 2009) – Conviction reversed for other reasons. The trial court’s refusal to honor the jury’s request for written instructions was not plain error requiring reversal. However, “Because the rule is silent regarding the kinds of considerations that should inform such a determination, we refer the matter to the Civil and Criminal Practice Committees for consideration of a more detailed standard to guide judges in exercising their discretion.

By way of example, but not limitation, the committees should consider whether, if there is a request, there should be a presumption that instructions that are immediately available will be provided; whether there should be a contrary presumption that instructions that are not immediately available will not be provided; whether a definition of ‘immediately available’ should be adopted; and what kinds of considerations regarding the nature of the case should factor into the judge’s Rule 1:8-8 calculus.” See also WITNESSES. (Jay L. Wilensky, A.D.P.D.)

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