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Understanding Jury Instructions

Jury instructions identify the basic elements of civil claims, criminal charges, and defenses, with accompanying citations to relevant cases, statutes, and secondary sources (including forms).

They can help you:

  • Understand the basic elements and find the underlying law.
  • Set out the basic elements of a case or defense in a complaint, demurrer, or other pleading.
  • And, of course, instruct a jury.

Most courts publish official jury instructions, also called model or pattern jury instructions. These instructions provide you with valuable insight into the courts' view of the law but do not cover every scenario and typically need to be modified to fit the facts of the specific case.

Both Lexis and Westlaw provide treatises with guidance on modifying instructions, unofficial model instructions for specific scenarios, and databases of jury instructions from real cases.

California Jury Instructions

California has two major sets of model jury instructions.

  • Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (prounounced "Casey") and Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions  (CALCRIM) are the official jury instructions published by the California State Judicial Council. They are the default jury instructions the judge will use in court, unless you successfully request alternate jury instructions.
  • BAJI (Book of Approved Jury Instructions- Civil)  and CALJIC (California Jury Instructions, Criminal) were published by the Los Angeles Superior Court from the 1930s to early 2000s but are now published by West. Never officially endorsed, they have since been superseded by the official CACI and CALCRIM instructions.

Both Matthew Bender (Lexis) and West (Westlaw) publish treatises that provide guidance on adapting the model instructions for use in real cases.

Federal Jury Instructions

Most federal circuits, including the Ninth Circuit, produce optional model or pattern jury instructions. Both Matthew Bender (Lexis) and West (Westlaw) publish treatises that include the full text of the model or pattern jury instructions, with extensive guidance on adapting them for use in real cases.

Multi-jurisdictional Jury Instructions

Several publishers offer model jury instructions for specific practice areas.

Most notably, the ABA produces a series of model jury instructions on specific topics, some of which are available on a case by case basis on Westlaw or Lexis. Bender also produces a series of jury instructions on specific topics, available on Lexis.

Other State and Circuit Specific Jury Instructions

LLRX and the Seventh Circuit law library have compiled directories of free, official jury instructions available online.

Additionally, Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg all provide access to official and unofficial jury instructions from multiple states and federal circuits.