The question of instructions to juries is a perennial problem with practitioners and judges. Having in mind the seriousness of this subject, the Judicial Council of West Virginia, some months ago, formulated a program for thorough investigation and consideration of the instructions enigma. In response to the council's request that it render assistance in the matter, the faculty of the College of Law of West Virginia University caused to be made a synopsis of all the state statutes dealing with instructions. Only a few of the states have no such statutes. Virginia is among that small number. Though I am no longer a member of the Judicial Council, my interest having been aroused in this important procedural matter by the discussions which took place in the council, I have made some investigation of the subject within recent weeks. Logically, the initial inquiry should be directed to the extent of the seriousness of the problem. First: Within what measure does the giving of erroneous instructions or the refusal of correct instructions contribute to the reversal of cases? Second: Does the giving of instructions under the present system actually assist juries in the rightful determination of cases? To this latter inquiry, perhaps the correct composite answer is this: If the instruction or charge is clear and concise and not voluminous, the jury is thereby substantially assisted, but prolixity, volubility, and multiplicity necessarily tend to confusion. Sometimes instructions are tendered almost en masse. Under present law, all instructions offered, if technically correct and not repetitious, must be read by the court to the jury unless the court embodies them substantially in a charge. The query therefore arises whether this is a whole some situation. It is not my purpose in this discussion to attempt to advocate particular views, or to urge reform. I am simply endeavoring to state the facts of the case as a basis for study.
The Problem of Jury Instructions,
W. Va. L. Rev.
Available at: https://researchrepository.wvu.edu/wvlr/vol43/iss1/2