Friday, March 29, 2013

New Model Jury Instructions on Homicide

On March 21, 2013, the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court released new Model Jury Instructions on Homicide.  The use of Model Jury Instructions on Homicide were first approved and recommended by the Justices in 1999.  A new committee on Model Jury Instructions on Homicide was formed by the Justices in 2010, and charged it with reviewing and updating the 1999 instructions.

A Statement of the Justices has been issued approving and recommending the use of these instructions.  "The Supreme Judicial Court additionally recommends that judges provide jurors with a "chalk" reflecting the requirements of proof for each homicide offense and lesser included offense as well as a recording of the judge's charge and a written copy of the charge where one is available. A chalk that summarizes the requirements of proof in cases of first degree murder, second degree murder, and manslaughter is included as an appendix to the Model Instructions."

In an accompanying Committee Report, it explains that the committee "worked to create a set of instructions that would accurately reflect the current state of the law, and flow in a logical order so that jurors would better understand the instructions. Detailed citations have been provided to support each instruction. These instructions use words consistent with their ordinary meaning where the legal definition of a term differs from the ordinary meaning. For example, the Committee no longer uses the term "malice" because its legal meaning differs from its lay meaning, and its legal meaning differed depending on the degree of murder charged."

"The Model Jury Instructions on Homicide are not intended to be a comprehensive statement of the law, but rather to provide guidance on those instructions that are frequently given in trials of homicide cases, except vehicular homicide cases. "

Comments regarding future revisions of these instructions may be emailed to

You can find a link to these instructions and other criminal law and procedure resources at our Massachusetts Law About Criminal Law and Procedure page.