Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Gallegos, 286 Kan. 869 (2008).
This case answers the following question:
When should pattern (PIK) jury instructions be used?
The issue raised in this case included whether the district court erred in instructing the jury that it was to presume he was not guilty “until” it was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty. Id. at 875. Jury instructions are clearly erroneous only if the reviewing court is firmly convinced that there is a real possibility the jury would have rendered a different verdict if the trial error had not occurred. Id. at 876.
In this case, the defendant argued that the use of the term “until” indicated that at some point there was an expectation that the jury should find the defendant guilty. Id. at 876. The specific instruction included the following: “The State has the burden to prove the defendant is guilty. The defendant is not required to prove he is not guilty. You must presume that he is not guilty until you are convinced from the evidence that he is guilty.” Id. This Court stated that the defendant’s argument fails for two reasons. Id. First, this Court has previously held that the exact instruction at issue does not rise to the level of reversible error, even though the instruction is not ideal. Id. at 876-77. The Court noted that this instruction was the previous version of the PIK instruction, and concluded that, even though not ideal, the instructions in the case, when taken as a whole, accurately state the law. Id. at 877. The defendant’s argument fails on the second point due to the fact that the defendant proposed the use of the exact same instruction including the term “until” before trial. Id. The Court then stated that it has previously held that “a litigant may not invite and lead a trial court into error and then complain of the trial court’s action on appeal.” Id. Therefore, this Court held that since the defendant did not merely defend the use of the instruction but instead argued for the use of the very instruction which he now claims erroneous, this fact outweighs any potential prejudice that may have arisen from the use of the instruction in question. Id. at 877-78. Finally, the Court concluded that had the defendant or his counsel provided the current version of the PIK with their instructions, this issue would not have arisen because the current version does not include the “until” language. Id. at 878. The Court furthered that the use of pattern (PIK) instructions are not mandatory but are strongly recommended because they have been developed by a “knowledgeable committee to bring accuracy, clarity, and uniformity to jury instructions.” Id. PIK instructions should be the starting point when prepping jury instructions. Id. However, if the particular facts in a case require modification, the trial court should do so, but only when modification is absolutely necessary. Id.