Are Trial Courts Required to Use Pattern Jury Instructions?
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. Hebert, 82 P.3d 470 (Kan. 2004).
This case addresses the following issue:
Are trial courts required to use PIK instructions?
This case explored the issue of whether trial courts were required to use PIK instructions (pattern jury instructions given to the courts). In addressing this issue, the court concluded trial courts were not required to use PIK instructions, but it was strongly recommended because the instructions were developed in order to bring accuracy, clarity, and uniformity to jury instructions. Id. at 491.
After escaping from jail, the defendant fled to his home and contacted a friend asking for a ride. Id. at 478. While the defendant was sleeping, a detective gathered information from people who knew the defendant. Id. at 479. After talking with the defendant’s friend, the detective learned the defendant was at home. Id. While waiting for a search warrant, the detective called a deputy and asked him to come to the defendant’s home with his police dog. Id. Once receiving the search warrant, the detective and deputy entered the defendant’s home where the defendant was hiding in the attic with several weapons. Id. Once the deputy and police dog entered the attic, the defendant shot and killed both. Id. Eventually, the detective was able to get the defendant out of the attic by the use of tear gas. Id. The defendant was convicted of capital murder, aggravated battery against a law enforcement officer, criminal use of weapons, and inflicting death to a police dog. Id. at 478.
One of the arguments made by the defendant was the trial court erred in rejecting his request of an additional jury instruction on premeditation. Id. at 491. The trial court had used the PIK instruction on premeditation which stated, “Premeditation means to have thought the matter over beforehand.” Id. With this in mind, the defendant wanted to add the following sentence to the instruction, “A defendant premeditates a crime when he forms a design or intent before the act; that is, when the defendant contrived, planned or schemed beforehand to murder the victim.” Id.
In order to address the defendant’s argument, the court noted that trial courts were not required to use PIK instructions, but it was strongly recommended because the instructions were developed in order to bring accuracy, clarity, and uniformity to jury instructions. Id. Furthermore, the court indicated that modifications or additions should only be made to PIK instructions if the particular facts of a case required it. Id.
The court held that the trial court did not error in denying the defendant’s request for the additional jury instruction. Id. at 492. According to the court, the PIK instruction adequately conveyed the concept that premeditation meant something more than the instantaneous, intentional act of taking another’s life. Id.
In sum, the court concluded trial courts were not required to use PIK instructions, but it was strongly recommended because the instructions were developed in order to bring accuracy, clarity, and uniformity to jury instructions. Id. at 491.