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No mandate to tell jury each element of the crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt

Oct 02, 2012 No mandate to tell jury each element of the crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt

"’The Due Process Clause [to the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment] … requires the State to prove every element of an offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt.’” Carroll v. Maryland, ___ Md. ___ (Sept. 25, 2012).

So far so good, EXCEPT that Maryland’s highest court last week unanimously refused to require trial judges — when requested by a party — to tell juries that the prosecution must prove every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Carroll. So, while we are at it, does 1+1=3?

Fortunately, Maryland’s Court of Appeals okays such an instruction, but just does not mandate such a reasonable doubt instruction:

Notwithstanding our holding, we agree with our colleagues on the Court of Special Appeals that, [a]lthough we find no error by the court here, that is not to say that it would not be reasonable for trial courts to give the instruction requested and explicitly state that the prosecution has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of each charge. Carroll, 202 Md. App. at 504, n.5, 32 A.3d at 1099, n.5. As the intermediate appellate court notes, other jurisdictions include such language in the pattern instruction on the presumption of innocence and/or the burden of proof. See id. (listing examples). Like our colleagues on the Court of Special Appeals, we urge the Maryland State Bar Association Committee on Maryland Pattern Instructions4 to consider amending MPJI-Cr 2:02 to include explicit language instructing that the State has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of each charged offense.

Carroll.

The brief history of criminal jury instructions in Maryland runs from judges telling jurors through the 1970’s that they are the judges of the law and facts (based on language from the Maryland Declaration of Rights), to telling them that they are only the judges of the law when there is a well-grounded dispute among the parties on the meaning of the law (where that dispute has not been resolved by the appellate courts), to generally approving any jury instructions that come from the Pattern Jury Instructions. On the last point, see Wills v. Maryland, 329 Md. 370, 620 A.2d 295 (1993).

Then there is the Fourth Circuit, which does not even require a reasonable doubt instruction, lest the jury be confused. That Fourth Circuit rule will cause jurors confusion to the detriment of criminal defendants.

Are you aware of any jurisdictions that require trial judges, when asked, to inform criminal juries that every element of the offense must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before a conviction may be reached?

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