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Review criminal jury instructions for reversible error with a fine-toothed comb

Nov 25, 2011 Review criminal jury instructions for reversible error with a fine-toothed comb

When the last party rests its evidence presentation in a lengthy criminal jury trial, the judge and even one or more of the participating lawyers may feel exhausted. This is the time, though, to summon and re-summon energy, because beneficial jury instructions are critical and a strong closing argument is critical.

A trial advocate is sorely mistaken not to prepare for jury instructions well in advance of trial, not to review the final written instructions like an eagle hawk, and not to listen attentively to assure that the judge does not deviate orally from the way the instructions are written.

On November 22, a unanimous Maryland Court of Appeals reversed Kenneth Stabb’s jury conviction for third degree sexual assault and second degree assault. Stabb v. Md., ___ Md. ___ (Nov. 22, 2011). The key thrust of the reversal is that: “'[A]nti-CSI effect’ jury instructions [are] fraught with the potential for reversible error.” Stabb.

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