Maryland Pattern Jury Instructions.

Hall v. State.

In a close decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed a ruling from the Circuit Court of Baltimore City permitting the reading of an Allen-type jury pattern instruction[1] that did not strictly adhere to the language included in the instruction.  Although the Court noted that, the Circuit Courts should avoid the sort of divergence that occurred in this case, ultimately, the instructions were upheld.  The Maryland Court ruled that the instructions given did not alter the substance of the Maryland Pattern Jury Instructions (“MPJI”), nor were they found to be unduly coercive.[2]

On appeal, Appellant cited to two instances that, in his view, were impermissibly coercive: 1) the Court’s altered instruction directing the jury “to decide” as opposed to “deliberate” (which is what is written in the instruction); and 2)the trial court’s preface to the instructions in which the judge announced that the jury reached an impasse due to one juror.  In response to Appellant’s arguments, the Maryland Court maintained that the instruction’s potential coerciveness, read in context, was lessened by language emphasizing the importance of each juror reaching an individual judgment that is accurately reflected in the final verdict.  Additionally, the Court found that this divergence did not materially alter the substance of the instruction.

The Court of Special Appeals used analogous reasoning with respect to Appellant’s second argument.  Here, the Circuit Court judge intimated that he did not wish to appear critical of the single juror and stressed that each juror conform with his/her belief when attempting to reach a verdict.  After reviewing the record, the Court stated that “the content of the instruction given remained within the spirit of the ABA-approved instruction . . .”.

[1] See generally Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492, 501-02 (1896) (“It certainly cannot be the law that each juror should not listen with deference to the arguments and with a distrust of his own judgment, if he finds a large majority of the jury taking a different view of the case from what he does himself”).  Today, an Allen-type jury instruction refers to the instruction given when the jury indicates they are unable to reach a unanimous decision.  Trial courts must take special care to avoid coercion of jurors who are in the minority.  The Maryland Pattern Jury Instructions (MPJI) have adopted the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) instructions, which differ from the Allen charge, in that they do not place an emphasis on jurors who are not siding with a majority of their peers to reach a decision.  Rather, the MPJI emphasizes the importance of reaching a collective decision which accurately reflects an individual’s decision based on his/her own belief.

[2] Hall v. State, at 15 (2013) (“While the language used by the court here comes close to instructions that have been rejected as impermissibly coercive, we believe that the instruction given here is distinguishable form those cases.”) OR “Although we do not recommend or condone all of the language used by the trial court here, when viewing the instruction in its entirety, we do not believe that it deviates in substance from the pattern instruction, and reversal is therefore not required” page 10).

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