RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – Jury Instructions

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A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
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Jury Instructions

SUP. CT. R. CRIM. P. 30: Instructions

At the close of the evidence or at such earlier time during the trial as the court reasonably directs, any party may file written requests that the court instruct the jury on the law as set forth in the request. At the same time copies of such request shall be furnished to adverse parties. If a defendant relies upon an affirmative defense, or justification, or matter in mitigation and wishes the court to instruct the jury with respect to such, he or she shall so advise the court in writing no later than at the close of the evidence. No party may assign as error any portion of the charge or omission therefrom unless the party objects thereto before the jury retires to consider its verdict, stating distinctly the matter to which the party objects and the grounds of the party’s objection. Objections shall be made out of the presence of the jury.

State v. Souza, 425 A.2d 893, 900 (R.I. 1981). “In Rhode Island we do not require that a trial justice read a patterned instruction. It is customary for the trial justice in this state to speak to the jury in ordinary conversational terms, frequently without written notes, in order to achieve the maximum effect of communicating ideas through the use of words. Jury instructions are not given in a vacuum. They must relate to the circumstances of the case and, particularly in respect to supplemental charges, may depend upon the length of deliberation and the questions that have been asked by the jurors.”

State v. Hallenbeck, 878 A.2d 992 (R.I. 2005). “The requirement in Rule 30 that the objection to an instruction be made before the jury retires (and that it be made with clarity and specificity) is crucial because, once alerted to the perceived error in the instruction that has been given, the trial justice has an opportunity to cure the alleged deficiencies before the jury retires for deliberations.” Id. at 1006. Quoting State v. Crow, 871 A.2d 930, 935 (R.I.2005).

State v. Hanes, 783 A.2d 920 (R.I.2001). Defendant did not renew his objection to the jury instructions following a supplemental charge. R.I.S.C. determined that counsel’s objection to the original charge was sufficient to preserve the issue for review.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has stated repeatedly that objecting to the court’s failure to give an instruction requested by the defense simply by referring to the number is insufficient to preserve the issue for appellate review.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court has stated often that objecting to an instruction given by the court without having submitted an alternative request may be insufficient to preserve the issue for appellate review. Therefore, it is imperative to submit requests to charge and to do so in a timely fashion, which depends upon your defense at trial.
When objecting to the trial judge’s failure to give a requested instruction, remember to:
Cite the specific jury instruction.
State the grounds for the giving of the instruction.
Cite any case law that supports the instruction.
When objecting to the trial judge’s instructions, remember to:
Cite the specific instruction or portion of instruction.
State the grounds as to why the instruction should not have been given.
Cite any applicable case law.
If applicable, state an instruction that should have been given in its place.
Raise a new objection after the Court’s supplemental instruction if inadequate.
State v. Hazard, 797 A.2d 448 (R.I. 2002). State conceded that defense counsel made a timely objection to “reasonable doubt” jury instruction, but argued that he waived his right to review by failing to explicitly state his basis for the objection. R.I.S.C. determined that the objection was preserved despite this failure, because the trial judge clearly understood the basis of the objection.

Defense counsel stated, “I ask you to exclude the word ‘any’ because I think, Judge, that word–,” to which the judge interrupted, “Denied. Anything else?” The court determined that this interruption proved the judge understood the objection’s basis. Id. at 469 n. 9.
State v. Tillery, 922 A.2d 102 (R.I. 2007). Defendant argued on appeal that the trial justice erred by directing a verdict for assault with a dangerous weapon by reciting all the reasons a firearm is a dangerous weapon. R.I.S.C. held that defendant did not preserve his argument for appeal because, although he objected to the original instruction, he indicated his acquiescence to the judge’s supplemental instruction by making no further objection.

“We may assume that defense counsel’s silence after the supplemental instruction was given was logically deemed by the trial justice to be an indication that defense counsel was satisfied that the supplemental instruction had remedied the defendant’s problem with the original instruction.. [I]t is clear that there is no adverse ruling for this Court to review.” Id. at 109-10.

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