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Florida Supreme Court revises rules for authorization of standard jury instructions

On March 5, 2020, in IN RE: AMENDMENTS TO THE FLORIDA RULES OF JUDICIAL ADMINISTRATION, THE FLORIDA RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE, AND THE FLORIDA RULES OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE—STANDARD JURY INSTRUCTIONS, the Florida Supreme Court adopted new Rule of Judicial Administration 2.270, effectively eliminating its role in the final authorization of new and amended standard jury instructions and providing that final authorization will now come from the court-appointed committees promulgating the rules, each of which under subdivision (d) of new Rule 2.270 will be comprised of up to 33 members appointed by the Chief Justice who will serve staggered terms and will be empowered to approve instructions with a 2/3 committee vote. The Florida Supreme Court noted that one of the purposes of the change is to remedy prior misconceptions that the Court “adopted,” “approved,” or otherwise ruled on the legal correctness of the standard jury instructions prepared by the committees.

The Court also adopted new Rule of Judicial Administration 2.570 (Standard Jury Instructions), modeled after existing Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.470(b) and Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.985. Subdivision (a) of new rule 2.570 provides that trial judges may use the standard jury instructions on the Supreme Court’s website to instruct juries to the extent that the instructions are applicable, unless the trial judge determines that an applicable standard is erroneous or inadequate, in which event the judge shall modify the standard instruction or give another instruction as the trial judge determines to be necessary to accurately and sufficiently instruct the jury. If the judge modifies a standard instruction or gives another instruction, upon timely objection to the instruction, the judge must state on the record or in a separate order the respect in which the judge finds the standard instruction erroneous or inadequate and the legal basis for varying from the standard instruction. Subdivision (b) of new rule 2.570 requires the party requesting and receiving a modified instruction to send a copy of the modified instruction to the appropriate committee on standard jury instructions, so that the committee can consider the modification to determine whether the standard instruction should be amended. Subdivision (c) of the new rule explains that the standard jury instructions approved for publication and use by the committees are not approved or otherwise specifically authorized for use by the Supreme Court and that such approval by a committee shall not be construed as an adjudicative determination on the legal correctness of the instruction. The amendment shall become effective on April 1, 2020.