While the pattern instructions continue to be a valuable resource and should be consulted in the first instance, they are not dispositive. As the introduction to the pattern instructions notes, they are intended as guidelines and should be used in cases only where they are applicable. The pattern instructions may require modification or supplementation, depending upon the issues of fact and law presented at the trial.99 Where a pattern jury instruction does not provide clear guidance on an issue, the court may reject it in favor of an instruction provided by one of the parties.100
Pattern instructions are not mandatory because a party does not have a right to a particular jury instruction.101 However, the adoption of the pattern jury instructions represent an institutional consensus that they should be followed in all cases unless unusual circumstances dictate modification.102 One example of unusual circumstances is where the language of a pattern instruction risks being an improper comment upon the evidence.103
99. Keyser v. State, 893 A.2d 956, 960 (Del. 2006); Corbitt v. Tatagari, 804 A.2d 1057, 1062 (Del. 2007); Cabrera v. State, 747 A.2d 543, 545 (Del.2000).
100. Spencer v. Goodill, C.A. No. 08C-06-183 RRC, slip op. at 20-21, Cooch, J. (Del. Super. Dec. 4, 2009).
101. Miller v. State, 893 A.2d 937, 949 (Del. 2006); Russell v. K-Mart, Corp., 761 A.2d 1, 4 (Del. 2000).
102. Peak v. State, No. 292, 1988 (Del. Mar. 15, 1999) (ORDER), disposition reported at 734 A.2d 159 (Del. 1999) (TABLE).
103. Kelly v. McHaddon, C.A. No. 98C-12-176JRS, slip op. at 8-9 & 18-21, Slights, J. (Del. Super. Mar. 4, 2002).
© 2010 David L. Finger