Jan. 4, 2023 – Published jury instructions are models, checklists, or minimum standards to help judges, juries, and lawyers to perform their role in cases.
Before early 2021, the official Wisconsin jury instructions could be accessed only by purchasing a subscription, or via a law library. In February 2021, an all-digital version premiered, created through a partnership of the Office of Judicial Education in the Director of State Courts Office and the Wisconsin State Law Library. (Editor’s note: Find out more, and why our author Carol Hassler, is a 2022 Wisconsin legal innovator.)
About Wisconsin Jury Instructions
In Wisconsin, there are over 1,600 unique instructions, divided into civil, criminal, and juvenile topics. Jury instruction committees, with the Wisconsin Court System’s Office of Judicial Education, produce current instructions. Since 2021, Wisconsin’s jury instructions are available free from the Wisconsin State Law Library’s website at wilawlibrary.gov/jury.
The online jury instructions provide quick access to three main sets of instructions: Civil, Criminal, and Children’s (juvenile). Each instruction belongs to one of these sets and has a unique number assigned to it. Instructions include footnotes and commentary and are available in PDF or a word processing format. The set of civil instructions also includes a “Quick edit” version of each instruction, where the footnotes and commentary have been removed.
Before 2021, the jury instructions were published as looseleaf binders or annual CD-ROMs by the University of Wisconsin Law School. Ask a law librarian for help finding older versions of an instruction, or contact the Wisconsin State Law Library reference desk directly (firstname.lastname@example.org). Wisconsin’s published jury instructions go back to 1959.
How to Find Jury Instructions
The most recent version of Wisconsin’s jury instructions are available at the Wisconsin State Law Library’s jury instructions website. There are three ways to browse for jury instructions, all adapted from the previous print editions. Each instruction set includes a table of contents divided into subtopics, a subject index, and cross-reference tables.
For example, there are two instructions listed in the civil jury instructions index that refer to chiropractor malpractice. Follow the links for each instruction’s number to arrive at a summary page. The instruction’s summary page includes links to download the instruction, as well as the last revision date and citations from the tables that refer to that instruction number. (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: The jury instructions page for Wis.JI—Civil 1023.8 includes the last revision date, options to download the instruction, related cases, and how to cite to the instruction.
The bottom of each summary page includes a model citation, along with information to help researchers locate the instruction in print volumes.
For researchers who prefer to browse in a book-like format, each jury instruction set also has a complete compilation of all the instructions and tables in that set. The compilation of each jury instruction set is quite large, and is updated along with the rest of the site when an updated instruction is added. The complete compilations are linked at the top of the contents page for each set or from the main jury instructions page, under each set on its main page on wilawlibrary.gov/jury.
Browsing Related Instructions
Many researchers now arrive at jury instructions through a search engine. All instructions linked from the Wisconsin State Law Library website are the most recent available.
Most visitors from search engines land directly in a PDF version of a jury instruction. This is helpful for quick access, but researchers may also want to browse for related instructions.
To find related instructions, make note of the instruction number and the title of the set, then head to the main jury instructions page.
Under the title of the set, choose the link for the contents. In each set, the contents are divided into subtopics and include a range of instruction numbers next to the title of the topic. Look for the range that includes your instruction number and select it to expand the list and see all the instructions in that subtopic. Search the index or check the tables for each set to round out your research.
Jury instructions also appear in commercial legal databases. Because the version on the State Law Library website is always the most recent, after your database search you can verify the currency and download an editable version by looking up the instruction on the main jury instructions page.
Jury instructions for all three sets are updated with scheduled releases during the year.
Each title includes an “Update releases” page (such as this one for civil instructions) with a summary of recent releases and any other substantial updates that may have been issued outside of the regular schedule.
The beginning of the commentary for individual instructions can include more detail about the update history as well. Check the update releases table as well as the instruction’s commentary to learn more about the history of an instruction.
Many researchers may have print sets they want to keep up-to-date. With each scheduled release, a printable version of the new release is added to the set's update releases page.
Users can print the latest update release to update their set. In addition, there are links to printable versions of tables and indexes at the top of each index and table page.
A complete, printable copy of each instruction set is linked as a single file from each main instruction page, above the table of contents. Blank pages are included to make double-sided printing easier.
Updating an Older Print Set
Prior to 2021, the Wisconsin Jury Instructions were published by the U.W. Law School. New copies and updates for each book were available by subscription as a looseleaf paper service or by annual CD-ROM compilations. The Wisconsin Court system does not produce a physical publication, but researchers may print the full instruction set or updates to place in their own binders.
If an older print set is just a few years out of date, you may be able to update it by reviewing the older releases and filing instructions available on each set’s update releases page.
One way to do this is to take note of the year your print set was last updated and print filing instructions for each year since then. Compare the filing instructions to see if the same instruction was updated in multiple years and make a note of this on your older filing instructions. This will help you to keep track of which instructions need to be updated with a freshly printed copy.
The State Law Library website will always have the most recent version of each instruction online. Releases issued after 2021 are completely printable and also include cover pages, contents, indexes, and tables.
Where to Find Out More
For more information about the Wisconsin Jury Instructions Committees or instructions, contact the reporter, Bryce Pierson (Bryce.Pierson@wicourts.gov).
For help understanding filing updates or how to use the State Law Library website, contact the State Law Library’s Access Services Librarian, Carol Hassler (email@example.com).
Contact a law librarian for help with your jury instruction research. We are trained to assist patrons with finding and using the best resources for them and their unique legal research topics.
Law librarians are available at these Wisconsin libraries: