Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reasonable Doubt - Explaining It to a Jury (12/12/12)

In United States v. Catlett,  (4th Cir. 12/11/12), here, an unpublished opinion, the Court affirmed Catlett's conviction for "conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (2006); ten counts of aiding in the preparation of false tax returns, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(2) (2006); and corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the administration of the internal revenue laws and aiding and abetting, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2 (2006), 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a) (2006)."  The opinion is unpublished and seems to have little ongoing import, since it covers ground previous covered.

I did note the following from the opinion:
Catlett also argues that the district court erred in refusing his proposed jury instruction on the definition of reasonable doubt. However, the district court did not err as "[i]t is well settled in this circuit that a district court should not attempt to define the term 'reasonable doubt' in a jury instruction absent a specific request for such a definition from the jury." United States v. Oriakhi, 57 F.3d 1290, 1300 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).
This is an odd notion that courts tell the jury that they must convict beyond a reasonable doubt but then do not, at the beginning, offer to tell them what the concept means.  In those circuits that offer no further explanation -- at least until the jury inquires -- there is an assumption that the jury knows what those words mean.  And most juries do not inquire further.  Do they know what it means?  I don't know, for as we know (and have discussed on this blog),  juries are a bit of a black box in terms of how they reach their verdict.  See e.g., Coplan #2 - The Sufficiency Challenge for the Conspiracy Counts (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 12/2/12), here.

I offer as a download here the portion of my Federal Tax Crimes book dealing with the concept of reasonable doubt and explaining it to a jury.

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