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Criminal jury instructions now free, without annotations

Peter Vieth//June 27, 2019

Criminal jury instructions now free, without annotations

Peter Vieth//June 27, 2019

The Supreme Court of Virginia is moving to allow free access to unannotated versions of its model jury instructions.

The court announced June 26 that the criminal Virginia Model Jury Instructions are now available in an unannotated format on the Virginia Judicial System website. The court said the unannotated version is being made available “as a service to the bench, bar, and the public.”

The annotated versions of the instructions are for sale from a private publisher for $359 and $470 respectively.

The announcement came amid discussion nationally about free access to state laws and court decisions. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed June 24 to consider whether the state of Georgia can assert copyright in its annotated state code.

The Virginia court said the unannotated model jury instructions are being made available with the permission of publisher Matthew Bender & Company Inc, operating as LexisNexis. The full annotated version of these model jury instructions, including case citations and practice commentary, remains available for purchase from the publisher and its online subscription services, the court said.

The annotated criminal instructions cost $470 while the civil instructions are priced at $359.

An unannotated version of the civil instructions will be posted online “at a future date,” the court said.

The Virginia Model Jury Instructions are created by The Virginia Model Jury Instructions Committee, whose members are appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The Committee is comprised of six judges and six lawyers and is tasked with developing and updating jury instructions for use in Virginia courts, the court said.

In Georgia, the state sued a nonprofit that posted an annotated version of the state code without charge on its website. As part of Georgia’s contract with the publisher, LexisNexis made the unannotated code available for free, but charged $404 for the annotated version.

An appeals court ruled in favor of free access to the annotated version, in part because LexisNexis created the annotations at the direction of the state.


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