Saturday, April 9, 2011
Justin C. From has posted Avoiding Not-So-Harmless Errors: Clear Guidelines for the Appellate Review of Willful-Blindness Jury Instructions (Iowa Law Review, Vol. 97, 2011) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
From fairly inconspicuous beginnings, the willful-blindness doctrine has proliferated throughout the federal courts. Federal prosecutors currently request willful-blindness jury instructions even when the evidence does not warrant their use, and trial judges frequently grant these requests over defense objections that inappropriate willful-blindness instructions confuse jurors and relieve prosecutors of their burden of proof with regards to the defendant’s mental state. One of the primary reasons why the federal courts misuse willful-blindness instructions is that the federal circuits have developed a confusing series of splits about the appropriate guidelines for the appellate review of willful-blindness instructions. To curb misuse of willful-blindness instructions, appellate courts should use the abuse-of-discretion standard to review a trial court’s decision to give a willful-blindness instruction, use the de novo standard to review the accuracy of the wording of a willful-blindness instruction, and delineate specific instances where the inappropriate use of willful-blindness instructions is not harmless, especially in the context of white-collar criminal prosecutions.