CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Young on instructing the jury when defendant is the sole eyewitness

Young stewartStewart M. Young (University of Wyoming - College of Law) has posted Getting Away with Murder? Abolition of the Eagan Rule in Wyoming Domestic Violence/Murder Cases
(Wyoming Law Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2012) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This article argues that specific Wyoming jury instructions arising from the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision in Eagan v. State are inappropriate because they force the jury to accept a defendant’s testimony. Specifically, defense counsel often request such instructions in murder cases (and, more importantly, domestic violence murder cases) when the defendant is the sole witness testifying about the events of the alleged murder. The Eagan rule requires the jury to “accept as true” the events testified to by the defendant if the defendant is the only witness to the crime and if the testimony is not impeached or found improbable.

Such an instruction, essentially removing a key determination by the jury, is surprising. This article examines the genesis of the instruction and the historical limitations the Wyoming Supreme Court placed on the instruction, while still keeping it on the books to this day. Further this article contends that, considering that other states do not use this type of instruction and given that the pattern instructions are much more useful, the Eagan rule should be abolished in Wyoming. Finally, this article argues the instruction is inconsistent with U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence, as well as jurisprudence of the states upon which the Wyoming Supreme Court relied when it installed the Eagan rule in the first place. Following this article is an appendix discussing each case in Wyoming that has dealt with the Eagan rule.

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