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Colorado Supreme Court Model Criminal Jury Instructions Committee revises “reasonable doubt” instruction in annual update

Friday, January 27, 2023

DENVER - The Colorado Supreme Court Model Criminal Jury Instructions Committee has released its annual update to Colorado’s model jury instructions for use in criminal trials.

This edition updates Instruction E:03, which is titled “Presumption of Innocence, Burden of Proof, and Reasonable Doubt.” Previously, Instruction E:03 had defined “reasonable doubt” in part as, “a doubt which is not a vague, speculative or imaginary doubt, but such a doubt as would cause reasonable people to hesitate to act in matters of importance to themselves.” After extensive deliberation, the Committee decided to update that definition. Instruction E:03 now defines “Proof beyond a reasonable doubt” as “proof that leaves you firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt.” 

It also explains that the prosecution’s burden “requires more than proof that something is highly probable,” though “it does not require proof with absolute certainty.” The instruction informs jurors that if they “are firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt, then the prosecution has proven the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt,” but if they “think there is a real possibility that the defendant is not guilty, then the prosecution has failed to prove the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt.” The Committee encourages judges and practitioners to read the comments accompanying the new model instruction.

The model jury instructions may be found online; they include instructions concerning all of the offenses defined in Title 18 of the Colorado Revised Statutes (the Criminal Code), along with instructions addressing select offenses defined in other titles of the Colorado Revised Statutes (including Title 42, Vehicles and Traffic).  In addition to updating the definition of “reasonable doubt,” this annual update incorporates 2022 legislation, as well as caselaw published since the release of the prior edition.

Users may download Word and PDF versions of the instructions, both of which feature hyperlink capabilities for ease of use.  For any questions regarding the instructions, users are encouraged to contact the Committee at mcjic@judicial.state.co.us.

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