Practice Points: The General Credibility Instruction: We Can Do Better

In some cases, a jury’s decision that the prosecution’s witnesses are liars or just wrong may be the only defense that counsel can offer. This means that the credibility instruction is important. Do lawyers treat it as important? Lawyers rarely make requests to charge that ask for an alternative to the pattern or model credibility instruction. That is a problem because the credibility instruction could be better, says appellate attorney Lisa J. Steele. It could take into account psychological research into detecting deception, which might lead the jury to a more accurate verdict. Moreover, some judges may adopt different language if they are asked to think critically about a pattern instruction. Steele discusses six myths about credibility decisions in the courtroom and offers a suggestion for a better instruction.