Pennsylvania Suggested Standard Jury Instructions


[First Alternative]

1. A fundamental principle of our system of criminal law is that the defendant is presumed to be innocent. The mere fact that [he] [she] was arrested and is accused of a crime is not any evidence against [him] [her]. Furthermore, the defendant is presumed innocent throughout the trial and unless and until you conclude, based on careful and impartial consideration of the evidence, that the Commonwealth has proven [him] [her] guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

2. It is not the defendant’s burden to prove that [he] [she] is not guilty. Instead, it is the Commonwealth that always has the burden of proving each and every element of the crime charged and that the defendant is guilty of that crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The person accused of a crime is not required to present evidence or prove anything in his or her own defense [except with respect to the defense of [type of defense], which I will discuss later]. If the Commonwealth’s evidence fails to meet its burden, then your verdict must be not guilty. On the other hand, if the Commonwealth’s evidence does prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, then your verdict should be guilty.

3. Although the Commonwealth has the burden of proving that the defendant is guilty, this does not mean that the Commonwealth must prove its case beyond all doubt and to a mathematical certainty, nor must it demonstrate the complete impossibility of innocence. A reasonable doubt is a doubt that would cause a reasonably careful and sensible person to hesitate before acting upon a matter of importance in his or her own affairs. A reasonable doubt must fairly arise out of the evidence that was presented or out of the lack of evidence presented with respect to some element of the crime. A reasonable doubt must be a real doubt; it may not be an imagined one, nor may it be a doubt manufactured to avoid carrying out an unpleasant duty.

4. So, to summarize, you may not find the defendant guilty based on a mere suspicion of guilt. The Commonwealth has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If it meets that burden, then the defendant is no longer presumed innocent and you should find [him] [her] guilty. On the other hand, if the Commonwealth does not meet its burden, then you must find [him] [her] not guilty.

[Second Alternative]

1. At the beginning of the trial, I told you that a fundamental principle of our law is that you must presume the defendant innocent. This meant that you were to accept that the mere fact that a defendant is charged with a crime does not mean that he or she is guilty of it. The defendant has begun the case with a clean slate. [He] [She] has no obligation to prove [his] [her] innocence.

2. It is the Commonwealth that bears the burden of convincing you that the defendant, who is presumed innocent as the trial began and progressed, is guilty of the crimes charged. To succeed in its effort, the Commonwealth must convince you that, based on a fair consideration of all the evidence that has been offered, each element of the offense[s] charged has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

3. To prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt means that the Commonwealth must convince you of [his] [her] guilt to a level of certainty that the law requires before a verdict of guilty may be returned.

4. A guilty verdict cannot be based upon a suspicion of guilt. Therefore, it is not enough that the Commonwealth’s evidence merely casts doubt upon the innocence of the defendant or that it leaves you believing simply that [he] [she] is probably guilty. Rather, to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, you must be convinced of [his] [her] guilt to the same degree you would be convinced about a matter of importance in your own life in which you would act with confidence and without restraint or hesitation.

5. Understand that in making decisions of importance in our own lives, we can never act with mathematical certainty. Also, we must recognize that sometimes, simply out of fear of making those important decisions, we may imagine doubts that are based on virtually anything. It is important that we make sure that doubts that we allow to affect our decisions are only those that are based upon facts and reason.

6. The same considerations apply here.

7. In addition, your decision should not be based upon sympathy for any person or any concern for future consequences of your verdict, such as what the penalty might be if you find the defendant guilty. The simple but important question you must decide is whether the evidence convinces you of the defendant’s guilt to the degree that if this were a matter of importance in your own life, you would act on that matter confidently, without hesitation or restraint.

8. Your verdict must arise from your conscientious review of the facts and the law, the application of your good common sense, and your recognition of the importance of the oath you took as a juror to try this case fairly, impartially, and honorably.

9. If after this consideration, you find that the Commonwealth has convinced you that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find [him] [her] guilty. Otherwise, you must find the defendant not guilty.