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St. Mary's Law Journal

Authors

James G. Denton

Publisher

St. Mary's University School of Law

Abstract

Limiting jury consideration to facts, as opposed to the outcome, best serves special issue systems. The purpose of the special issues system is to ensure juries answer the presented questions without bias or prejudice. Though several writers have persuasively advocated for advising juries of the consequences of their findings, doing so seems to undermine the purpose of special issue systems because it allows for juries to answer questions with reference to their desired outcome. To ensure juries answer issues on the facts alone, trial judges should not give a jury, directly or indirectly, any information that may apprise them of the effect their answers may have on the final judgement. However, any charge or instruction simply reiterating what jurors, as ordinarily intelligent people know is permissible. While Texas’s special issues system dates to the early days of the Republic, little case law or coherence existed prior to 1913. Until that time, submission of special issues was a discretionary function of the judge. In 1913 this changed when the legislature made the submission of special issues mandatory upon the request of either party. This change spurred the development of a highly elaborate system with crystalized, rigidly applied rules. However, after the adoption of the Rules of Civil Procedure in 1941, courts began to take a more liberal approach to special issues. A little over a decade later, the Texas Supreme Court adopted the approach that is still the authority today: any submission that informs the jury of something that would not have been known without the submission constitutes reversible error. With this standard in mind, it seems clear that limiting a jury’s consideration to the facts, opposed to the outcome, best serves the goals of the special issue system.

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