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A party does have a general right to have instructions presenting his theory of the case. The failure to submit the requested instructions will not be reversible, however, in at least three circumstances. First, if the requested instruction is given "in substance" there is no error. Second, even if the jury is only given a general instruction without being given the specific theory of the case, the refusal will not be reversible if the party's theory of the case was apparent throughout the course of the trial. If the nature and validity of the plaintiff's theories are sufficiently brought home to the jury by the testimony and the inquiries of counsel of witnesses for both sides and by the trial court's marshalling of the evidence, there could be no error in only submitting a general instruction to the jury. Finally, plaintiff has no right to the presentation of an instruction unsupported by the evidence adduced at trial.
On May 17, 1972, Jeff Beard was abducted and brutally murdered by Stanley Robinson, a Chicago police officer. An F.B.I. informant, William O'Neal accompanied Robinson on the night of the murder. Robinson was convicted of the crime in 1973. In 1975 Eloise Beard, as Administratrix of the Estate of Jeff Beard, brought this suit against Roy Martin Mitchell, an F.B.I. agent who participated in the investigation of Robinson's activities. Eloise alleged that Mitchell's reckless conduct of the Robinson investigation resulted in the deprivation of Jeff Beard's constitutional rights, giving rise to a Bivens action for damages. Eloise contended that liability could be premised on Mitchell's reckless training and use of an informant, O'Neal, whose conduct allegedly caused Beard's death. Further, Eloise maintained that liability could be premised on Mitchell's failure to arrest Robinson prior to the murder or to take other preventive action. Eloise submitted instructions on these theories which the trial judge did not give to the jury verbatim. The district court found Mitchell not guilty. Eloise appealed.
Did Eloise have a right to the presentation of an instruction unsupported by the evidence adduced at trial?
The court rejected Eloise’s contentions, finding that the lower court's jury instructions were proper because the instructions suggested the substance of the theories of liability that were offered by the decedent's estate. The court ruled that it was not necessary for the lower court to have tendered the specific instructions that were submitted because the lower court could have found that the instructions were not supported by the evidence adduced at trial. The court held that the voire dire that was conducted was proper because the lower court's inquiry concerning jurors' possible prejudice against the Federal Bureau of Investigations was sufficient.