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Mr. Bruce’s first basis for appeal is that he was deprived of the right to a fair trial by the district court’s refusal to give his proposed jury instruction, which stated that the police violated Wisconsin law by failing to record the entirety of his interrogation.

We review de novo a district court’s decision not to give a requested jury instruction. United States v. Prude, 489 F.3d 873, 882 (7th Cir. 2007).

Mr. Bruce contends that he was entitled to have his proposed instruction read to the jury because it satisfied the four requirements that we have set forth for instructions on a defendant’s theory of defense.

We have said: A defendant is entitled to a jury instruction as to his or her particular theory of defense provided: (1) the instruction represents an accurate statement of the law; (2) the instruction reflects a theory that is supported by the evidence; (3) the instruction reflects a theory which is not already part of the charge; and (4) the failure to include the instruction would deny the appellant a fair trial. United States v. Eberhart, 467 F.3d 659, 666 (7th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Buchmeier, 255 F.3d 415, 426 (7th Cir. 2001)).

Mr. Bruce’s theory of defense was that the Government could not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. We agree that he was entitled to have the jury instructed on this theory, and in fact the jury was so instructed. Specifically, the court instructed the jury that Mr. Bruce was entitled to a presumption of innocence that “is not overcome unless from all the evidence in the case you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty as charged.” The jury clearly was instructed that the Government had the burden of proof and that it must acquit Mr. Bruce if the Government failed to present enough proof to meet its burden.

Mr. Bruce was not, however, entitled to an instruction of his own choosing. “We defer to the substantial discretion of the district court for the specific wording of the instructions, and in rejecting a proposed instruction, so long as the essential points are covered by the instructions given.” United States v. Scott,19 F.3d 1238, 1245 (7th Cir. 1994) (internal quotations omitted). Mr. Bruce argues, in essence, that the Wisconsin state law concerning the recording of interrogations was an “essential point” that was not covered by the instruction the court gave. We disagree.

Assuming that Detective Rietzler violated state law by turning off the recorder, that violation was irrelevant in this federal case. Federal law, not state law, governs the admissibility of evidence in federal criminal trials, see, e.g., United States v. Wilderness, 160 F.3d 1173, 1175 (7th Cir. 1998), and there is no federal requirement that criminal interrogations be recorded.

Mr. Bruce points to our decision in United States v. Wilderness, 160 F.3d 1173 (7th Cir. 1998), in which we wrote that “[a]lthough federal courts do not enforce state rules for evidence gathering, a state law may identify factors that affect a confession’s voluntariness and reliability and therefore matter under federal law.” Id. at 1176. However, Wilderness does not bear on the circumstances before us today.

As Mr. Bruce points out, we did note that state evidence laws may have some relevance in the context of confessions, and we explained how the state law might be relevant in Wilderness’ case: “It is easier to overbear the will of a juvenile than of a parent or attorney, so in marginal cases-when it appears the officer or agent has attempted to take advantage of the suspect’s youth or mental shortcomings-lack of parental or legal advice could tip the balance against admission.” Id.

In other words, state law might indicate factors to which a federal judge should pay respectful attention when deciding whether a confession is admissible. But Wilderness does not say, or even imply, that federal juries must be allowed to consider the existence of a state law in determining how much weight to give to a confession that has been admitted.


For the full opinions visit the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Web Site.

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