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Friday, April 04, 2014

Ind. Courts - ALL CAPS ARE ALL WRONG

Commentary by Joel Schumm, professor at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law

After trying to read an appellate record for about ten minutes, both my eyes and head hurt. Why? ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. The two-and-a-half page, single-spaced police report was painful, but then I got to nearly forty pages of the trial court’s instructions to the jury—and not a single lower case letter.

Although Indiana has made strides toward plain language instructions, at least some judges are still subjecting jurors to pages of ALL CAPS TEXT RECITING THE IMPORTANT LEGAL PRINCIPLES OF THE CASE. The Indiana Jury Rules (like all of the Indiana court rules) are not written in ALL CAPS—and jury instructions should not be either. As a legal typography blog explains: “All-caps paragraphs are an example of self-defeating typography. If you need readers to pay attention to an important part of your document, the last thing you want is for them to skim over it. But that’s what inevitably happens with all-caps paragraphs, because they’re so difficult to read.” Jury Rule 26 requires jurors be given copies of the instructions to retain during deliberations; we should at least put them in a form that doesn’t add to the burden of jury service.

The anguish of ALL CAPS extends beyond these trial court documents. Although some lawyers were taught in law school that argument point headings in appellate briefs should be in ALL CAPS, most texts no longer support this view.* As the leading text now explains, conventions such as all capital letters “no longer make sense. They come from the days before word processors; typewriters did not allow much flexibility.” Mary Beth Beazley, A Practical Guide to Appellate Advocacy 193 (3d ed. 2010). Bolded text is much easier to read and WILL NOT SUGGEST THAT YOU ARE SCREAMING AT YOUR READER.**
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* Argument point headings are the entire sentences prefaced with a Roman numeral used in the argument section of a brief. Short section headings, such as SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT and CONCLUSION, are generally and appropriately in all capital letters.
**See Ruth Ann Robbins, Painting with Print: Incorporating Concepts of Typographic and Layout Design into the Text of Legal Writing Documents, J. of the Assoc. of Legal Writing Directors (Fall 2004) (including the heading, “Stop screaming at me in rectangles: Why all capital letters just don’t work”) (posted on the Seventh Circuit’s website).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 4, 2014 09:50 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts