Monder Law Group - News
Instructions Not Included
So the trial is over, each sides have presented their case, and now it’s time for the jury to decide. Except before the jury is released to deliberate, they have to know what the rule of law says on the matter. Right? Or else how will they know whether or not the evidence presented throughout actually makes up a criminal offense, as defined by law. It is for this reason, the judge reads to the jury instructions on the rule of law at hand. Jury instructions are the set of legal rules that jurors ought follow when deciding a case. The jury instructor, who usually reads them aloud to the jury, gives jury instructions to the jury.
Jury instructions are important for several reasons. The primary reason is they lay out the applicable law for jurors to follow. Without jury instructions, the jury would not know the elements of a DUI or Robbery charge. Jurors would not have the definition of “reasonable doubt”, or “constructive possession”, or any definition for that matter. They may forget who carries the burden in a criminal case and they certainly wouldn’t deliberate lesser-included offenses unless they were instructed on what the lesser-included offenses were. Juries would find it difficult to render a lawful verdict if they were not provided with jury instructions.
Second, they are important for record-keeping matters on appeal. If a Defendant is found guilty and wants to appeal a faulty jury instruction, he/she will need to show the appellate court the instruction read at trial. That is why jury instructions are typed and printed and placed in the court file. It is important for judges, when reading the jury instructions to the jury, to not stray or vary or “go off-script” to the agreed-upon instructions. (The two sides agreed to the instructions for a reason, right?)
Many jurisdictions provide model instructions and verdict forms for particular claims or defenses. Trial courts will usually use these instructions unless you can show that they do not accurately describe the current state of the law or are otherwise insufficient. With regards to a DUI, one of the jury instructions the judge may read is: Driving under the influence or with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more AND failure to submit to or complete a test will result in suspension of (his/her) driving privilege for one year or revocation of (his/her) driving privilege for two or three years.
You may determine that additional instructions are necessary; these instructions are referred to as “special instructions. This is where you want to have a skilled criminal defense attorney on your side, because your attorney will know when and which supplemental instructions should be read to the jury.
Many courts tend to blur the distinction between the separate functions of instruction and argument, often to the detriment of criminal defendants. It is common for the judge to refuse a defendant’s request for a instruction on a specific defense theory or legal principle on the basis that the instruction is “a matter for argument.” Instruction of the jury by the court and argument to the jury by counsel are two distinct phases of trial, each with its own purpose and impact. On a conceptual level, these functions are not interchangeable—each must fulfill its own discrete purpose.” A knowledgeable defense attorney will know how to successfully persuade the judge to use their set of jury instructions.
A skilled criminal defense attorney will know if the standard instructions do not adequately state the law on your claims or defenses, or if it is best to argue that a change in the law is appropriate based on some authority, you should submit special instructions. Special instructions should be drafted after you have reviewed the statutes and case law that apply to your claims or defenses.