charge to the jury | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Criminal Law

In criminal law, a charge to the jury is the judge’s explanation of the applicable law to the jury at the conclusion of a criminal trial prior to jury deliberation.

Compare with Jury Instructions.

A charge to the jury is a critical component of a criminal trial, during which the judge provides the jury with instructions on the relevant law and legal standards applicable to the case. The charge to the jury typically takes place at the conclusion of a criminal trial, after both the prosecution and the defense have presented their evidence and arguments.

The charge to the jury serves as a guide for the jury’s deliberations and decision-making process. It provides the jury with an understanding of the legal principles that apply to the case, including the elements of the crime that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden of proof that rests with the prosecution, and the standard of evidence that must be met.

The charge to the jury is also an opportunity for the judge to provide the jury with instructions on legal procedures, such as how to evaluate witness credibility and how to consider the evidence presented during the trial. In addition, the judge may provide guidance on how to weigh conflicting evidence and how to apply the law to the facts of the case.

It is essential that the judge delivers a clear and concise charge to the jury in language that is easily understood by the jurors. The judge must also ensure that the charge is fair and impartial without favoring either the prosecution or the defense.

After the charge to the jury is delivered, the jurors retire to deliberate on their verdict. The charge to the jury is often considered the most important part of the trial, as it provides the jury with the framework for their decision and can greatly influence the outcome of the case.

Charge Versus Jury Instructions

While there can be confusion as to the difference between the charge to the jury and jury instructions, there is a difference between them.

A charge to the jury refers to the judge’s oral instructions to the jury immediately before they begin their deliberations to reach a verdict in a trial. The judge may provide a summary of the case, explain the relevant law that the jury must apply to the facts presented, and instruct the jury on how to reach a verdict based on the legal standards and evidence presented.

Jury instructions, on the other hand, are written instructions provided by the judge to the jury during the course of a trial, which explain the law that applies to the case and provide guidance on how the jury should apply the law to the facts presented in the case. Jury instructions can cover topics such as the burden of proof, elements of a crime, and the standard of proof required to reach a verdict.

While both the charge to the jury and jury instructions provide guidance to the jury on how to reach a verdict, the charge to the jury is given at the end of the trial and is meant to summarize the key legal concepts and evidence presented, while jury instructions are provided throughout the trial and are meant to guide the jury’s understanding of the law as it applies to the facts presented.

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Last Modified: 04/18/2023

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