jury instructions | Definition

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

Jury instructions are a judge’s directions to the jury before it begins deliberations regarding the factual questions it must answer and the legal rules that it must apply.

In a criminal justice system, a trial is where all the facts about a crime are presented. The people who hear these facts and decide if someone is guilty are called the jury. The jury has a big job because their decision can change a person’s life. Jury instructions are the set of rules given by the judge to the jury before they make their decision. These rules are like a map guiding the jury in their task.

Importance of Jury Instructions

These instructions are important for a few reasons. First, they ensure that the jury understands the law that applies to the case. The law can be complicated, but these instructions help simplify it. This means the jury can use the law correctly when they make their decision.

Second, jury instructions help keep the trial fair. The instructions remind the jury to consider all evidence before making a decision. They also explain the defendant’s rights. For instance, the defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty. This idea is a cornerstone of our criminal justice system.

Types of Jury Instructions

There are different types of instructions. “Preliminary instructions” are given at the start of the trial. They include general rules about how the trial works and how the jury should behave.

“Final instructions” are given after all the evidence is presented and before the jury starts to deliberate. They include specific laws related to the case, how to evaluate evidence, and what verdicts are possible.

Judges, Lawyers, and Jury Instructions

The judge and lawyers play a big part in creating jury instructions. Both the prosecutor (the lawyer arguing that the defendant is guilty) and the defense attorney (the lawyer arguing that the defendant is not guilty) suggest instructions they believe are appropriate. Afterward, the judge reviews these suggestions.

The judge decides which instructions to use and explains them to the jury. While the judge has the final say, the lawyers’ input is important. If a lawyer believes an instruction is incorrect or unfair, they can object, and the judge must consider their argument.

Concluding Thoughts

All in all, jury instructions are a crucial part of our justice system. They guide the jury in their task of deciding a person’s guilt or innocence. They ensure fairness, uphold the defendant’s rights, and help the jury understand the law. Both the judge and the lawyers contribute to these instructions, ensuring the best possible outcome. Despite the complexity of the law, they make the trial process clear and straightforward.

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Last Modified: 04/18/2023

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