What Are “Jury Instructions”?

What Are “Jury Instructions”?

Your attorneys have wrapped up their case. The judge has heard arguments from the attorneys and now it’s time to give the case to the jury. What happens next?

The jury doesn’t retire for its deliberations blindly. Instead, the judge has an important role to play at this point in the process. The judge must instruct the jury on the law to be applied in reaching its verdict.

From the outset, the jurors are told that they are judges—judges of the facts. It is the jury’s job to resolve the factual disputes in the case and to decide for themselves what facts are true. In performing this task, they must apply some basic legal principles. For example, how does the jury determine whether a witness is telling the truth? The judge provides a list of factors for the jury to take into consideration. How should the jury weigh the evidence and decide which side’s evidence is more persuasive? Again, the judge explains which side has the burden of proof and how the jury should decide whether it has met that burden.

Beyond these general instructions, the judge must also explain the law that applies specifically to the legal claims and defenses that are being asserted. If the case arises out of a car wreck, the judge not only must give instructions addressing general negligence law, but also the specific traffic laws that come into play. Was speeding an issue? Did one of the drivers allegedly run through a stop sign or a traffic light? Was a truck allegedly overweight or have brakes that weren’t property maintained? The judge must guide the jury’s deliberations by providing the proper legal framework for them to follow.

It is here that the attorneys play an all-important role. The attorneys provide the judge with instructions they believe accurately state the law and frame the issues of their case. Each side has a different perspective and different points of emphasis, and these differences will be reflected in their instructions. The attorneys meet with the judge in what is often called a “charge conference.” Here they argue over the instructions and make objections to any instructions they believe are incorrect or prejudicial. All of this takes place outside of the jury’s presence. Once the judge is satisfied, the jury is returned to the courtroom and the instructions are read. It is only after the jury has been fully instructed that the case passes into their hands and their deliberations begin.


Today's blog: Your attorneys have wrapped up their case. The judge has heard arguments from the attorneys and now it’s time to give the case to the jury. What happens next? Read today's blog to find out!