January 9th, 2023
What Are Jury Instructions?
After a jury is selected, a trial has commenced, and the parties submit all their evidence supporting their position, it is time for the jury to deliberate and render a decision. Before the jury is discharged to deliberate, the jurors are provided jury instructions. This makes sense as jurors likely have little to no training in the law. Jury instructions are provided by the judge and “are the only guidance the jury should receive when deliberating and are meant to keep the jury on track regarding the basic procedure of the deliberation and the substance of the law on which their decision is based.” As such, jury instructions are obviously crucial and helpful for the jury for the deliberations.
Jury instructions are of the utmost import as they will be the instructions provided to the jury right before a decision is made on the case. Therefore, the parties have a keen interest in what the jury is ultimately instructed. Prior to trial, the attorneys for each party submit proposed jury instructions on what the respective party asserts should be instructed to the jury. Depending on the court, the parties may be required to confer with the opposing side to see if the parties can agree on the jury instructions before the jury instructions are sent to the Court. In other situations, both parties send competing jury instructions to the Court. Moreover, the Court may have a general jury charge to start from and the parties are to draft their instructions from the Court’s general jury charge. No matter how the Court comes to its decision on the jury instructions, the substance of the jury instructions is critical.
As one can tell, jury instructions are an important part of any trial. Each party wants the jury instructions to accurately reflect the law and provide guidance to the jury on the pertinent issues in the case. As trials are complex, detailed, and nuanced, the jury instructions should be clear, concise and relevant to the case at issue to assist the jury in the substance of the law in which the jury’s ultimate decision is based. Thus, jury instructions are carefully drafted and determining what jury instructions are included is often contentious. In brief, jury instructions are a vital part of any trial.