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Criminal Jury Instructions in Los Angeles County

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ. | Jan 26, 2019

Every time a jury trial starts the trial judge is responsible for reading all the pertinent jury instructions throughout the course of the trial.  A lot of trial judges will start right from the beginning when the panel of jurors — fifty, sixty, seventy jurors — are brought into the courtroom and they'll start to read them the instructions.  It's pretty much up to the trial court how they want to do that.

The first instruction is talking about how important it is for them to serve.  It talks about our criminal justice system – that we have one of the best systems in the world – and the purpose of the system, the purpose of jurors serving to make sure that those individuals who are charged with crimes are dealt with in a fair manner and are judged not just by a single person, but by a group of people of their peers.  In other words, from their community.

They talk about fairness and they also describe what the process is for a jury trial.  In other words, it's not one person against another person.  It's the People of the State of California against a particular defendant who is charged with a certain crime or crimes in Los Angeles County. See related: How Are Jury Instructions Selected In Los Angeles Criminal Cases?

People of the State of California vs. Defendant

That's one thing that I think is surprising to a lot of jurors — that it's not one person against another.  If the People of the State of California who are represented by the prosecutors — whether they be the City Attorneys or the District Attorneys of Los Angeles County — are the ones that are tasked and are responsible for putting on the evidence and putting on a case.

So, the first thing they're going to do is, there's going to be what's called a Voir dire which is where the jury is selected.  People are going to be asked questions.  It's meant to try to find out who would be fair jurors on the case.  It's a truth-finding process and part of that process is, we have to get jurors.  There's going to be twelve jurors.

There will probably be three or four alternate jurors in case there's some issue with the twelve jurors that are serving, and the judge is going to ask questions.  The lawyers are going to ask questions, and it's really targeted towards making sure that if somebody has a bias — whether it be toward the prosecution, towards the defense, towards the process — that we know about it, we flush it out and we deal with it.  Either we deal with it by explaining to them how things work and confirm that they can listen to the evidence and be fair, or we excuse that person because they can't be fair to one side or another.

Opening Statement

The judge will also talk about if there's going to be an opening statement.  The People, since they have the burden, are going to go first.  The defense can give an opening statement if they want to, but they don't have to because they don't have any responsibility — a criminal defendant — to put on evidence or to do anything and in the end, their attorney can argue, the People have not met their burden.  They have not proved this case beyond a reasonable doubt, and therefore, the person should be found not guilty.

That's one big thing I talk about in the beginning of the case.  I want to make sure the jurors realize at the start of the case, they are to presume that this particular defendant is innocent.  They're not to presume they're guilty just because they're being charged and because they had to get a lawyer.  That' snot how the American justice system works.  So, the presumption of innocence is a very important concept.

Burden of Proof

Then the judge is going to talk about — after the jury is picked and the opening statements are given — that the prosecutor who has the burden of proof, is going to start to put evidence on and the defense attorney will ask questions, and when it's all said and done, the prosecution will rest its case and then it will turn to the defense.  The defense can either rest on the state of the evidence which means they're not going to put on any evidence, or the defendant can testify and the defense can put on witnesses if they so choose.

When a defendant testifies at a criminal jury trial, that defendant has the right to testify or not testify.  If they decide not to testify the jury is going to instructed that they're not to hold that against the defendant or take any type of a que from that, that the person must be hiding something, must be guilty simply because they're choosing to exercise their Constitutional rights and not to testify.

Closing Arguments

So, after the defense is done putting on their case, there will then be closing arguments and the jury will then deliberate.  In a criminal trial, the jury has got to find the defendant guilty or not guilty unanimously.  In other words, everybody has to be on the same page.  There has to be a unanimous verdict where all twelve jurors make the decision the person is either innocent or guilty.

If they can't do that, then the judge will declare a mistrial and then it will be up to the People of the State of California whether they want to re-try this defendant or simply dismiss the case.  The judge will also have the authority to dismiss the case if he or she believes the People are not going to be able to get a verdict and it's just a waste of time and energy re-trying a particular case.

So, this is one of the first instructions that I've kind of broken down for you.  It's CALCRIM 100 Jury Instructions, and basically what it's talking about is the trial process, how it works and what the role of the jurors is going to be within that criminal jury trial process.

Consult with our Criminal Lawyers

If you need more explanation because you yourself are going to trial or a loved on wants to go to trial in a criminal case in Los Angeles, give me a call.  We'll sit down.  If you're looking to hire an attorney and you're looking to find out how the process works, that's exactly what we will do when we sit down and talk under the cloak of the attorney/client privilege.

Related Resources:
Jury Glossary – Los Angeles County
Jury Courthouses – Los Angeles County
Los Angeles Criminal Jury Trials in the COVID-19 Age

About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

Ronald D. Hedding, Esq., is the founding member of the Hedding Law Firm. Mr. Hedding has an extensive well-rounded legal background in the area of Criminal Law. He has worked for the District Attorney's Office, a Superior Court Judge, and as the guiding force behind the Hedding Law Firm. His multi-faceted experience sets Mr. Hedding apart and puts him in an elite group of the best Criminal Defense Attorneys in Southern California.