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What are Jury Instructions in California?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ. | Jan 04, 2021

Whenever somebody goes to trial in and they're charged with certain California crimes, at the end of the case and even in the middle of the case, the judge is going to read jury instructions to the prospective jurors.

The reason they do this is because what they're trying to do is educate them on the law that is applicable to their case. These are known as California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM).

Really what the jury instructions are is, each crime has its own elements.  For example, somebody commits a crime and that person will be charged with that crime and they will have to be proven guilty by the prosecutors at a jury trial.

Of course, the defense is going to try to prove that the defendant is not guilty.  Basically, the way that this is done is that both sides put on evidence and in the end, the jurors deliberate.

Proving the Elements of the Crime

What are Jury Instructions in California?
When a jury deliberates, they're trying to figure out whether facts presented meet the elements of the crimes charged against the defendant.

When they go back to deliberate, they're trying to figure out whether or not the facts that were presented to them by the prosecution meet the elements of the crimes that are charged against the defendant.

Basically, what you're talking about is a situation where the jurors will look at the jury instructions and then they will compare those jury instructions to whatever facts they were given by the prosecutors. So, it will be up to the prosecutors a lot of times to actually:

  • show the jury instructions to the jurors,
  • which is the law, and
  • show how they met each element of each jury instructions.

So, they will go through the jury instructions.  They'll have them up on a screen and what they will do is try to show that they put on the evidence necessary to prove those particular charges against a defendant.

If the jury finds that the prosecutors met all the elements of the jury instructions, then the jury would find the defendant guilty.

If on the other hand, the jury finds that there were certain elements that were not met by the prosecutors, then they would have to find the person not guilty.

How Jury Instructions are Created

So, a lot of people ask, how do they come up with the jury instructions in California.  Basically, the judges go together and they are the ones that came up with the jury instructions.

So, the judge is tasked with reading the jury instructions to the jurors:

  • sometimes they will read them some opening remarks when the trial first starts;
  • sometimes they'll even read some jury instructions in the middle;
  • other times, at the end of the case.

They're going to give a packet of jury instructions to the jurors, so if they have any questions during the trial, they're able to look at those jury instructions.

They can compare them with the facts that they heard and decide whether or not the prosecutor has met their burden.

These jury instructions can be important sometimes because sometimes it's not clear whether or not sufficient evidence and facts were presented to the jury, so the jury goes to the jury instructions and looks at them.

Sometimes there's fights between the attorneys and the judge over which jury instructions will be included, what language will be included, whether certain jury instructions apply to a particular case.

Criminal Defense Attorney for California Crimes

Criminal Defense Attorney for California Crimes
Contact our criminal defense law firm for help.

That's why you want a great attorney at your side.  I've been doing these jury instructions and arguing them for almost the last 30 years.

So, I have a lot of experience in handling jury instructions and sometimes we even put our own jury instructions in there to make sure we get that not guilty verdict.

If you or a loved one has a trial, your concerned about jury instructions, pick up the phone.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.

I've done over 200 trials.  I've been defending cases since the early 1990s.  I stand at the ready to help you.

Hedding Law Firm is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436.

We serve clients throughout Southern California courts, including LA County, Orange County, Ventura County, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Riverside, and San Bernardino.

Contact us for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0979.

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.