It is impossible to intelligently discuss criminal law without addressing jury instructions. However, criminal law websites never discuss them. At Arnold Law Firm, we want our clients to be completely informed about the law, so we have written a page devoted to explaining the importance and role of Jury Instructions.
Jury instructions are a mix of procedure, rules and laws that are read to jury members in order to better acquaint them with their responsibility in a criminal/civil case. The instructions are standardized and have been carefully crafted by committees and formally adopted by the Florida Supreme Court. The instructions inform juries of their purpose, the elements of the crime that the State must prove, the standard to be applied (beyond a reasonable doubt), the procedure of the trial, and any necessary definitions that need to be applied. Although standardized, there is quite a bit of argument that goes on between the attorneys and the court as to what instructions need to be read, and as to what parts need to be changed. Many standardized instructions do not fit the unique facts of a particular case, and many charges do not have a specific standardized instruction.
So why are these instructions important? They important for the same reason that rules are important to any game. The rules provide structure and consistency, and if followed, lead to a very specific result. The outcomes can be different however, if the rules are changed. Every attorney wants the jury to be instructed in accordance with their version of the case, and without that instruction, without that "rule", then the intended outcome can be impossible to get. For instance, many times a defendant may be charged with a crime, but only guilty of a smaller crime. Think grand theft to petit theft. If the jury isn't instructed on this "lesser included" crime, then they could not find a smaller charge. Another example is affirmative defenses like self defense or entrapment. These defenses basically state that the defendant committed the crime, however, they should not be held accountable because the crime is excusable for some reason. If the jury is not instructed on the meaning of such defenses then they cannot consider them. Fighting and getting the right jury instructions are just as important as the witnesses and the arguments that an attorney makes.
Many cases should allow for special jury instructions. Case law decisions on important legal distinctions are available to be given to the jury as a special instruction. Our attorneys have a significant amount of trial experience and have tried many cases that involve a fight for proper jury instructions. We have gotten special instructions in front of juries. If you are heading for a trial, the outcome of your case will be drastically different if the jury is instructed properly. Do not let the court and the prosecutors decide the rules to your game. Make sure you have an experienced attorney by your side that can help the court make the right call.
In the end, the jury instructions are the final words the jury hears. The instructions they receive can make the difference between guilty and not guilty. Contact the criminal defense lawyers at Arnold Law Firm if you are facing criminal charges in Florida or Georgia, in state or federal court.