recently reported that a man convicted of murder in 2009 will have to stand trial for the
same murder again. His 2009 conviction was overturned by the First District
Court of Appeal because according to that court, the jury instructions
provided by the judge in his case were an incorrect statement of the law.
This story reveals the weight that jury instructions are given in our system
of justice. Simply put, jury instructions are the instructions that a
judge gives to a jury before they retire to the jury room and decide the
fate of the litigants who just presented their cases.
In Florida, as in nearly all states, there are
jury instructions for both civil and criminal cases. Instructions for the jury are supposed
to be written so that they are plain enough for every jury called to hear
a case to understand. The purpose of jury instructions is for the judge
to give the jury a succinct and accurate statement of the law that should
apply in the case the jury heard. But that is not always the case.
Do Jury Instructions Help or Hurt the Jury
Jury instructions have a long history in the American system of justice.
In fact, as long as lawyers have argued cases in front of juries, judges
have instructed juries on the law before they make their collective decision.
This process has grown out of a simple summary of the law by a judge at
the end of trial to a ritual where the judge reads a series of technical
summaries of the law to a jury that they may or may not understand.
At least one commentator has argued that the jury instruction process is
not as helpful as could be desired. In fact, that commentator summed up
the problem with jury instructions when he said that the jury instruction
process is one of
the greatest fictions in the law. According to him, it is not possible for a jury to understand
the instructions a judge reads to them at the end of a trial when it took
both the judge and the lawyers in the case years of study to understand
that very law.
This point of view does have some merit. But at the same time, our collective
experience in our system of justice has shown that trials bring about
a just result more often than not. Whether jury instructions read to the
jury by the judge prior to a decision helps or hurts the process can not
really be known.
Panama City Area Accident and Injury Attorney
If you are a victim of an accident or injury in the Panama City area,
contact us. At The Pittman Firm we sue those whose negligence causes injury to victims.
If you are a victim of someone else’s negligence, our team of dedicated
professionals will put our resources together on your behalf to ensure
you are justly compensated for your injuries, even if that means taking
your case to trial where a jury will be instructed by a judge.
See related blog posts:
Expert Witnesses: Linchpin to Jury Trial;
What is Attorney-Client Privilege?