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Jury Instructions In Florida Criminal Cases


Movies and true crime documentaries tend only to show the most interesting parts of criminal proceedings.  Witnesses delivering chilling accounts of the crimes they witnessed make for good television, and so do compelling closing arguments that leave just enough room for reasonable doubt.  By contrast, audiences are generally uninterested in watching lawyers bicker about whether a particular cross examination question was admissible or whether a particular prospective juror is biased.  These apparently boring details make all the difference for defendants, though, and a small technicality can determine whether a guilty verdict by a jury is legally valid.  Except in fully televised trials, the public rarely gets to see the jury instructions that the judge provides to the jury before they retire to the jury room to deliberate in private about the verdict.  In some cases, though, a slight difference in wording in the jury instructions can make the difference between a fair trial and grounds for a defendant to appeal his or her conviction.  To find out more about what to expect from the parts of a criminal trial that you don’t see in the popular media, contact a West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer.

Don’t Jurors Already Know the Meaning of Guilty and Not Guilty?

Jury instructions are one of the standard parts of a criminal trial.  After all of the witness testimony and closing arguments have finished, but before the jury goes to the jury room to deliberate, the judge gives the jurors a set of instructions about the questions they will be answering.  For example, the judge tells the jurors that they must vote “not guilty” if they are not sure whether the prosecution’s claims are true, and they can only convict the defendant if there is no room for reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt.  Likewise, the judge must remind the jurors that all of the elements of the crime must be present for the defendant to be guilty; for example, making an untrue statement is not fraud unless the defendant knew at the time that it was false.  The judge also instructs the jurors that verdicts must be unanimous, and that failing to reach a consensus will result in a mistrial.

Even though Florida provides uniform jury instructions for each criminal offense, the judge may customize the instructions for each trial.  The lawyers for the prosecution and defense have the right to review the jury instructions before the trial begins and suggest clauses to add, but the judge has the final decision about how to phrase the instructions.  Your criminal defense lawyer should request a modification to the jury instructions if, in their current form, they are likely to unfairly influence the jury to convict you.  Some defendants have successfully overturned their convictions by arguing on appeal that the jury instructions were misleading or meant to bias the jury against the defendant.

Contact a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Attorney William Wallshein has more than 38 years of experience, including five years as a prosecutor in Palm Beach County.  Contact William Wallshein P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida to discuss your case.




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