Jury Instructions in Criminal Cases in Florida
A guide to Jury Instructions in Criminal Trials in Florida.
IntroductionJury instructions in criminal cases in Florida are read to the jury at the end of the trial and serve as a set of directions for the jury to abide by. Jury instructions outline not only how the jury is obligated to evaluate the evidence, but also puts a set of hard rules in place for what is proper and improper behavior. These instructions go on to outline any specific legal issues that have arisen such as defenses available to be evaluated and evidentiary instructions on specific pieces of evidence that were heard.
What are Jury Instructions?Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure 3.390 guides the judge’s obligation of informing the jury. The rule dictates that there must be an oral and a written instructions, but gives little guidance on how those should be developed. The Supreme Court of the State of Florida has created a set of “standard instructions” to guide and direct judges on what they should include. These standard criminal instructions include general instructions and instructions on specific crimes.
There are two key stages regarding jury instructions where an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial to the best possible result in a Florida criminal trial. First, a jury conference is held with the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense. It is very important at this stage to make sure that all appropriate instructions are included. If a certain defense – such as self defense – is being asserted, it is critical that the instruction is included and that it is worded in the best possible way for the benefit of the defendant. If an inadmissible piece of evidence was blurted out by a witness, a limiting instruction to the jury to disregard that information must be inserted. If evidence was admitted for a limited purpose is very important that an instruction tell the jury what they can and cannot use that evidence for. Judges unfortunately get this wrong, and that’s where the second stage comes in. Objections to jury instructions must be distinctly made to the judge and must be done before the jury leaves to deliberate on the evidence. A mistake at this stage will generally prevent any kind of appeal no matter how egregious the jury instruction error is. A qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney will constantly be researching and recording changes made to jury instructions in order to ensure this does not happen to their clients.
Does Every Trial Include Jury Instructions?All Florida criminal jury trials will include jury instructions, arrived at in the above procedure. Some cases are decided by a judge though, these are referred to as bench trials or court trials. It is a benchmark of the American criminal justice system (and a constitutional right) that defendants faced with serious ramifications may demand a trial by jury. It is highly advisable that a jury trial is demanded by nearly all defendants. In a jury trial, all members of the jury must be convinced by the prosecutor beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. In a bench trial only the judge must be convinced. There are some very specific circumstances where a bench trial may be more advisable, but these are few and far between. A defense attorney at Pumphrey Law can walk through your case with you during a free consultation, assist with this determination and begin preparing the eventual jury instructions for your case.
Criminal Defense Attorney near meDon Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience representing Floridians. The legal team at Pumphrey Law is not scared to go to trial, and has the knowledge to ensure the most beneficial jury instructions possible are used in your case. They are dedicated to defending the rights of clients in any circumstance and will fight for the best possible result. Call a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today to discuss your rights during an open and free consultation with a criminal defense attorney in our legal team.