Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Objecting to Jury Instructions
The criminal justice system is set up in such a way that, in most cases, our guilt can only be decided by a jury of our peers. Unfortunately, this could create inherent flaws in the system since the common person doesn’t really have any legal knowledge to speak of. Because of this, judges give instructions to the jury before they go into deliberations so that they understand the legal aspects that lay before them.
The instructions given, however, are not always favorable, or even fair, for a defendant. Federal law allows objections to these instructions, and this can lead to more favorable instructions being given or even lead to the possibility of an appeal later down the road.
Objections to Juror Instructions
Objections to juror instructions aren’t like the typical objections that occur during a trial. Objections to evidence or during testimony are witnessed by jurors. When an attorney wishes to raise an objection to instructions, however, they usually do so out of earshot of the jury. The judge’s bench is the typical place where this is done, and an attorney may even ask to be heard away from the jury altogether.
Attorneys must make their objections in a timely manner, and these objections can be based on several things:
- The judge failed to give instructions.
- The judge gave erroneous instructions.
- The judge gave instructions in an improper manner.
Method of Objecting
Objections to juror instructions are a bit more complex than typical objections. Normal objections can usually be general in nature, but an objection to jury instructions must be very specific and state exactly why an instruction is objectionable. These objections must be to the point so that the judge can work towards giving more accurate instructions to jurors.
It’s also important to remember that specific juror instructions cannot simply be asked for if an attorney hopes to leave the door open for an appeal. They must object to the fact that certain instructions aren’t being given. The judge choosing not to include certain instructions can cause an unfair trial, and this can easily be grounds for an appeal.
Proper Times to Object
It’s only vital that an objection to juror instructions be made prior to the jury going to deliberate. It can even be made up to the point of the charging of the jury, and this means that, even if the jury has left the courtroom, the objection can still be heard as long as deliberations haven’t begun. It’s even possible to object to certain instructions before a trial begins, but these objections don’t usually maintain a person’s ability to appeal.
The very last thing that a juror will hear before retiring for deliberations are jury instructions. This is a defense attorney’s last chance to object to the instructions given. Once the jury has begun to deliberate, there is nothing more that an attorney can do.
For more information about jury instructions and the process of objecting to them, schedule a free case review with James Alston at (713) 714-0481