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Waldorf, MD Criminal Defense Attorney Explains “Jury Instructions”

If you are charged with a crime here in Waldorf, Maryland, or other parts of Southern Maryland, you are entitled to a criminal trial before a Maryland jury of your peers. A jury is composed of “regular folks” who live in and around Charles County, MD who are selected at random. One confusing aspect of a criminal trial is the process of preparing and giving “jury instructions” to the jury before they begin deliberations. The jury conducts its deliberations after all the evidence is presented at the trial including the evidence presented by the prosecuting attorneys and the evidence presented by your top-rated Waldorf, MD criminal defense team. But, before the deliberations, the judge must give the jury its instructions. In this article, the experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Robert Castro provide a brief explanation of what “jury instructions” are. If you need legal representation, call us at (301) 705-5137. We are available 24/7.

What are Jury Instructions?

Jury instructions are lengthy written instructions from the judge to the jury. The purpose of jury instructions is to explain the law to the jury so that they apply the correct legal standards.

The judge will typically read the instructions before the jury is sent into seclusion to begin deliberating. A copy of the jury instructions is typically sent into the deliberation room for the jury’s referral. The jury instructions are prepared in consultation with the attorneys for the prosecution and the defense. Indeed, typically, initial drafts of jury instructions are provided by both teams and submitted to the Maryland criminal court judge. The prosecution lawyers and the defendant’s team of criminal defense attorneys will offer objections to various instructions. If the objections cannot be resolved, then the judge will decide whether a proposed instruction will be given and, if so, the judge will decide the wording of the instruction.

What are Pattern Criminal Jury Instructions?

Most of the criminal jury instructions submitted to the court are called “pattern jury instructions.” These are compiled in books and are generally considered accurate and have been tested in the Maryland appellate courts. Some of the pattern criminal jury instructions are rather mundane. For example, pattern criminal jury instructions tell the jury not to discuss the case outside of the deliberation room and not to post social media comments about the case. Other pattern jury instructions are more important, such as the instruction on the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there is no pattern jury instruction on a legal issue in the case, then the lawyers and the judge will write a legally correct and accurate jury instruction specific to the case.

What Happens if the Jury Instruction is Wrong?

Jury instructions are mandatory in Maryland criminal cases. Moreover, accurate jury instructions are required. If the judge provides the jury with an inaccurate jury instruction, that can be grounds for a post-conviction appeal.

An Example

As noted, the jury only receives jury instructions that are relevant to the issues raised in the case. If issues are agreed to or not in dispute, then no jury instructions are given on those issues. For example, if the identity of the defendant is not in dispute, then the jury will not receive an instruction explaining how to resolve the issue of identity. But, if issues are in dispute, then the jury will receive instruction on that issue. Let’s look at an example. Assume the charges relate to a gun shooting and assume the criminal defense team has raised the issue of self-defense. In addition to being instructed on the law related to the shooting, the jury will receive instruction on self-defense. In part, here is the Maryland pattern criminal jury instruction on self-defense (MD MPJI-Cr 5:07):

From the Judge: “You have heard evidence that the defendant acted in self-defense. Self-defense is a complete defense and you are required to find the defendant not guilty if all of the following four factors are present:

(1) the defendant was not the aggressor [[or, although the defendant was the initial aggressor, [he] [she] did not raise the fight to the deadly force level]];
(2) the defendant actually believed that [he] [she] was in immediate and imminent danger of bodily harm;
(3) the defendant’s belief was reasonable; and
(4) the defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend [himself] [herself] in light of the threatened or actual harm.

[Deadly force is that amount of force reasonably calculated to cause death or serious bodily harm. If you find that the defendant used deadly force, you must decide whether the use of deadly force was reasonable. Deadly force is reasonable if the defendant had a reasonable belief that the aggressor’s force posed an immediate and imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.] …”

Note the bracketed words. The pattern jury instructions are modified (words taken out) to fit the case in question. Maybe deadly force is not a question in a particular case, so those words would be removed and not given to the jury.

Contact Waldorf, Maryland Criminal Defense Lawyer Robert Castro Today

This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer at (301)705-5137. We are Waldorf, MD Criminal Defense lawyers. Our address is 2670 Crain Highway, Waldorf, MD 20601.