Does Jury Instructional Error Result in a Criminal Conviction Being Overturned in California?

March 29, 2023

In California, jury instructions are an essential part of a criminal trial. These instructions are designed to inform the jury of the relevant laws, evidence, and principles that they must apply in determining the guilt or innocence of the defendant. However, when a trial court provides incorrect or misleading instructions to the jury, it can result in an unfair trial and a wrongful conviction. In such cases, a defendant can raise the issue of jury instructional error on appeal.

Jury instructional error can take many forms, including failing to provide an instruction on an essential element of the crime, providing an incorrect instruction on an essential element of the crime, providing an instruction that misstates the law, or providing an instruction that is prejudicial to the defendant. When a defendant believes that jury instructional error occurred at trial, they must typically show that the error was both prejudicial and affected the outcome of the trial.

One of the most common forms of jury instructional error is failing to provide an instruction on an essential element of the crime. For example, if the prosecution is required to prove that the defendant had a specific intent to commit a crime and the trial court fails to provide an instruction on this element, the jury may not have all the information they need to make a proper decision. When this type of error is found, courts will usually reverse the conviction and order a new trial.

Another form of jury instructional error is providing an instruction that misstates the law. For example, if the trial court provides an instruction that suggests that the prosecution does not have to prove an essential element of the crime, it can lead the jury to reach an incorrect verdict. When this type of error is found, courts will usually reverse the conviction and order a new trial.

A third form of jury instructional error is providing an instruction that is prejudicial to the defendant. For example, if the trial court provides an instruction that suggests that the defendant has the burden of proving their innocence, it can lead the jury to reach an incorrect verdict. When this type of error is found, courts will usually reverse the conviction and order a new trial.

It’s important to note that not all errors in jury instructions will result in a reversal of a criminal conviction. The court will consider the nature and extent of the error, as well as the potential impact on the outcome of the trial, in determining whether to reverse the conviction. In some cases, an error may be considered harmless if the court finds that it did not affect the outcome of the trial.

Additionally, the appellate court will consider whether the error was preserved for appeal. This means that the defendant’s attorney must have made a specific objection to the instruction at trial, and must have asked the court to provide a corrected instruction. This is crucial because if the error was not preserved, the appellate court may not consider it.

Attorney John D. Rogers is a criminal defense attorney. He is a board-certified criminal law specialist by the State Bar of California. His office is located in Newport Beach, CA and he represents clients throughout California in state and federal matters. If you’re seeking legal representation of an appeal, give the Law Offices of John D. Rogers a call to schedule a free consultation. We handle criminal appeals all throughout California.

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