Instructions to a Jury

Before a jury heads to the jury room to deliberate the facts of a case and render a verdict, the presiding judge will instruct the jurors with regard to both their general duties and specific details relevant to the particular case. The judge’s instructions are sometimes referred to as the judge’s charge to the jury.

Facts, Questions of Law and Applicability

The judge’s charge generally occurs after the prosecution and defense have laid out their cases. For clarification, the judge will state the issues at hand in the case and also define any legal jargon that jurors may not be familiar with. The judge also will remind the jury of the standard of proof applicable to the case at hand; in a civil case, the standard is referred to as “preponderance of the evidence,” while “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard for criminal cases.

The judge will remind the jurors that they are to assess the credibility of witnesses and the veracity of facts as presented by both sides. The judge also will state that the jury is to make its decision based on evidence presented, and that the lawyers’ opening and closing arguments are not considered evidence.

Questions of Law/Judge’s Interpretation

During his or her instructions to the jury, the judge also will interpret any sections of law that apply to the case, stating them in laymen’s terms for the jurors to understand. The jurors must make a decision based on the facts of the case and within the guidelines of the applicable law, as interpreted by the judge.

Charge to Jury Standard of Proof