Saturday, August 27, 2005

California Simplifies Criminal Jury Instructions

One of the most frustrating experiences for a juror can be the complexly worded jury instructions given by the judge right before jury deliberations. California has made significant progress in developing simplified instructions for civil cases. California has now adopted new criminal jury instructions (CALCRIM) that will be used in all criminal jury trials beginning January 2006.

Many of the current criminal jury instructions were initially drafted in the 1930s and often contained confusing legal terminology. The new instructions emphasize plain, straightforward language, and are a welcome change to some of the archaic language of the old instructions. Here is one example of how an instruction has been improved:

Old: "Innocent misrecollection is not uncommon."
New: "People sometimes honestly forget things or make mistakes about what they remember."

A 29-member task consisting of judges, lawyers and other experts spent thousands of hours over an 8-year period to draft the new instructions. The new instructions will be mandatory in all criminal bases beginning in January 2006 and are expected to lessen confusion jurors may have about the instructions. Click here to learn about the new jury instructions.

About the Author
Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.


Wontar said...

So... rather than have jurors who are literate, they opted for those who are not. Great. Personally, I'd rather have someone who understood those five simple words as a juror.

Carl Starrett said...

It simply means that the jury instructions are in normal english instead of unnecessarily complex legalese. It is not a dumbing down of the instructions, it just makes them more comprehensible.