Redrafting California's Jury Instructions
THE ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF FORENSIC LINGUISTICS, Malcol, Coulthard, Alison Johnson, eds., Forthcoming
27 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2009
Date Written: November 12, 2009
California was a leader in the pattern jury instruction movement. Beginning in the 1930s, committees of judges and lawyers acting under the auspices of the Los Angeles Superior Court began to publish standardized (fill-in-the-blank) jury instructions. These pattern instructions saved judges and lawyers a great deal of time and were well regarded as being legally accurate. But the legal accuracy came at a cost. The instructions, which generally parroted the language of statutes and judicial opinions, were often quite stilted, used obscure language, and were hard for jurors to understand.
In the late 1990s the California Judicial Council, as part of a broader reform effort, appointed a task force to draft more user-friendly instructions. This article describes that process and then compares some of the old to the new instructions, including those on evidence, burden of proof, homicide, and the death penalty.
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