Definition of jury instructions
Jury instructions are the set of legal rules that jurors should follow when the jury is deciding a civil or criminal case. Jury instructions are given to the jury by the judge, who usually reads them aloud to the jury. They are often the subject of discussion by attorneys on both sides in the case and the judge in order to make sure their interests are represented and nothing prejudicial is said.
Under the American judicial system, juries are the trier of fact when they serve in a trial. In other words, it is their job to sort through disputed accounts presented in evidence. The judge decides questions of law, meaning he or she decides how the law applies to a given set of facts. The jury instructions provide something of a flow chart on what verdict jurors should deliver based on what they determine to be true. Put another way, "If you believe A (set of facts), you must find X (verdict). If you believe B (set of facts), you must find Y (verdict)."
Forty-eight states (Texas and West Virginia are the exceptions) have a basic set of instructions, usually called "pattern jury instructions", which provide the framework for the charge to the jury; sometimes, only names and circumstances have to be filled in for a particular case. Often they are much more complex, although certain elements frequently recur. For instance, if a criminal defendant chooses not to testify, the jury will be instructed not to draw any conclusions from that decision.
According to the French Code of Penal Procedure, all jurors must individually swear to the following message from the judge presiding the court:
You swear and promise to examine with the most scrupulous attention the charges that will be laid against [the defendant]; to betray neither the interests of the defendant, nor the interests of the society that accuses him, nor the interests of the victim; not to communicate with anybody until you [declare your verdict]; not to listen to hatred, malice, fear or affection; to remember that the defendant is presumed to be innocent and that doubt must benefit him; to decide for yourself according to the charges and the means of defense, according to your conscience and intimate conviction, with the impartiality and firmness that befits an honest and free person, and to keep the secret of the deliberations, even after you cease to be a juror.
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