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Good jury instructions are vital to receiving a fair trial


Good jury instructions are vital to receiving a fair trial

On behalf of Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law | 
October 15, 2019

If you are facing criminal charges in Tennessee, you may worry about your future. After all, you may lose your freedom if a jury convicts you of certain offenses. You likely are also nervous about sitting through a trial. Unless you are an attorney, you may find the inner workings of a courtroom to be both confusing and intimidating.

To maintain order and ensure criminal defendants receive fair trials, judges must provide jurors with a variety of instructions. Sometimes, these instructions help jurors understand important legal concepts, such as criminal intent or probable cause. Other times, judges must inform jurors of their legal obligations, such as not discussing the case with friends or family members. As you may suspect, if a jury instruction is incomplete, inaccurate or missing altogether, you may experience serious consequences. Appealing your conviction may be the next step.

Limiting instructions

Evidence is a broad concept in American jurisprudence. In fact, most law students sit through at least two semesters of instruction on the subject. Even then, trial attorneys sometimes take years to master the art of evidence. Basically, some evidence is admissible for certain purposes but not for others. If a judge does not instruct a jury on the limitations of some evidence, jurors may use it for improper purposes.

Curative instructions

A significant amount of work goes into any criminal trial. Nevertheless, even with the best efforts of the judge, prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, mistakes sometimes happen. For example, a witness may blurt out an inadmissible or improper statement during testimony. If the judge does not impress upon the jury the importance of disregarding the statement, you may suffer unfair prejudice.

Charging instructions

After prosecutors make their case and defense attorneys respond, the matter is in the hands of the jury. Before jurors begin deliberations, though, the judge should read charging instructions. These instructions must be both legally valid and understandable. If there is a problem with charging instructions, jurors may misapply the law.

As you can see, the information jurors receive during a trial is critical to its outcome. If something goes wrong with jury instructions, you may need to file an appeal to protect your legal interests.

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