CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tiersma on California's Jury Instructions

Peter Tiersma (Loyola Law School Los Angeles) has posted Redrafting California's Jury Instructions (The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract: Tiersma-bw
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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