Criminal jury instructions are instructions given to the members of a jury that guide them in their deliberations. They provide a framework to guide the jury in deciding whether a criminal defendant is guilty or innocent. They also tell the jurors what actions and discussions are allowed during the course of their deliberations.
A criminal trial is a case brought by the government against a person or company for breaches of the criminal code. The jury is convened to hear the case and determine whether or not the accused, called the defendant, is guilty. A jury consists of members of the community who have been called in for jury service.
During a criminal case, many legal terms and issues arise that may not be understood by members of the public. Criminal jury instructions will show the charges against the defendant, and define legal terms that may arise in the course of the case. It is crucial that the members of the jury understand these terms before they can make any judgments.
Criminal jury instructions will also define what evidence a jury is allowed to consider. For instance, if the defendant in the case does not testify, the criminal jury instructions may specify that that the jury is not allowed to hold this against the defendant or consider this incriminating in any way. The instructions may also tell the jurors to disregard testimony that was offered but not admitted into evidence during trial.
Jurors are also restricted in their behavior while they are members of a jury. Criminal jury instructions may inform jurors what they are and aren't allowed to discuss about the case outside of the courtroom. It will also inform jurors about contact with parties involved in the case.
Generally, criminal jury instructions will include a template that acts as a flowchart. The instructions specify that if a juror decides that certain facts about the case are true, he must must vote guilty. If he believes those facts are not true then he must vote not guilty. This template is not designed to influence the jury, but to allow them to apply the law accurately.
Criminal jury instructions vary between jurisdictions. In the US, criminal trials can be held at the federal, state, and local level. Each of those juries may have different rules.