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Guide for Using Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions

Jurors’ ease of understanding, without sacrificing accuracy, is the primary objective of these instructions from the Judicial Council. A secondary objective is to facilitate the use of lawyers.

Jury Instructions as a Statement of the Law

While the instructions of the jury are not a primary source of the law, they are a statement of the law, a secondary source. The fact that the instructions are in plain English does not alter their status as an accurate legal statement.

How to Use the Instructions?

  • The Revision Dates Instructions: The original approval date and all revision dates are presented for each instruction. An instruction is considered to have been revised if the title, instruction text or instructions for use are changed in a non-technical manner.

No new revision date is generated by additions or changes to the Sources and Authority and Secondary Sources.

  • The Directions for Use: The instructions include directions on how to use them. The directions alert the user of the instruction to special circumstances and may include references to other instructions that should or should not be used. In some situations, the guidelines contain suggestions for changes or supplementary instructions that could be required. Reference should be made to the directions for use before using any instructions.
  • Authority and Sources: Each instruction identifies the primary sources presenting the basic legal principles supporting the instruction. Applicable statutes are listed together with the quoted material from cases relating to the subject of the instruction. Authorities are included to support the instruction text, the burden of proof, and legal and factual matters.

Sources and Authority cases should always be treated as a digest of relevant citations. We are not intended to provide a complete analysis of the instruction’s legal subject. The use of an abstract does not necessarily mean that the committee finds it a legal authority. Actually, they provide a starting point for further legal investigation into the subject.

  • Common Case Instructions: These instructions have been drafted for the general case form and can in many cases be used as drafted. Consumers will have to tailor the instructions to the particular case if special or complicated circumstances prevail.
  • The Multiple Parties: When jurors interpret instructions that refer to parties by name rather than legal terms such as “plaintiff” and “defendant” more readily, the instructions provide for names to be added. The guidelines use single-party claimants and plaintiffs as models of ease of presentation. If a case involves multiple parties or cross-complaints, usually in the directions the client will need to switch the parties.
  • The Uncontested Elements: While certain elements might be the subject of a stipulation that the component has been proved, the instruction should set out all the elements and show those which are considered to have been proven by the parties’ stipulation.

The omission of uncontested elements could leave the jury with an incomplete understanding of the cause of the action and the full burden of proof of the plaintiff. It is best to include all the elements and then say that the parties have agreed to determine one or more of them and that the jury does not have to decide.

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