What Are DUI Jury Instructions?

At the end of your DUI trial, the judge reads to the jury a series of instructions called “jury instructions” or “jury charges.” These instructions are the legal rules that the jury must apply to the evidence they have heard. Jury charges have several components.

First, the judge will once again read to the jury the charges pending against you, word for word, from the accusatory document. The judge then reads the statutes under which you have been charged. That is, if you have been charged with DUI-DWI, he or she reads to the jury the statute which sets out each of the elements of each type of DUI-DWI offense you face.

Next, the judge also reads to the jury the legal meanings of all of the important words or phrases involved with your case. He or she will read to the jury an explanation of what “beyond a reasonable doubt” means, and will explain to the jury your state’s definition of “impairment” required to be proven by the State to support a drunk (or drugged) driving conviction.

Furthermore, the judge must explain other general instructions, such as how to select a foreperson, how to fill out the verdict form, and how the verdict must be unanimous.

The judge will also advise the jury how to ask questions in the event issues about how to proceed arise during deliberations. The jury is then excused to deliberate your fate.

These jury charges, or jury instructions, come to the judge as suggestions from both your DUI attorney and the prosecutor. In most states, these instructions are in binders or manuals containing “pattern” instructions, or instructions on specific points that have been given in the past and have been found acceptable by higher courts.

The suggestions from the prosecutor and from your criminal attorney are usually based on favorable language from one or more appellate cases. The decision as to exactly which jury charges will be given is made by the judge, after conferring with both attorneys outside the presence of the jury. This always occurs prior to the lawyers delivering their closing arguments (summation).

The most experienced DUI-DWI attorneys know just how critical it is to get the best possible jury charges in your case. Sometimes getting the judge to change a word or two, or accept your attorney’s suggested modification can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case.

These same DUI-DWI specialists know your state’s laws, and know when and how to object to the instructions that the judge is giving that do not conform to your state’s required standards for jury instructions.

The denial of your attorney’s suggested jury charges can be important. If your lawyer makes a written suggestion for a jury charge which is denied by the judge, this could form the basis of a successful appeal if you are found guilty by the jury. Your attorney will also “reserve” any objections to the judge’s final jury charge until any post-trial motions or possible appeal, when an objection can be specifically made and applicable legal precedent cited to the judge.