Florida Criminal Jury Instructions
Florida Criminal Jury Instructions in a Criminal Trial, by Joe Bodiford
If you have never watched a Florida criminal trial, it is important to know how jurors are asked to render their decisions. Jurors have two jobs – first, listen to all the evidence, and second, apply the facts to the law to decide if it was proven that a crime was committed.
First, the State of Florida prosecutor will present evidence against the defendant. There are certain things the prosecutor has to prove, commonly known as “elements” – much like the ingredients in a cake. To bake a good cake, you have to have flour, eggs, milk, and sugar. If you leave one of those things out, you don’t have a cake, you have a mess. A Florida criminal jury trial works the same way – if all the ingredients (elements) are not proved beyond a reasonable doubt, you don’t have a conviction.
After the State rests its case (finishes presenting all witnesses and evidence), the defense can elect to present witnesses and evidence – or not. Either way, once the defense is finished, and after the attorneys make their final arguments to the jury, the jury is ready to deliberate – almost.
After all the evidence is heard, the judge reads instructions to the jurors. The instructions contain a list of the elements that must be proved in order for them to vote for guilt. The instructions are written in plain language and approved by the Florida Supreme Court. Once the instructions are given, then the jury can think about the facts and compare the facts to the elements.
Without jury instructions, jurors would not know what the heck had to be proved and the whole thing would be a big mess.
Below you will find links to the jury instructions for commonly charged crimes. Reading these will help you understand what the State has to prove against you. When Joe Bodiford teaches trial advocacy to attorneys and law students, he tells them that this is where every Florida criminal defense attorney should start – read the jury instructions!