English may soon find its way into jury instructions. As part of a long-range effort by
the California courts to reform the jury system, a Judicial Council task force last month
released a draft of civil and criminal jury instructions designed to be more
understandable while remaining accurate.
looking to strike a balance between the need for clarity and the need for accuracy,
said 1st District Court of Appeal Justice Carol Corrigan, chair of the group,. Its
quite a tap dance.
project, which has taken two years so far, has produced two volumes 247 pages of
civil and 234 pages of criminal instructions. That amounts to about one-third of what
Corrigan believes will be the final product, expected to be completed in another two
jury instructions now used by California courts are contained in CALJIC and BAJI,
copyrighted materials originally produced in the 1930s and 40s by a committee of Los
Angeles Superior Court judges.
Although a rule
of court now instructs judges to use either those instructions, which have been revised
and updated over the years, or others that accurately state the law, judges and attorneys
have long complained that the CALJIC and BAJI instructions are complex and hard to
1995, the Judicial Council created a Commission on Jury System Improvement, which
ultimately concluded that jury instructions presently given in California and
elsewhere are, on occasion, simply impenetrable to the ordinary juror.
Ronald M. George then appointed the Task Force on Jury Instructions, with the charge of
producing clear, accurate instructions.
Judicial Council and the Los Angeles judges could not reach agreement on revising those
instructions, the task force started from scratch, Corrigan said, scrupulously avoiding
comparisons with CALJIC or BAJI.
been rigid about going back to Go, she said, following formulations
contained in statutes and caselaw. Members of the 25-member task force did not want to
suggest changes in the law or resolve conflicts. Rather, they defined terms when necessary
and substituted a more understandable word if an accurate synonym for the legal language
could be found.
The task force
and the Los Angeles judges also have a difference of philosophy, Corrigan said.
Los Angeles courts believe the safest way to instruct a jury and