The attorneys have given their closing arguments.

The judge locks the courtroom door.

He then spends an hour telling the jury what law they must follow in this particular case.

Maybe it is an accident case.

Maybe it is a medical malpractice case where the injured victim claims that his doctor violated the basic standards of medical care.

Maybe it is a wrongful death case where someone's carelessness caused someone to die.

Before the judge tells the jury what the law is for that particular case, he will have had a lengthy conference with the attorneys.

You should know that at the beginning of every trial, each attorney is required to give the judge a set of legal instructions that they believe the judge should give to the jury at the end of the trial.

This conference toward the end of trial is known as a “charge conference.”

On the day of the conference, the judge will already have reviewed plaintiff's requests as well as the defendant's requests for legal instructions.

These are typically known as “Requests to charge.”

The judge will then hear legal argument from each attorney about why certain instructions should or should not be given.

After listening to oral argument on each of these requests, the judge will render a decision and then tell the attorneys exactly which sections of law he will be giving to the jury.

The court reporter is called in during this part of the conference in order to record the judge's rulings and the attorney's objections.

This way, these objections and these rulings of law become part of the trial record that can be appealed by one side or the other after the trial is over.

In addition, once the attorneys know exactly which sections of law the judge will be giving to the jury after their closing remarks, they can now fashion part of their closing remarks to fit the law that the judge will be talking about.

The reason the judge has the courtroom locked it so that there are no interruptions while the judge is explaining to the jury what the law is.

It's not intended or designed to prevent people from leaving the courtroom, rather it's designed to prevent interruptions from people entering the courtroom.

You may be interested to know that the jury is likely not going to be permitted to take notes while the judge gives these legal instructions.

After the judge has completed giving all of his instructions, the jury then goes into the jury deliberation room to start the process of reaching a verdict.

What happens though if one or more of the jurors did not understand something the judge told them?

Does the jury have the ability to ask the judge to either repeat a particular legal instruction or to clarify a legal instruction?

The answer is yes, they do.

If the jury is unclear about a particular legal instruction, they will write a note and give it to the court officer to get to the judge.

The trial judge will then show the note to the attorneys and then create a plan to address the jury's question.

If the jury wants to have a legal instruction clarified, then the judge will find that section of the law and come up with a clarification that will hopefully make it easier to understand.

For example, let's say the jury wanted the judge's legal instruction on the burden of proof explained again.

If the judge follows what lawyers refer to as the “pattern jury instructions” which is a set of standardized instructions that many judges use in civil lawsuits, it talks about how the person bringing the lawsuit has to show by a 'preponderance of evidence' that they are entitled to a verdict.

What exactly does a “preponderance of evidence mean?”

There are specific definitions that are given to the jury in this exact instance. One definition and explanation is that the injured victim, the plaintiff in this case, only has to show that they are more likely right than wrong that what they are claiming is true.

That's the same as saying that the injured victim only has to show that they are 50.1% correct in order to justify a verdict in their favor.

Another example might be where the jury asks the judge to explain the definition of circumstantial evidence.

One explanation involves standing in front of a table where there is a glass of water on it. You turn away for a moment and then hear something crash to the ground. As you turn around you realize that there is another person standing next to you in close proximity to where the glass stood only moments ago and you observe a shocked look on his face.

Although you did not actually witness that person knock over the glass of water, you have made the connection in your mind that there is no other possible explanation of how this glass could have knocked over other than the person standing next to where the water stood just moments earlier.

There are multiple variations of this explanation.

When the jury asks for clarification of a particular instruction, the judge will tell the attorneys how he's going to clarify the instruction in order to allow the attorneys an opportunity to object to anything the judge is going to tell the jury.

The judge will then have a court officer bring the jury back into the courtroom and re-read that section of the law they are confused about and then give some additional clarification to try and make it easier to understand.

After he is finished clarifying the legal instruction, he will then tell the jury to go back in and continue their discussions.

To learn even more about whether the judge can clarify confusing legal instructions for the jury, I invite you watch the video below...


Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer