Stephen G. Cobb - Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer

What Type Of Jury Instructions Are Given By The Judge Prior To Trial?


Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

Jury instructions in criminal cases in Florida are broken up in different sections. There are instructions before trial, during trial, prior to the deliberation to determine a verdict, and after the jury has delivered the verdict. One of the newer instructions involves the use of electronic devices:

“Many of you have cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices. Even though you have not yet been selected as a juror, there are some strict rules that you must follow about using your cellphones, electronic devices, and computers. You must not use any device to search the internet or to find out anything related to any cases in the courthouse.”

This is instruction is given to what is known as a venire panel. A venire panel consists of a large number of people, of which jurors are going to be selected. Groups of people will be brought into the courtroom and instructed before jury selection. We have had a problem in Florida, as well as in many other states, where people selected for a criminal jury trial access the internet with their phone or Apple Watch, and this is inappropriate. The only evidence that is allowed during a criminal jury trial is the evidence presented in court. When jurors use electronic devices to research on their own, they are not only depriving the defendant of his or her right to a fair trial, they are also depriving the public of a fair trial as well. In some counties, judges will even require them to leave their electronic devices with court security while they are in court. Of course, this does not address the problem of what happens with their electronic devices after court. Jurors are told after being selected that they are not allowed to watch or listen to news reports about their case, and if they are inadvertently exposed to information about the case that is going to trial, they have to notify the bailiff, who will then notify the court. Often they will be excused and an alternate juror will take their place.

Preliminary Instructions To Criminal Case Jurors Prior To Commencement Of Opening Statements

Before there is an opening statement in a criminal jury trial in Florida, the judge is will read a series of critical instructions to the jurors. In addition to being told to avoid news reports, jurors are instructed not to receive any messages about the case. The problem with this instruction is, how is a juror going to know that a particular message is going to be about the trial until they actually read it? This is a reason I ask for extra alternate jurors, so that when jurors are exposed, they may be replaced by an alternate. When jurors expose themselves to outside information, the parties have no opportunity to dispute the accuracy of what jurors find or provide rebuttal evidence to it. That is contrary to our judicial system, which assures every party has a right to ask questions about and rebut the evidence considered against it, and to present argument with respect to that evidence.

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

For more information on Jury Instructions Prior To Trial, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (850) 466-1522 today.

Stephen G. Cobb, Esq.

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