How Crimes are Defined
Crimes in every jurisdiction are defined by certain “elements”, which usually include a combination of a prohibited action and required state of mind. For instance, the crime of Residential Burglary requires: (1) The defendant entered a residential home; and (2) When the defendant entered the home, he had the intent to commit a theft or any felony therein. If one or both of these “elements” cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt the the District Attorney at trial, the law commands that the defendant be acquitted of Residential Burglary, in this example.
In California, a majority of the Counties use the Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, which are referred to by attorneys as the “CALCRIM” Jury Instructions. These instructions lay out the specific elements of the most common criminal offenses in California, as well as describe basic principles of law, that a majority of criminal juries in California are provided when making the ultimate and important decision of whether a defendant on trial is Guilty or Not Guilty of the charges listed against him.
How Jury Instructions Can be Used to Develop a Defense in Your Case
As the CALCRIM Jury Instructions are the literal roadmap the jury will be given in determining whether a defendant is Guilty or Not Guilty, many criminal defense attorneys refer to those very instructions when preparing their case as a roadmap for what the defense in the case may be.
For instance, in the Residential Burglary example above, the lawyer may notice that in the particular case, the client was homeless at the time, it was raining, and the client needed a place to sleep. Thus, the argument could be that the client entered the home for shelter, as opposed to an intent to commit a theft or other felony inside. Or, the home entered by the client may not have been used as an actual residence at the time. This would negate the element that the defendant entered a home being used as a residence. For every charged crime, an attorney must look at the elements and determine if the District Attorney will be able to prove each element at trial beyond a reasonable doubt.
The CALCRIM Jury Instructions also describe general defenses to crimes, which may be limited in some cases. These include:
Alibi, Duress or Threats, Necessity, Accident (Pen. Code, § 195), Parental Right to Punish a Child, Mistake of Fact, Defenses: Mistake of Law, Entrapment, When Conduct of Officer May Not Be Attributed to Defendant, Statute of Limitations, Mistake of Law As a Defense, Compassionate Use (Health & Saf. Code, § 11362.5), and Coercion (Pen. Code, § 236.23).
See CALCRIM 3400-3415.
An attorney often, in contemplation of a possible defense, look at these standalone defenses and how they are defined by the Jury Instructions to prepare the case, so that they can begin to structure their argument to a jury based on the actual language of the instruction themselves.
There are many other ways that the CALCRIM Jury Instructions can aid in the preparation of a defense for trial, or even pretrial when the attorney is trying to get a case dismissed or resolve the matter short of trial.
Where Can You Review the CALCRIM Jury Instructions?
The Judicial Counsel makes the CALCRIM Jury Instructions available to the general public free of charge. They can be accessed and downloaded here: Download CALCRIM Jury Instructions Free
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If you have been arrested, charged with, or investigated for a crime in Fairfield, Suisun, Rio Vista, Vacaville, Benecia, Vallejo, Dixon, or within Napa County or Yolo County, you need the experience of our seasoned attorneys on your side immediately.
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