Skip Navigation Links

Jury Instructions


BASICS

At the end of a trial, but before the jurors deliberate, the judge reads them "jury instructions." The instructions explain the laws that apply to the case.

Usually, lawyers adapt these instructions from sets of standard jury instructions. In California, there are two main sets of civil jury instructions. One is an "official" plain-English set known as CACI (California Civil Jury Instructions). The other is BAJI (Book of Approved Jury Instructions). Either can be used. Lawyers sometimes create instructions from scratch if there are no standard forms that fit the case. The new instructions must be based on California statutes or cases.

Lawyers and litigants use jury instructions for three purposes:

  • Starting point for legal research
  • Checklist for gathering evidence and witnesses
  • Framing the case for the jury at the end of trial

This guide describes each of these uses, then lists some of the resources in the Law Library and on the Internet.

Starting Point for Legal Research

Jury instructions tell what laws apply in simple language. Jury instruction books usually list the statutes, cases or regulations that apply.  They are a good place to start your research, and some are even available free on the Internet. Important: The instructions are not "the law." You must use cases, statutes or regulations to support your case when writing papers for court.

In every lawsuit the plaintiff has to list at least one cause of action – a specific legal claim, such as negligence, breach of contract, or medical malpractice, for which the plaintiff seeks compensation.  ("Nolo's Plain English Law Dictionary," www.nolo.com/dictionary.) To win, the plaintiff has to prove specific things about each cause of action. These are called elements. Unless there is evidence for every element, the plaintiff will lose. 

For instance, to win a negligence case, the plaintiff must prove:

Element 1. That the defendant was negligent;

Element 2. That the plaintiff was harmed; and

Element 3. That the defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.

This is CACI instruction number 400. It lists the elements of a cause of action for negligence in plain English.  

CACI No. 400 is just the first instruction on negligence. The rest of the instructions in that series go into more detail about the elements. For instance, CACI No. 401 defines the term "negligence." To research or prove negligence, you will have to read all of the related instructions.

Each CACI instruction has a "Sources and Authority" section which contains citations to statutes and cases that support and define the element. These are excellent starting places for research since the Judicial Council has identified them as relevant and definitive.

Checklist for Gathering Evidence and Witnesses

You can use jury instructions as a checklist to gather evidence and witnesses to prove your case. The instructions give you a list of elements. You can check this list to make sure you have evidence and testimony to prove each one. If you are the defendant, you can use the list to see if the plaintiff is missing any evidence.

For instance, a plaintiff trying to prove negligence might make a chart based on CACI No. 400:

Element 1: Defendant was negligent.
Facts satisfying Element 1: Defendant made a left turn when she was thinking about a job problem and not paying attention to pedestrians.
Evidence: Defendant admits she took a phone call about a job problem just before accident. Def't. Deposition, page 15, lines 2-18
Element 2: Plaintiff was harmed
Facts satisfying Element 2:
· Plaintiff's leg was broken, requiring surgery
· Plaintiff lost two weeks of work
· etc.
Evidence:
· testimony and documents related to medical treatment
· testimony and photographs showing effect of injury
Element 3: Defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm
Facts satisfying Element 3: Being hit by defendant's truck broke the plaintiff's leg and left him with a limp.
Evidence:
· testimony and documents related to medical treatment
· testimony and photographs

Framing the Case for the Jury 

Before a trial, each party writes a set of instructions. Often the lawyers customize the instructions in CACI.

The instructions can influence the jury's decision, so the parties frequently argue about the wording. The judge decides which version will be used.  If the judge improperly refuses to use one of your proposed instructions, that can be grounds for an appeal.

The Sacramento County Superior Court requires parties in civil cases to use CACI forms if they fit the case. Parties have to submit a complete set of instructions in a certain format on the first day of trial. (Local Rule 2.97). The format is set out in Cal. Rule of Court 2.1055.  The procedure for presenting your version of the jury instructions and arguing for their adoption is set out in California Code of Civil Procedure 607a.

RESOURCES AVAILABLE IN THE LAW LIBRARY 

Civil Cases, California 

CACI (California Civil Jury Instructions) KFC1047 .A65 J8  
BAJI (Book of Approved Jury Instructions) KFC1047 .A7 S8
The CACI (pronounced "kay-see") set is California's "official" set of plain-English instructions. They are not mandatory. They were written to replace the older BAJI set, but the BAJI set can still be used.  The instructions list the laws or cases that support them, so they are excellent places to start your research.
Electronic Access (CACI):  On the Law Library's computers, using the Matthew Bender CD.
Electronic Access (BAJI):  On the Law Library's computers, using WestlawNext.
Electronic Access: On the Web: http://www.courts.ca.gov/partners/317.htm   [CACI only].

If CACI and BAJI do not fit your case, you can use California Forms of Jury Instructions or California Antitrust Law Jury Instructions to research or draft custom instructions.  

Civil Cases, Federal 

Manual of Model Civil Jury Instructions (Ninth Circuit) (Electronic access only) These instructions are written by a committee of Ninth Circuit judges and magistrates. They are not mandatory, but you can use them as standard instructions in federal cases.
Electronic Access: On the Web:
http://www3.ce9.uscourts.gov/web/sdocuments.nsf/civ   

Two other sources of federal instructions, containing both civil and criminal instructions:
Federal Jury Practice and InstructionsKF8984 .D48
Modern Federal Jury Instructions KF8984 .A6M6 

Civil Cases, Instructions on Particular Topics

Use these sets when there are no California or federal instructions that fit your case. (You must still reference cases and statutes to show that the instruction is a correct statement of applicable law.) You may also find jury instructions in practice guides on your topic. See "Practice Guides Resource Guide," in the library or on the Web: http://www.saclaw.org/pages/practice-guides.aspx.

Federal Employment Jury Instructions KF8984 .M23
Jury Instructions on Damages in Tort Actions KF8984 .E34  
Jury Instructions on Medical Issues KF8984.A65 E22  
Jury Instructions on Products Liability KF8984 .D688   
Model Jury Instructions: Business Torts Litigation  KF8984.A65 M64  
Model Jury Instructions: Employment Litigation KF8984 .M62  
Section 1983 Litigation: Jury Instructions KF1325.C58 S362

Criminal Cases, California

CALCRIM (Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions)
KFC1171.A65 J82  
CALJIC (California Jury Instructions, Criminal) KFC1171 .A65 S82  
The CALCRIM set is California's "official" set of plain-English instructions. They are not mandatory. They were written to replace the older CALJIC set, but the CALJIC set can still be used.  The instructions list the laws or cases that support them, so they are excellent places to start your research.
Electronic Access (CACI):  On the Law Library's computers, using the Matthew Bender CD.
Electronic Access (BAJI):  On the Law Library's computers, using WestlawNext.
Electronic Access: On the Web: http://www.courts.ca.gov/partners/312.htm  [CALCRIM only].

CJER Mandatory Criminal Jury Instructions Handbook KFC1171 .Z9M25
Some instructions are required in all criminal cases. If the lawyers do not request them, the judge will give them anyway. This handbook lists the required instructions. Lawyers use it as a checklist to make sure they don't forget important instructions. 

FORECITE California KFC1171.A65 F67  
California Criminal Practice, Motions, Jury Instructions and Sentencing (Vol. 4)
KFC1155 .A65 R83
These two defense-oriented resources review and supplement the CALCRIM and CALJIC instructions, suggesting modifications (and the authorities to support them). FORECITE is available in print and via the web at www.forecite.com/  (in the library only; see librarian for password). 

Criminal Cases, Federal

Ninth Circuit Model Criminal Jury Instructions KF9682 .A65 M37
These instructions are written by a committee of Ninth Circuit judges and magistrates. They are not mandatory, but you can use them as standard instructions in federal cases.
Electronic Access: On the Web: http://www3.ce9.uscourts.gov/web/sdocuments.nsf/crim

Everytrial Criminal Defense Resource Book KF9656 .H65  
This book is primarily focused on federal criminal cases.  

Two other sources of federal instructions, containing both civil and criminal instructions:
Federal Jury Practice and InstructionsKF8984 .D48
Modern Federal Jury Instructions KF8984 .A6M6

 updated 03/14 kf