Jury Instructions for Utah Criminal Cases

When a jury is selected to decide the guilt or innocence of a defendant, the court will give them instructions to help guide them in their decision making process. Jury instructions are a very important piece of a jury trial because depending on what instructions are given can determine whether there are appealable issues.

In most Utah criminal cases the court will use a standard set of jury instructions and then charge-specific jury instructions, that is, instructions related specifically to the charges brought against the defendant. We provide below the general jury instructions that apply in nearly every criminal case.

1.  Opening Instructions.                   

Members of the Jury, you have been selected and sworn as the jury in this case. The defendant is accused of committing one or more crimes. You will decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. I will give you some instructions now and some later. You are required to consider and follow all my instructions. Keep an open mind throughout the trial. At the end of the trial you will discuss the evidence and reach a verdict. You took an oath to “well and truly try the issues pending between the parties” and to “render a true and just verdict.” The oath is your promise to do your duty as a member of the jury. Be alert. Pay attention. Follow my instructions.

2.  Information, Plea and Burden of Proof.

The prosecution has filed a document-called an “Information”-that contains the charges against the defendant. The Information is not evidence of anything. It is only a method of accusing a defendant of a crime. The Information will now be read.

The defendant has entered a plea of not guilty and denies committing the crime(s). Every crime has component parts called “elements.” The prosecution must prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt. Until then, you must presume that the defendant is not guilty. The defendant does not have to prove anything. He does not have to testify, call witnesses, or present evidence.

3.  Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

The prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Some of you may have served as jurors in civil cases, where you were told that it is only necessary to prove that a fact is more likely true than not true. In criminal cases, the prosecution’s proof must be more powerful than that. It must be beyond a reasonable doubt. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt. There are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty, and in criminal cases the law does not require proof that overcomes every possible doubt. If, based on your consideration of the evidence, you are firmly convinced that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, you must find him guilty. If, on the other hand, you think there is a real possibility that he is not guilty, you must give him the benefit of the doubt and find him not guilty.

4.   Presumption of Innocence.

Remember, the fact that the defendant is charged with a crime is not evidence of guilt. The law presumes that the defendant is not guilty of the crime(s) charged. This presumption persists unless the prosecution’s evidence convinces you beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

5.  Role of Judge, Jury and Lawyers.

All of us, judge, jury and lawyers, are officers of the court and have different roles during the trial:

  • As the judge I will supervise the trial, decide legal issues, and instruct you on the law.
  • As the jury, you must follow the law as you weigh the evidence and decide the factual issues. Factual issues relate to what did, or did not, happen in this case.
  • The lawyers will present evidence and try to persuade you to decide the case in one way or the other.

Neither the lawyers nor I decide the case. That is your role. Do not be influenced by what you think our opinions might be. Make your decision based on the law given in my instructions and on the evidence presented in court.

6.  Evidence

As jurors you will decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. You must base your decision only on the evidence. Evidence usually consists of the testimony and exhibits presented at trial. Testimony is what witnesses say under oath. Exhibits are things like documents, photographs, or other physical objects. The fact that the defendant has been accused of a crime and brought to trial is not evidence. What the lawyers say is not evidence. For example, their opening statements and closing arguments are not evidence.

7.  Objections.

Rules govern what evidence may be presented to you. On the basis of these rules, the lawyers may object to proposed evidence. If they do, I will rule in one of two ways. If I sustain the objection, the proposed evidence will not be allowed. If I overrule the objection, the evidence will be allowed. Do not evaluate the evidence on the basis of whether objections are made.

8.  Order of the Trial.

I will now explain how the trial will unfold. The prosecution will give its opening statement. An opening statement gives an overview of the case from one point of view, and summarizes what that lawyer thinks the evidence will show. Defense counsel may choose to make an opening statement right after the prosecutor, or wait until after all of the prosecution’s evidence has been presented, or not make one at all. You will then hear the prosecution’s evidence. Evidence is usually presented by calling and questioning witnesses. What they say is called testimony. A witness is questioned first by the lawyer who called that witness and then by the opposing lawyer.

After the lawyers finish with their questions you will have the opportunity to submit questions. In a moment I will explain how to do this.

Consider all testimony, whether from direct or cross-examination, regardless of who calls the witness. After the prosecution has presented all its evidence, the defendant may present evidence, though the defendant has no duty to do so. If the defendant does present evidence the prosecution may then present additional evidence. After both sides have presented all their evidence, I will give you final instructions on the law you must follow in reaching a verdict. You will then hear closing arguments from the lawyers. The prosecutor will speak first, followed by the defense counsel. Then the prosecutor speaks last, because the government has the burden of proof. Finally, you will deliberate in the jury room. You may take your notes with you. You will discuss the case and reach a verdict.

9.  Conduct of Jurors.

From time to time I will call a recess. It may be for a few minutes or longer. During recesses, do not talk about this case with anyone-not family, not friends, not even each other. Until the trial is over, do not mingle or talk with the lawyers, parties, witnesses or anyone else connected with the case. Court clerks or bailiffs can answer general questions, such as the length of breaks or the location of restrooms. But they cannot comment about the case or anyone involved. The goal is to avoid the impression that anyone is trying to influence you improperly. If people involved in the case seem to ignore you outside of court, they are just following this instruction.

Until the trial is over, do not read or listen to any news reports about this case. If you observe anything that seems to violate this instruction, report it immediately to a clerk or bailiff.

10.  Further admonition about electronic devices.

Jurors have caused serious problems during trials by using computer and electronic communication technology. You may be tempted to use these devices to investigate the case, or to share your thoughts about the trial with others. However, you must not use any of these electronic devices while you are serving as a juror.

You violate your oath as a juror if you conduct your own investigations or communicate about this trial with others, and you may face serious consequences if you do. Let me be clear: do not “Google” the parties, witnesses, issues, or counsel; do not “Tweet” or text about the trial; do not use Blackberries or iPhones to gather or send information on the case; do not post updates about the trial on Facebook pages; do not use Wikipedia or other internet information sources, etc. Even using something as seemingly innocent as “Google Maps” can result in a mistrial.

Please understand that the rules of evidence and procedure have developed over hundreds of years in order to ensure the fair resolution of disputes. The fairness of the entire system depends on you reaching your decisions based on evidence presented to you in court, and not on other sources of information.

Post-trial investigations are common and can disclose these improper activities. If they are discovered, they will be brought to my attention and the entire case might have to be retried, at substantial cost.

11.  Note-taking.

Feel free to take notes during the trial to help you remember the evidence, but do not let note-taking distract you. Your notes are not evidence and may be incomplete.

12.  Juror Questions.

During the trial you may ask questions of the witnesses. However, to make sure the questions are legally appropriate, we will use the following procedure: After the lawyers have finished questioning each witness, if you have a question, write it down and hand it to the bailiff.  Do not ask the question out loud. Write it down and hand it to a bailiff. The bailiff will hand me your question. I will review it with the lawyers to make sure it is legally permissible. If the question is appropriate, it will be addressed. If not, I will tell you.

I remind you that the lawyers are trained in asking questions that will produce the evidence necessary to decide this case.  You should not ask a lot of questions.  However, if you feel there is something important that has been missed or needs clarification, you may ask a question by following the procedure I have explained to you.


13.   Closing Roadmap.

Members of the jury, you now have all the evidence. Three things remain to be done: First, I will give you additional instructions that you will follow in deciding this case .Second, the lawyers will give their closing arguments. The prosecutor will go first, then the defense. Because the prosecution has the burden of proof, the prosecutor may give a rebuttal. Finally, you will go to the jury room to discuss and decide the case.

14.  Juror Duties.

You have two main duties as jurors.

The first is to decide from the evidence what the facts are. Deciding what the facts are is your job, not mine.

The second duty is to take the law I give you in the instructions, apply it to the facts, and decide if the prosecution has proved the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

You are bound by your oath to follow the instructions that I give you, even if you personally disagree with them. This includes the instructions I gave you before trial, any instructions I may have given you during the trial, and these instructions. All the instructions are important, and you should consider them as a whole. The order in which the instructions are given does not mean that some instructions are more important than others. Whether any particular instruction applies may depend upon what you decide are the true facts of the case. If an instruction applies only to facts or circumstances you find do not exist, you may disregard that instruction.

Perform your duties fairly. Do not let any bias, sympathy or prejudice that you may feel toward one side or the other influence your decision in any way. You must also not let yourselves be influenced by public opinion.

15.   Closing Arguments.

When the lawyers give their closing arguments, keep in mind that they are advocating their views of the case. What they say during their closing arguments is not evidence. If the lawyers say anything about the evidence that conflicts with what you remember, you are to rely on your memory of the evidence. If they say anything about the law that conflicts with these instructions, you are to rely on these instructions.

16.  Legal Rulings.

During the trial I have made certain rulings. I made those rulings based on the law, and not because I favor one side or the other. However,

  • if I sustained an objection,
  • if I did not accept evidence offered by one side or the other, or
  • if I ordered that certain testimony be stricken,

then you must not consider those things in reaching your verdict.

17.  Judicial Neutrality.

As the judge, I am neutral. If I have said or done anything that makes you think I favor one side or the other, that was not my intention. Do not interpret anything I have done as indicating that I have any particular view of the evidence or the decision you should reach.

18.  Evidence-closing.

You must base your decision only on the evidence that you saw and heard here in court. Evidence includes:

  • what the witnesses said while they were testifying under oath; and
  • any exhibits admitted into evidence.

Nothing else is evidence. The lawyers statements and arguments are not evidence. Their objections are not evidence. My legal rulings and comments, if any, are not evidence. In reaching a verdict, consider all the evidence as I have defined it here, and nothing else. You may also draw all reasonable inferences from that evidence.

19. Direct/Circumstantial Evidence.

Facts may be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence. The law does not treat one type of evidence as better than the other. Direct evidence can prove a fact by itself. It usually comes from a witness who perceived firsthand the fact in question. For example, if a witness testified he looked outside and saw it was raining, that would be direct evidence that it had rained. Circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence. It usually comes from a witness who perceived a set of related events, but not the fact in question. However, based on that testimony someone could conclude that the fact in question had occurred. For example, if a witness testified that she looked outside and saw that the ground was wet and people were closing their umbrellas, that would be circumstantial evidence that it had rained. Before you can find the defendant guilty of any charge, there must be enough evidenceCdirect, circumstantial, or some of bothCto convince you of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It is up to you to decide.

20.  Witness Credibility.

In deciding this case you will need to decide how believable each witness was. Use your judgment and common sense. Let me suggest a few things to think about as you weigh each witness’s testimony:

  • How good was the witness’s opportunity to see, hear, or otherwise

observe what the witness testified about?

  • Does the witness have something to gain or lose from this case?
  • Does the witness have any connection to the people involved in this


  • Does the witness have any reason to lie or slant the testimony?
  • Was the witness’s testimony consistent over time? If not, is there a

good reason for the inconsistency? If the witness was inconsistent, was it about something important or unimportant?

  • How believable was the witness’s testimony in light of other       evidence presented at trial?
  • How believable was the witness’s testimony in light of human     experience?
  • Was there anything about the way the witness testified that made        the testimony more or less believable?

In deciding whether or not to believe a witness, you may also consider anything else you think is important.

You do not have to believe everything that a witness said. You may believe part and disbelieve the rest. On the other hand, if you are convinced that a witness lied, you may disbelieve anything the witness said. In other words, you may believe all, part, or none of a witness’s testimony. You may believe many witnesses against one or one witness against many.

In deciding whether a witness testified truthfully, remember that no one’s memory is perfect. Anyone can make an honest mistake. Honest people may remember the same event differently.

21.  Defendant Testifying.

The defendant testified at trial. Another instruction mentions some things for you to think about in weighing testimony. Consider those same things in weighing the defendant’s testimony. Don’t reject the defendant’s testimony merely because he or she is accused of a crime.

21.a.  Defendant Not Testifying.

A person accused of a crime may choose whether or not to testify. In this case the defendant chose not to testify. Do not hold that choice against the defendant. Do not try to guess why the defendant chose not to testify. Do not consider it in your deliberations. Decide the case only on the basis of the evidence. The defendant does not have to prove that he is not guilty. The prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

22.  Presumption of Innocence-closing.

Remember, the fact that the defendant is charged with a crime is not evidence of guilt. The law presumes that the defendant is not guilty of the crime(s) charged. This presumption persists unless the prosecution’s evidence convinces you beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

23.  Reasonable Doubt-closing.

As I instructed you before Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt. There are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty, and in criminal cases the law does not require proof that overcomes every possible doubt. If the evidence leaves you firmly convinced that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, you must find the defendant “guilty.” On the other hand, if there is a real possibility that he is not guilty, you must give the defendant the benefit of the doubt and return a verdict of “not guilty.”

24.  Inferring the Required Mental State.

The law requires that the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with a particular mental state. Ordinarily, there is no way that a defendant’s mental state can be proved directly, because no one can tell what another person is thinking. A defendant’s mental state can be proved indirectly from the surrounding facts and circumstances. This includes things like what the defendant said, what the defendant did, and any other evidence that shows what was in the defendant’s mind.

25.  Motive.

A defendant’s “mental state” is not the same as “motive.” Motive is why a person does something. Motive is not an element of the crime(s) charged in this case. As a result, the prosecutor does not have to prove why the defendant acted (or failed to act).

However, a motive or lack of motive may help you determine if the defendant did what he is charged with doing. It may also help you determine what his mental state was at the time.

26.  Do Not Consider Punishment.

In making your decision, do not consider what punishment could result from a verdict of guilty. Your duty is to decide if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Punishment is not relevant to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

27.  Jury Deliberations.

In the jury room, discuss the evidence and speak your minds with each other. Open discussion should help you reach a unanimous agreement on a verdict. Listen carefully and respectfully to each other’s views and keep an open mind about what others have to say. I recommend that you not commit yourselves to a particular verdict before discussing all the evidence.

Try to reach unanimous agreement, but only if you can do so honestly and in good conscience. If there is a difference of opinion about the evidence or the verdict, do not hesitate to change your mind if you become convinced that your position is wrong. On the other hand, do not give up your honestly held views about the evidence simply to agree on a verdict, to give in to pressure from other jurors, or just to get the case over with. In the end, your vote must be your own.

Because this is a criminal case, every single juror must agree with the verdict before the defendant can be found “guilty” or “not guilty.” In reaching your verdict you may not use methods of chance, such as drawing straws or flipping a coin. Rather, the verdict must reflect your individual, careful, and conscientious judgment as to whether the evidence presented by the prosecutor proved each charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

28.  Foreperson Selection and Duties.

Among the first things you should do when you go to the jury room to deliberate is to appoint someone to serve as the jury foreperson. The foreperson should not dominate the jury’s discussion, but rather should facilitate the discussion of the evidence and make sure that all members of the jury get the chance to speak. The foreperson’s opinions should be given the same weight as those of other members of the jury. Once the jury has reached a verdict, the foreperson is responsible for filling out and signing the verdict form(s) on behalf of the entire jury.

For each offense, the verdict form will have two blanksCone for “guilty” and the other for “not guilty.” The foreperson will fill in the appropriate blank to reflect the jury’s unanimous decision. In filling out the form, the foreperson needs to make sure that only one blank is marked for each charge.

29.  Offense Requires Conduct and Mental State.

A person cannot be found guilty of a criminal offense unless that person’s conduct is prohibited by law, AND at the time the conduct occurred, the defendant demonstrated a particular mental state specified by law.

“Conduct” can mean both an “act” OR the failure to act when the law requires a person to act. An “act” is a voluntary movement of the body and it can include speech.

As to the “mental state” requirement, the prosecution must prove that at the time the defendant acted (or failed to act), he did so with a particular mental state. For each offense, the law defines what kind of mental state the defendant had to have, if any. For some crimes the defendant must have acted “intentionally” or “knowingly.” For other crimes it is enough that the defendant acted “recklessly,” with “criminal negligence,” or with some other specified mental state.

Later I will instruct you on the specific conduct and mental state that the prosecution must prove before the defendant can be found guilty of the crime(s) charged.

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