Florida Court Explains the Importance of Jury Instructions in Criminal Trials

Typically, jurors possess only a vague understanding of what acts constitute a particular crime. Thus, in Florida criminal cases, the court will provide the jury with instructions regarding what factual elements the State must prove in order for the defendant to be found guilty. If a court fails to properly instruct a jury, though, the defendant may be unjustly convicted and may have grounds to seek a reversal of the conviction via an appeal. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida case in which the defendant was charged with burglary, and the court failed to provide the jury with the standard instruction for that offense. If you are accused of burglary or any other theft crime, it is advisable to meet with a knowledgeable Tampa theft crime defense attorney to evaluate what defenses you may be able to assert.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that a woman who was in the process of moving took several trips through her home and out to her car during the day. On one of her trips, she noticed the defendant standing in her kitchen in front of an open drawer that previously had been closed. The defendant stated he needed help and gave a rambling speech that lasted close to an hour, after which he left. The woman called the police, and the defendant was arrested and charged with burglary.

It is alleged that at the trial of the matter, defense counsel requested that the court provide the jury with the standard instruction regarding a burglary. The trial judge declined to do so, however, due to his belief that the instruction did not make sense. The jury returned a guilty verdict, and the defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in failing to provide the jury with the standard instruction.

The Importance of Jury Instructions in Criminal Trials

Under Florida law, standard jury instructions are presumed to be correct and are favored over special instructions. A court does have some discretion as to whether to use a special or standard instruction, especially if the standard instruction is not appropriate or suffers from another issue. If a court modifies a standard instruction, though, it must state either in a separate order or on the record the manner in which the standard instruction was inadequate or incorrect and the legal grounds for varying from the standard instruction. The appellate court explained that this step was necessary pursuant to Florida law.

Here, the appellate court found that the trial court’s instruction, which omitted a key element of the offense, was incorrect and insufficient. Further, the court failed to comply with the procedural requirements by not explaining the reason for the deviation. As such, the defendant’s conviction was reversed.

Discuss Your Charges with a Seasoned Tampa Attorney

When a criminal defendant is charged with burglary or any other crime, the State must prove each element of the crime to obtain a conviction, and if it cannot, the defendant should be found not guilty. If you are accused of a theft crime, it is critical to retain an attorney who will fight tirelessly on your behalf. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a seasoned theft crime defense attorney who can advise you of your rights and help you formulate compelling defenses. Mr. Hanlon can be contacted via the online form or at 813-228-7095 to schedule a meeting.

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