Jury Instructions in California Superior Court–At A Glance

 Use this “At A Glance Guide” to learn the statewide rules of civil procedure, (the California Code of Civil Procedure and California Rules of Court) applicable to jury instructions in California Superior Court. For more detailed information, including local rules, please see the California Superior Court SmartRules Guides: Jury Instructions.

Timing: 

Jury instructions must be delivered to the judge and served on opposing counsel before the first witness is sworn. CCP § 607a. Many jurisdictions have local rules that dictate more specific timing requirements. Practitioners are advised to consult their assigned judge regarding any additional timing or other requirements.

 Jury Instructions Rules: 

At its July 2003 meeting, the California Judicial Council unanimously approved approximately 800 new civil jury instructions and special verdict forms for use in California trial courts. The new instructions are known as “CACI” (“California Civil Instructions”), and should be cited as “CACI ____.”  Please visit the Civil Jury Instructions Resource Center.  California Rule of Court 2.1050 strongly encourages the use of CACI. CRC 2.1050(e) (renumbered eff 1/1/07).

It is an attorney’s duty to propose jury instructions supported by the pleadings before trial. CCP § 607a.

The use of CACI forms is strongly encouraged by state law. CRC 2.1050(e) (renumbered eff 1/1/07). Some superior courts’ local rules specifically indicate a preference for the use of CACI forms.

The California jury instructions approved by the Judicial Council are the official instructions for use in the state of California. The goal of these instructions is to improve the quality of jury decision making by providing standardized instructions that accurately state the law in a way that is understandable to the average juror. CRC 2.1050(a).

The Judicial Council endorses these instructions for use and makes every effort to ensure that they accurately state existing law. The articulation and interpretation of California law, however, remains within the purview of the Legislature and the courts of review. CRC 2.1050(b).

Proposed jury instructions are either form instructions (obtained from California Jury Instructions – Civil (CACI)) or special instructions. Special instructions are those culled from sources other than CACI, those specifically prepared by counsel, or those previously approved that have been substantially modified by counsel. CRC 2.1055 (renumbered eff 1/1/07).

With respect to special instructions, the California Rules of Court provide that “[w]henever the latest edition of the Judicial Council jury instructions does not contain an instruction on a subject on which the trial judge determines the jury should be instructed when a Judicial Council instruction cannot be modified to submit the issue properly, the instruction given on that subject should be accurate, brief, understandable, impartial, and free from argument.” CRC 2.1050(e) (renumbered eff 1/1/07).

If, during trial, evidence is developed that raises issues of law not disclosed by the pleadings, an attorney may deliver to the judge and serve on opposing counsel additional proposed jury instructions addressing these issues. CCP § 607.

Whenever a party desires special findings by a jury, the party must, before argument, unless otherwise ordered, present to the judge in writing the issues or questions of fact on which the findings are requested, in proper form for submission to the jury, and serve copies on all other parties. CRC 3.1580.

State law dictates the following formatting requirements for proposed jury instructions:

1. They must be typewritten. CCP § 607a.

2. Each proposed instruction must be typed on a separate piece of paper. CCP § 607a; CRC 2.1055(c) (renumbered eff 1/1/07).

3. Each proposed instruction must contain the instruction number and title of the instruction at the top of the first page of the instruction. CRC 2.1055(c)(2) (renumbered eff 1/1/07).

4. Each proposed instruction must be prepared without any blank lines or unused bracketed portions so that it can be read directly to the jury. CRC 2.1055(c)(3) (renumbered eff 1/1/07).

5. Each special instruction must have a citation of authorities that supports the instruction at the bottom of the page. A citation of authorities is not required for form instructions. CRC 2.1055(d) (renumbered eff 1/1/07).

6. Each set of proposed instructions must have a cover page containing the caption of the case and stating the name of the party proposing the instructions, and must have an index listing all the proposed instructions. CRC 2.1055 (renumbered eff 1/1/07).

7. In the index, approved jury instructions must be identified by their reference numbers and special jury instructions must be numbered consecutively. Additionally, the index must contain a checklist that the court may use to indicate whether the instruction was: (i) given as proposed; (ii) given as modified; (iii) refused; or (iv) withdrawn. CRC 2.1055(b)(3) (renumbered eff 1/1/07).

8. Each set of jury instructions must be bound loosely. CRC 2.1055 (renumbered eff 1/1/07).

9. Jury instructions must be in the form required of papers presented for filing specified in division II of title II of the California Rules of Court. CRC 2.1055 (renumbered eff 1/1/07).

No local court form or rule for the filing or submission of proposed jury instructions may require that the instructions be submitted in any manner other than as prescribed by this rule. CRC 2.1055(e).

The authorities cited in this At A Glance Guide are current as of the publication date. For authorities updated in real time, please see the SmartRules Guide for the litigation document you are drafting.

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