Jury instructions are instructions given by the judge to a jury at the end of the presentation of evidence to explain to the jury what the applicable laws are. While juries are triers of fact, meaning that they decide what happened, the judge must explain to the jury which laws apply. For example, in a robbery trial, the judge would explain to the jury what the elements of robbery are in that state and what the prosecution must prove to earn a robbery conviction.
Jury instructions also must explain the burden of proof, such as beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases and preponderance of the evidence in civil cases.
Because of the importance of jury instructions, many judges draft the instructions they intend to read to the juries and each side’s attorney may argue for additional jury instructions or adjustments to instructions.