Ambiguous Jury Instructions California Case Law

"When reviewing ambiguous instructions, we inquire whether the jury was 'reasonably likely' to have construed them in a manner that violates the defendant's rights. (Cf. Estelle v. McGuire (1991) 502 U.S. 62, 72.)" (People v. Rogers (2006) 39 Cal.4th 826, 873.) In People v. Earp (1999) 20 Cal.4th 826, the court found harmless a trial court's refusal to give a third party culpability instruction (assuming for the sake of argument that the instruction applied). The court reasoned: "The jury was instructed under the reasonable doubt instruction that the prosecution had to prove defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the jury knew from defense counsel's argument the defense theory that the third party, not defendant, had committed the crimes. Under these circumstances, it is not reasonably probable that had the jury been given defendant's proposed third party culpability instruction, it would have come to any different conclusion in this case. " (Earp, supra, at p. 887.) The Supreme Court has "held that even if . . . instructions properly pinpoint the theory of third party liability, their omission is not prejudicial because the reasonable doubt instructions give defendants ample opportunity to impress upon the jury that evidence of another party's liability must be considered in weighing whether the prosecution has met its burden of proof. " ( People v. Hartsch (2010) 49 Cal.4th 472, 504.)