Jury Instructions Claims Law In California

In People v. Estrada (1995) 11 Cal. 4th 568, the Supreme Court set forth the law applicable to instructional claims. There, the court observed that, in a criminal case, a trial court has a duty to instruct the jury on general principles of law relevant to the issues raised by the evidence. The general principles of law governing the case are those connected with the evidence and which are necessary for the jury's understanding of the case. As to pertinent principles which are not general principles, it is a defendant's obligation to request a clarifying or amplifying instruction. ( People v. Estrada, supra, 11 Cal. 4th at p. 574, and cases cited.) Moreover, Estrada observed that the language of a statute defining a crime or defense is generally an appropriate and desirable basis for an instruction, and is ordinarily sufficient when the defendant fails to request amplification. If the jury would have no difficulty in understanding the statute without guidance, the court need do no more than instruct in statutory language. (Ibid.) In particular, Estrada noted that the rule to be applied in determining whether the meaning of a statute is adequately conveyed by its express terms is well established. When a word or phrase is commonly understood by those familiar with the English language and is not used in a technical sense peculiar to the law, the court is not required to give an instruction as to its meaning in the absence of a request. A word or phrase having a technical, legal meaning requiring clarification by the court is one that has a definition that differs from its nonlegal meaning. Thus, terms are held to require clarification by the trial court when their statutory definition differs from the meaning that might be ascribed to the same terms in common parlance. ( People v. Estrada, supra, 11 Cal. 4th at pp. 574-575, 46 Cal. Rptr. 2d 586, 904 P.2d 1197, and cases cited.)