Landmark California Cases on Jury Instructions
Appellate courts determine de novo whether a jury instruction correctly states the law. (People v. Posey (2004) 32 Cal.4th 193, 218.)
"Review of the adequacy of instructions is based on whether the trial court 'fully and fairly instructed on the applicable law.' " (People v. Ramos (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 1082, 1088.)
" ' "In determining whether error has been committed in giving or not giving jury instructions, we must consider the instructions as a whole ... and assume that the jurors are intelligent persons and capable of understanding and correlating all jury instructions which are given." ' " (Ibid.)
" 'Instructions should be interpreted, if possible, so as to support the judgment rather than defeat it if they are reasonably susceptible to such interpretation.' " (Ibid.)
"Under the United States Constitution and California law, the government must prove each element of a charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. " (People v. Wyatt (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 1592, 1601.) "Whether an instruction correctly conveys this standard must be determined by examining the instruction in the context of all the instructions given the jury. " (Ibid.)
What are the General Principles of Law Concerning Jury Instructions?
" 'A party is entitled to have the jury instructed as to his theory of the case provided (1) that he requests and submits legally correct instructions, and (2) that there is sufficient evidence to support the theory.' " (Thompson Pacific Construction, Inc. v. City of Sunnyvale (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 525, 547.)
Negligence Per Se
Evidence Code section 669 codifies the common law doctrine of negligence per se.
That section provides:
"(a) The failure of a person to exercise due care is presumed if:
"(1) He violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation of a public entity;
"(2) The violation proximately caused death or injury to person or property;
"(3) The death or injury resulted from an occurrence of the nature which the statute, ordinance, or regulation was designed to prevent; and
"(4) The person suffering the death or the injury to his person or property was one of the class of persons for whose protection the statute, ordinance, or regulation was adopted.
"(b) This presumption may be rebutted by proof that:
"(1) The person violating the statute, ordinance, or regulation did what might reasonably be expected of a person of ordinary prudence, acting under similar circumstances, who desired to comply with the law; or
"(2) The person violating the statute, ordinance, or regulation was a child and exercised the degree of care ordinarily exercised by persons of his maturity, intelligence, and capacity under similar circumstances, but the presumption may not be rebutted by such proof if the violation occurred in the course of an activity normally engaged in only by adults and requiring adult qualifications."
Whether a person violated a statute, and whether the violation proximately caused injury, are normally questions for the trier of fact. (Daum v. SpineCare Medical Group, Inc. (1997) 52 Cal.App.4th 1285, 1306 (Daum).)
Whether the injury resulted from an occurrence the statute was designed to prevent, and whether the injured person was among the class of persons the statute was intended to protect, are questions of law. (Ibid.)
California Civil Jury Instruction (CACI) No. 418 is a standard jury instruction regarding the negligence per se doctrine. That instruction provides as follows:
"Insert citation to statute, regulation, or ordinance states: .
"If you decide
"1 That name of plaintiff/defendant violated this law and
"2 That the violation was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm, then you must find that name of plaintiff/defendant was negligent unless you also find that the violation was excused.
"If you find that name of plaintiff/defendant did not violate this law or that the violation was not a substantial factor in bringing about the harm or if you find the violation was excused, then you must still decide whether name of plaintiff/defendant was negligent in light of the other instructions."
CACI No. 418 addresses only the first two elements of the negligence per se doctrine; the remaining two elements present questions of law for the trial court. (See Daum, supra, 52 Cal.App.4th at p. 1306 discussing BAJI No. 3.45, the standard jury instruction on negligence per se in the BAJI series of jury instructions.)