Jury Instruction That Lessens the Prosecution's Burden of Proof

A jury instruction that lessens the prosecution's burden of proving each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt violates the defendant's due process rights. (Sullivan v. Louisiana (1993) 508 U.S. 275, 277-278; People v. Flood (1998) 18 Cal.4th 470, 481.) For example, in People v. Figueroa (1986) 41 Cal.3d 714 (Figueroa), the defendant was charged with sale of unqualified securities, and the trial court instructed the jury that the promissory notes at issue were securities. (Id. at p. 723.) The California Supreme Court concluded the instruction was tantamount to a directed verdict against the defense. (Id. at p. 724.) The court reasoned: "On the issue of whether a 'security' had been offered or sold . . ., the trial judge did not confine himself to instructing the jury about abstract legal principles or commenting on the evidence. He usurped the jury's province and applied the law to the facts as he understood them. The court's instruction erroneously removed an element of the . . . charge from the jury's consideration." (Id. at p. 741.) Another example is United States v. Gaudin (1995) 515 U.S. 506, in which the defendant was prosecuted for making material false statements on federal loan documents and the trial court instructed the jury that the allegedly false statements were material. The United States Supreme Court held this instruction denied the defendant his constitutional right to have the jury determine whether the prosecution had established each and every element of the charged crime. (Id. at p. 510.)