Utah Criminal Jury Trial – Preliminary Instructions

Stephen Howard — Stone River Law

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Utah Criminal Jury Trial – Preliminary Instructions

Following the jury selection process, the jury in a Utah criminal case is sworn by the court clerk.  The judge then gives preliminary instructions to the jury.  While the court waits until the conclusion of both the defense and prosecution cases to give the majority of jury instructions, there are certain instructions that must be given prior to the beginning of the trial.

As part of the preliminary instructions, a court will typically tell the jury what charges have been filed against the defendant.  Often, the jury will have been told what the charges are as part of the jury selection process.  But the court will more formally instruct the jury on the charges at this point as well.

The court will also generally instruct the jury not to communicate with anyone about the case, not to do independent research regarding the facts of the case or regarding the law.  With the proliferation of smart phones and other mobile computing devices, it has become easy for a juror to make phone calls, look up legal information, research news articles about a case, or conduct other internet searches during breaks in the trial.  The court will instruct the jury that such conduct is not allowed.

The court will often also instruct the jury that they should refrain from forming any opinions about the case until after all of the evidence has been heard.  While it may be human nature to start analyzing and processing information as soon as it is received, the court will ask the members of the jury not to discuss the case even among each other until after both sides have presented their cases.

In cases where the trial is expected to last longer than one day, the court may sequester the jury.  In Utah, jury sequestration is rare, but can occur if the court determines that there is a substantial risk of improper conduct or communication with the jury during the trial.  Even if the jury is not sequestered, the court will instruct the jury that they are not to discuss the case even with their spouses; they are to avoid reading newspapers, watching television, listening to the radio, or looking at other media sources that might potentially contain coverage of the trial.