Understanding the Jury Instructions

The most important part of any Oakland County operating while intoxicated trial is the jury instructions.  The jury instructions are written instructions that are read by the judge to the jury.  They consist of everything that a jury is needed to make a decision of guilt or innocence in deliberations.  Everything from the burdens of proof to the elements of the offense are included in the drunk driving jury instructions.  The judge will tell the jury that the instructions are the law, and must be followed verbatim, an extremely important concept that most inexperienced trial lawyers do not understand.

In Michigan, our Supreme Court has recently indicated that the model criminal jury instructions are now required.  In the context of a drinking and driving case, there are a multitude of instructions that cover operating while intoxicated charges.  In order to give our clients the best chance of winning their jury trial, it is imperative that we discuss the jury instructions throughout the trial with the jurors.  Many times, OWI trial lawyer Jim Amberg will have the jurors promise that they follow the instructions, no matter what they say, then cash in that promise at the end of the trial when he shows them the drunk driving instructions.

The Michigan OWI instructions include a very specific test for the element of being under the influence that the jury must apply in deciding whether the people have met their burden.  Instruction 15.3 states that "the test is whether, because of drinking alcohol, the defendant's mental or physical condition was significantly affected and the defendant was no longer able to operate a vehicle in a normal manner."  This is extremely important as many times the defendant's driving is perfectly fine and thus they are not guilty of this definition of being under the influence.