By Sholdon Daniels
As a new litigator, understanding the nuances of jury charges is critical to effectively representing your client. In Part 1 of this blog series, I explained the importance of the court's charge to the jury, but what happens when you want to add your own language to the charge? That's where requested special charges come in.
Art. 36.15 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure provides that before the court reads its charge to the jury, counsel on both sides have a reasonable time to present written instructions and ask that they be given to the jury. If you want to add your own language to the charge, you must submit a special requested instruction to the court. This instruction can call attention to errors or omissions in the court's charge, and the court must either give or refuse these charges.
But how do you submit these requested special charges? They must be in writing, but this requirement is satisfied if you dictate the instructions to the court reporter in the presence of the court and the state's counsel before the reading of the court's charge to the jury. The judge will then read to the jury only the special charges that he or she gives.
It's important to note that any special requested charge that is granted becomes part of the main charge, and the jury is not advised that it is a special requested charge of either party. This means that the charge becomes an integral part of the case, and jurors must consider it when deliberating their verdict.
Finally, if you have submitted objections to the court's charge or requested instructions, and the court modifies the charge without addressing your objections or requested charges, these objections and requested charges are still considered to be raised and preserved for appeal. No further exception or objection by the defendant is necessary to preserve any error reflected by any special requested instruction which the trial court refuses. This can be relieving to know if preserving error for appeal seems intimidating to you.
In summary, requested special charges are a powerful tool that you can use to ensure that the court's charge to the jury accurately reflects the law applicable to your case. By submitting your own language to the charge, you can draw attention to critical issues and provide a clear roadmap for the jury's deliberations.
As always, if you have any questions about this topic or any other legal issues, feel free to contact me at 1-844-SHOLDON or follow me on Twitter at @SholdonDaniels.