California jurors long have had to ponder mind-numbing instructions like: “Circumstantial evidence is evidence that, if found to be true, proves a fact from which an inference of the existence of another fact may be drawn.” Relief appears to be in sight, says the San Francisco Chronicle. The state Judicial Council is scheduled to vote today on nearly 700 newly worded jury instructions. In January, judges will be talking more understandably.
The definition of circumstantial evidence will come with an illustration something like this: If a witness saw someone come inside wearing a raincoat covered with drops of water, that’s circumstantial evidence that it might be raining. It’s part of an eight-year project to make instructions — the orders judges give before sending jurors into their deliberations — understandable to people who may have had no other contact with the court system. “We say to jurors that there are rules that govern how you must decide, and then we do it in the least efficient way, by reading it to them, and in language that is very challenging to understand,” said Carol Corrigan, a state appeals court judge and chairwoman of the 29-member group that drafted the new instructions.