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California Jury Instructions

Civil Plain English Comparison

Civil Jury Instructions Resource Center

Plain English Examples

BAJI 2.00 reads:

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. A factual inference is a deduction that may logically and reasonably be drawn from one or more facts established by the evidence.

The comparable Judicial Council instruction (number 202) reads:

Some evidence proves a fact directly, such as testimony of a witness who saw a jet plane flying across the sky. Some evidence proves a fact indirectly, such as testimony of a witness who saw only the white trail that jet planes often leave. This indirect evidence is sometimes referred to as “circumstantial evidence.” In either instance, the witness’s testimony is evidence that a jet plane flew across the sky.

BAJI 2.21 reads:

Failure of recollection is common. Innocent misrecollection is not uncommon.

The latter sentence is stated in triple negatives. The comparable Judicial Council instruction (number 107) reads:

People often forget things or make mistakes in what they remember.

This is an example of the use of basic English language principles to make instructions simpler.

BAJI 2.60 reads:

“Preponderance of the evidence” means evidence that has more convincing force than that opposed to it. If the evidence is so evenly balanced that you are unable to say that the evidence on either side of an issue preponderates, your finding on that issue must be against the party who had the burden of proving it.

These are familiar words to lawyers. But the task force had to ask whether the average juror ever used the noun “preponderance” and, more pointedly, the verb “preponderates.” The comparable Judicial Council instruction (number 200) reads:

A party must persuade you, by the evidence presented in court, that what he or she is required to prove is more likely to be true than not true. This is referred to as "the burden of proof."

BAJI 3.36 reads:

The amount of caution required of a person whose physical faculties are impaired is the care which a person of ordinary prudence with similarly impaired faculties would use under circumstances similar to those shown by the evidence.

Most judges and attorneys understand that sentence. But the phrase “person of ordinary prudence” is not normally in the vocabulary of a tenth grader. Nor does the same tenth grader speak of people whose “physical faculties are impaired.” The comparable Judicial Council instruction (number 403) reads:

A person with a physical disability is required to use the amount of care that a reasonably careful person who has the same physical disability would use in the same situation.

BAJI 6.00.2 reads:

A psychotherapist has no duty to warn third persons of a patient’s threatened violent behavior, nor any duty to predict such behavior or to protect third persons from such behavior, unless the patient has communicated to the psychotherapist a serious threat of physical violence against [a] reasonably identifiable potential victim[s]. If a patient has communicated such a threat to a psychotherapist, the psychotherapist then has a duty to warn and to protect the reasonably identifiable potential victim[s]. If you find a psychotherapist had this duty, it is satisfied and there is no liability if the psychotherapist made reasonable efforts to communicate the threat to the victim or victims and to a law enforcement agency.

The comparable Judicial Council instruction (number 503 A) breaks the cause of action into clear elements and identifies the parties by name:

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant]’s failure to protect failure to protect [name of plaintiff/decedent] was a substantial factor in causing [injury to [name of plaintiff]/the death of [name of decedent]]. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:
  1. That [name of defendant] was a psychotherapist;
  2. That [name of patient] was [name of defendant]’s patient;
  3. That [name of patient] communicated to [name of defendant] a serious threat of physical violence;
  4. That [name of plaintiff/decedent] was a reasonably identifiable victim of [name of patient]’s threat;
  5. That [name of patient] [injured [name of plaintiff]/killed [name of decedent]];
  6. That [name of defendant] failed to make reasonable efforts to protect [name of plaintiff/decedent]; and
  7. That [name of defendant]'s failure was a substantial factor in causing [[name of plaintiff ’s injury/the death of [name of decedent]].