PG VII(F) Making The Law/Fact Distinction.
The federal constitution requires that the jury find every factual element of the charge. (See FORECITE PG VII(C).) However, in some cases the courts have had difficulty in determining whether an issue is a question of fact for the jury or a question of law for the judge. Indeed, it has been observed that the “law/fact distinction” is “elusive and easily breached.” (People v. Snead (93) 20 CA4th 1088, 1095 [24 CR2d 922].)
For example, even if a point is traditionally a legal question in other contexts, the point must be decided by the jury if the legislature has defined it as an element of the offense charged. (See FORECITE F 9.24a [Reasonable Cause For Arrest Is A Question Of Fact For Jury Determination] and FORECITE F 8.81.8a [Proper Service Of Warrant Is Issue For Jury]; see also CJ 9.23 – 9.27.)
On the other hand, purely legal questions such as the interpretation of statutes and case law are for the court and not the trier of fact. (See People v. Haywood (94) 25 CA4th 1066, 1078-79 [31 CR2d 794].)
Even mixed questions of law and fact must be decided by the jury. “Only if it can be said that there is no factual component to the determination of an element of the charge] … would the Sixth Amendment constraint not apply … [I]f it is a mixed question of law and fact, then it must be submitted to the jury. It would not be faithful to the Sixth Amendment for the judge to decide the factual component of the element necessary to constitute the crime … The Sixth Amendment reflects a conscious judgment on the Framers to interpose a jury between the judge and the accused to determine the facts necessary to find the accused guilty. This is why a judge may not direct a verdict against the defendant no matter how clear the evidence, nor may an appellate court conclude under a harmless error doctrine that a jury ‘would have’ found an essential element of the crime if the jury did not do so under appropriate instructions. [Citation.]” (U.S. v. Gaudin (9th Cir. 1994) en banc, 28 F3d 943; [affirmed on cert. but reversal per se standard not resolved]; U.S. v. Gaudin (95) 515 US 506 [132 LEd2d 444; 115 SCt 2310].)