Improper to Instruct That an “Abiding Conviction” Means A Verdict “You Will Be Comfortable with … a Year from Now”
July 21st, 2016

In People v. Muniz [UNPUBLISHED] (2011) 198 CA4th 1324, at the beginning of voir dire, the judge instructed the jurors that in “plain English” an “abiding conviction” means “when you come to a verdict you will be comfortable with it the day you do it, two months or a year from now.”

The majority opinion on appeal concluded that “there is no reasonable likelihood that the jurors interpreted the trial court’s use of the word ‘comfortable’ to mean that they did not have to have an abiding conviction.”

However, as persuasively explained in the dissenting opinion, the judge’s definition was contrary to the California Supreme Court’s conclusion that the word “abiding,” in “abiding conviction,” means that the conviction is of a “lasting, permanent nature.” (People v. Brigham (1979) 25 C3d 283, 290-91.) Thus, the trial court erred when it instructed the jury that an “abiding conviction” may have a duration of a year or less.

Moreover, “as to depth of feeling, the trial court instructed the jury that it need only be ‘comfortable’ with its verdict. The trial court’s comment devalues the rule that the truth of the charge must be “deeply felt” by the jurors. [Citation to People v. Light (1996) 44 CA4th 879, 885] Mere ‘comfort’ does not convey how strongly the jurors must feel about their findings of fact.”

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