In every DC injury case that involves a jury, the judge issues a set of guidelines to the jurors called the jury instruction. The just instruction acts as an outline of the rules regarding court proceedings and final deliberations. The purpose of a jury instruction is to inform the jurors of the legal terms and regulations of a courtroom so that they can make their decisions keeping in mind only the proper evidence and avoiding bias.
Take a look at a jury instruction from a Washington D.C. civil court about stipulations throughout a trial.
Stipulations (D.C. Std. Civ. Jury Instr. No. 2-6)
Stipulation of Fact: The parties may stipulate — that is, agree — to certain facts. You should consider any stipulations of fact to be undisputed evidence.
Stipulation of Testimony: The parties may stipulate — that is, agree — to the testimony a particular witness would have given if he or she had testified in this case. You should consider this stipulated testimony to be exactly what the witness would have said had he or she testified here. You must determine, based on all the evidence, whether, and to what extent, to credit the testimony to which the parties have stipulated.
Although jury instructions are supposed to make court proceedings easy to understand, sometimes they can be very confusing. For the large majority of people who did not go to law school, the language of a jury instruction can seem vague, complicated, and altogether unfamiliar. If you find yourself coming across a jury instruction that seems confusing, don’t worry, you are not alone.
Let’s break this jury instruction down.
What is a stipulation?
First things first, what even is a stipulation in a DC injury case? This jury instruction generously uses the word but it doesn’t seem to define it. A stipulation in a court of law is simply an agreement between two parties that typically outlines a condition or fact so that it does not need to be disputed during a trial. For example, if you are a juror on a divorce case, a stipulation that may be in place is the date that the ex-couple was married and the date they divorced.
Remember, in almost all cases, a stipulation cannot be changed. It must be signed by both parties in the trial along with the judge.
So what’s the difference between stipulation of fact and stipulation of testimony?
In a DC injury case, a stipulation of fact is what it sounds like. It is when the agreement between the two parties is made about a fact. The marriage and divorce example of above works perfectly to illustrate this. A stipulation of testimony is a little more complicated (but don’t worry, it’s still very similar). A stipulation of testimony is simply two parties agreeing to what a witness likely would have said had they taken a stand. If we look at the marriage example again, both ex-partners could agree that if their children took the stand they would testify that the two fought a lot.
What are some examples of stipulations?
In a lot of custody cases, parents may stipulate in regards to how their children will be transported to and from school and other activities. They may also include agreements on how they plan to care for their children, where they plan to travel, how they plan to split up time, etcetera.
You can also stipulate to include evidence. For example, in a DC personal injury auto accident case, you may stipulate to the fact that one individual was driving the car that crashed into the other individual’s car. In this way, you don’t need to debate in court whether or not the individual was even behind the wheel.
It may also be a very obvious fact, as well. For example, parties may stipulate the identity of those involved in the case (anything from their age to their status as citizens to their partners).
What is the big takeaway?
Ultimately, if you find yourself called to jury duty, remember this: before the court even starts, there may be facts already agreed upon. It is not your job to question the validity of those facts nor is it your job to challenge them. In a DC injury case, the stipulations are considered the facts under the law as both parties agreed to them.
Please do not rely on any of the above statements as legal advice. You should always seek the advice of a licensed lawyer or legal professional in order to assist you.