Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Abstract Instruction Definition:

An instruction given to a jury which though correct in law, is irrelevant.

Related Terms: Jury

In People v Cross,  Justice Kennard remarked:

"Defendant is correct that there was no evidence he personally performed the abortion. For that reason the modified instruction, insofar as it stated that an abortion can be great bodily injury, was an abstract instruction, i.e., one which is correct in law but irrelevant.

"It is error to give an instruction which, while correctly stating a principle of law, has no application to the facts of the case."

Note also the words of Justice Mosk in People v Rollo:

"[H]owever laudable the court's motive, it is error to give an instruction which correctly states a principle of law which has no application to the facts of the case.

"Yet such an error is usually harmless, having little or no effect other than to add to the bulk of the charge. There is ground for concern only when an abstract or irrelevant instruction creates a substantial risk of misleading the jury to the defendant's prejudice."


  • People v. Cross, 45 Cal. 4th 58 (Supreme Court of California, 2008)
  • People v. Rollo, 569 P. 2d 771 (Supreme Court of California, 1977)

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