Dedicated Georgia Attorneys

Jury Charges Are Important To Your Defense

Harmful error in giving erroneous charges

Generally speaking, it is reversible error to misstate the law that must be applied by the jury. In the Georgia system, when an error in the charge of the Court is shown to exist, it is presumed to be prejudicial and harmful, and this court will so hold unless it appears from the entire record that the error is harmless. Of course, not all misstatements in the charge warrant reversal. Some mistakes do not alter the fundamental meaning of the charge. Assuming some verbal inaccuracy had existed in the contested charge, a new trial is not required when the inaccuracies in a charge do not mislead or obscure meaning. This is one application of the principle that a charge error is not reversible where it appears from the entire record that the error is harmless. Another example of a harmless charge error might be where the jury's findings on an issue that is not affected by the charge error and render the charge error moot. This can occur where the charge error relates the calculation of damages, but the jury found no liability. Where it is apparent that the charge was not applied, any error that may have been committed was harmless. Gurly v. Hinson 194 Ga. App. 673 (1980).

The omission of a requested and applicable charge is reversible error in the Georgia appellate system:

It is the duty of the court to charge the jury on the law as to every controlling material, substantial and vital issue in the case. Where the court fails to give the benefit of a theory of the defense which is sustained by the evidence, a new trial must be granted. Pritchett v. Anding 168 Ga. App. 658 (1983).

What constitutes an omitted charge for the purposes of this rule? In order for a refusal to charge to be error, the request must be entirely correct and accurate; adjusted to the pleadings, law, and evidence; and not otherwise covered in the general charge. Coile v. Gamble, 270 Ga. 521 (1999).

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