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Name: People v. Johnson
Case #: F042905
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 06/23/2004
Subsequent History: Rev. den. 9/29/04

At appellant’s trial for second degree murder, the trial court “tinkered” with the statutory definition of reasonable doubt, telling the jury, among other things, that if they left the trial without some sort of doubt about appellant’s guilt, they were “brain dead” but that reasonable doubt is not just a possible doubt, and that we all have possible doubts but we get on airplanes anyway. Although the court’s instructions and explanations were well-intentioned, they lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof below the due process requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and therefore reversal was required. The opinion urged any trial judge who feels the urge to clarify or explain reasonable doubt beyond the definitions provided in CALJIC to heed the advice of the English bards who said: “Let it Be.”