It would seem important that jury instructions are clear and comprehensible to jurors if they are to effectively carry out their responsibility in criminal trials. Research suggests, however, that jurors may not fully understand instructions despite reporting high levels of comprehension. The current study (N = 33) surveyed jurors who had recently served on a jury to assess their level of comprehension and the factors that contributed to their decisions. It was found that a substantial proportion of jurors were mistaken about directions relating to beyond reasonable doubt and burden of proof. It also was found that higher levels of self-reported comprehension were associated with self-reported reliance on additional factors to arrive at a decision, and a more positive evaluation of the prosecutions’ case. Overall, although jurors report that they understand directions, they do not appear to use those directions in arriving at a decision. Subjective comprehension appears to be an important factor in understanding the effect of directions on jurors.
Objective and Subjective Comprehension of Jury Instructions in Criminal Trials
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Blake M. McKimmie, Emma Antrobus, Chantelle Baguley; Objective and Subjective Comprehension of Jury Instructions in Criminal Trials. New Criminal Law Review 1 May 2014; 17 (2): 163–183. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/nclr.2014.17.2.163
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