Juries and Judges' Instructions

When a jury trial is conducted, community members who typically have no special legal training or knowledge are called on to serve as jurors. During the trial, the judge instructs jurors as to the relevant law and the procedures to be used to determine an appropriate verdict in the case. Unfortunately, jurors do not always render a verdict congruent with the law. Frequently, jurors misunderstand a large portion of the instructions that are presented to them. In some cases, jurors may also decide to disregard the instructions they have been given. A variety of factors contribute to instruction ineffectiveness, including the language used to convey the instructions, jurors' education level, and jurors' preexisting “commonsense” beliefs about the law. A number of proposed improvements to the ...

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