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Analysis of the Effects of Subjective and Objective Instruction Forms on Mock-Juries' Murder/Manslaughter Distinctions

NCJ Number
Law and Human Behavior Volume: 26 Issue: 6 Dated: December 2002 Pages: 605-623
Matthew P. Spackman; Jann C. Belcher; Justin W. Calapp; Aaron Taylor
Date Published
December 2002
19 pages
This article compares two different forms of instructions given to juries in murder/manslaughter cases.
This study was an effort to determine what factors jurors might take in to consideration when determining whether a defendant’s emotions might serve as mitigating circumstances. Three case scenarios were presented to assess the effects of three of the four factors found to predict murder/manslaughter verdicts. These three factors are history of violence, the intent of actions, and dwelling upon emotions, such as anger. The form of instructions given juries was varied to assess any potential effects upon verdicts. Verdicts were deliberated in groups to determine whether mock-juries’ deliberations centered on those factors found to be important to individual mock-jurors in previous research. Jury members were recruited from psychology courses and participants were allowed to sign up for 1 of the 35 mock-jury sessions. Results show that, though the two instruction forms, objective and subjective, differed in their instructions to jurors regarding how to distinguish murder and manslaughter, these differences did not result in differences in proportions of murder/manslaughter verdicts. When jurors were asked to offer reasons for their murder or manslaughter verdicts, it was found that the language they used in their verdict reasons mirrored the instructions given them. These differences in language did not indicate differences in verdicts. When jurors were asked to define the terms murder and manslaughter, it was found that they did so with language from the instructions given them. It was also found that history of violence and dwelling upon emotions were most important to predicting jurors’ verdicts, whereas intent of actions was less important. 6 tables, 9 footnotes, 3 appendices, 27 references


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