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Assessing Juror Understanding of Capital-Sentencing Instructions

NCJ Number
Crime & Delinquency Volume: 44 Issue: 3 Dated: July 1998 Pages: 412-433
J Frank; B K Applegate
Date Published
22 pages
This study evaluates jurors' understanding of sentencing instructions in capital cases.
Although recent research has suggested that juror understanding of sentencing instructions in capital cases is limited, jurors in most States retain responsibility for determining whether a defendant receives the death penalty. The study, which used data collected from 258 individuals called for jury duty in a midwestern city, demonstrates that: (1) jurors' comprehension of sentencing instructions is limited; (2) the particular areas of misunderstanding tend to place the defendant at a disadvantage; (3) juror understanding can be improved by rewriting State death penalty pattern instructions; and (4) comprehension levels also may be increased by providing jurors with a written copy of the instructions. In addition to limited comprehension overall, study participants understood some of the substantive legal issues better than others. The study cannot answer the question of whether jurors do not understand or just disregard instructions. Tables, appendix, notes, references


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