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Improving Comprehension of Capital Sentencing Instructions: Debunking Juror Misconceptions

NCJ Number
Crime & Delinquency Volume: 53 Issue: 3 Dated: July 2007 Pages: 502-517
Charles W. Otto; Brandon K. Applegate; Robin King Davis
Date Published
July 2007
16 pages
This study researched ways to inprove juror understanding of appropriate legal decisions on capital sentencing.
Previous research has demonstrated that judicial instructions on the law are not well understood by jurors tasked with applying the law to the facts of a case. The past research has also shown that jurors are often confused by the instructions used in the sentencing phase of a capital trial. The current research tested the effectiveness of a "debunking" approach to improving juror misunderstanding associated with capital sentencing instructions. Participants were randomly assigned to hear either Florida's pattern instructions used in the penalty phase of a capital trial or the same instructions with additional statements that mentioned and refuted misconceptions thought to be associated with established areas of miscomprehension. After participants heard the judicial instructions, their understanding of the law on capital punishment decision making was assessed. The results revealed that comprehension was higher for participants exposed to the bias-refutation statements than for participants who were exposed to only the pattern instructions. (Published Abstract) Tables and references