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Juror Understanding of Judicial Instructions in Criminal Trials

NCJ Number
Lily Trimboli
Date Published
September 2008
15 pages
In a study conducted in New South Wales (Australia), 1,225 jurors from 112 juries completed a structured questionnaire that solicited their self-reported understanding of judicial instructions, judicial summing-up of trial evidence, and other aspects of the trial process.
The majority of jurors (94.9 percent) reported that they either "understood completely" (47.2 percent) the judge's instructions on the law or "understood most things" the judge said (47.7 percent). The majority of the jurors (81.7 percent) perceived that the judge's "summing-up" of the trial evidence to be "about the right length." The majority of the jurors indicated that they understood either "everything" or "nearly everything" that the judge said during his/her summing-up of the trial evidence. Nearly all jurors stated that in the summing-up of evidence, the judge generally used words they easily understood. The study recommends that aids be provided to jurors, such as written materials, so that jurors do not have to rely on their memory of what was said by the judge. This could also eliminate the possibility of different jurors applying different interpretations of the judge's meaning, as well as reduce jurors' reliance on their notes, which may not be comprehensive. Jurors completed a short, structured questionnaire at the end of criminal trials heard in the NSW Supreme Court and four district court registries. The data-collection period extended from mid-July 2007 to the end of February 2008. Approximately equal proportions of men and women participated in the survey, and equal proportions of jurors were between the ages of 25 and 34 years old. 10 tables, 7 notes, 20 references, and appended data on confidence intervals for key outcome measures and juror sociodemographic characteristics