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Problem With Jury Instructions (From Impact of Social Psychology on Procedural Justice, P 214-225, 1986, Martin F Kaplan, ed. - See NCJ-101784)

NCJ Number
A Elwork; D A Hansen; B Sales
Date Published
12 pages
This paper describes research that identifies problems with how jury instructions are written and presented, suggests how jury instructions are written and presented, suggests how to solve these problems, and discusses problems in implementing the solutions.
Research indicates that the comprehensibility of jury instructions affects the number of jurors who participate meaningfully in deliberative discussions, the extent to which jurors discuss legally inappropriate topics, and the jury verdict. Research also indicates that not providing jurors with written instructions and presenting jury instructions only at the end of the trial diminish the extent to which jury deliberations comply with legal issues in the case. Flaws in how instructions are presented can be corrected by providing jurors with written instructions and by offering instructions at the beginning as well as the end of the trial. A means for improving the comprehensibility of jury instructions has been developed by Elwork et al. In this approach, standard procedures for composing, administering, and scoring comprehension questionnaires are used to test the comprehensibility of instructions. Implementation of the aforementioned reforms is hampered by the legal community's belief that no problem exists, the cost of Elwork's methodology, the reluctance of legal professionals to change legal terminology, the determination of an acceptable level of comprehensibility for jury instructions, and the existence of a percentage of jurors incapable of grasping complicated legal concepts. 17 references.


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