Rethinking Criminal Jury Instructions: Technology, Learning Styles, and Juror Comprehension

Sinead Coleman, City University of New York

ABSTRACT
Jury instructions constitute a bridge between the law and its application by jurors. Research has shown, however, that jurors do not understand jury instructions and their uninformed verdicts may pose a threat to due process and compromise our faith in juries to weigh the credibility of testimony and evidence. Due largely to concerns over appeals, the legal accuracy of instructions has consistently been stressed to the detriment of juror understanding, deliberations, and verdicts. Studies report that juror comprehension and accuracy have been improved by rewriting instructions according to psycholinguistic principles, presenting instructions at the beginning and end of the trial, and providing jurors with written copies of the instructions. This paper will explore whether applying concepts of educational psychology may increase jurors' comprehension of instructions. Research points to the role of jurors' prior knowledge in their understanding and application of instructions. Studies of juror metacognition have suggested that a discrepancy may exist between jurors' confidence in their comprehension of instructions and their performance in comprehension assessments. Based on existing studies, incorporating learning styles into a technology-based multi-modal presentation of jury instructions may add visual organization to the judge's auditory presentation and may provide an additional technique to increase juror comprehension.

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Updated 05/20/2006