The Impact of Fact‐Based Instructions on Juror Application of the Law: Results from a Trans‐Tasman Field Study
In: Social science quarterly, Volume 101, Issue 1, p. 346-361
ObjectiveOver the past five decades, numerous researchers in common‐law jurisdictions have reported that jurors often fail to understand and apply the law presented to them by the trial judge. Several researchers have attempted to improve understanding of the law through revising language and utilizing instructional aides. The present study examines a novel method of instructing the jury, known as the "fact‐based" approach, which embeds legal concepts in a series of logically ordered written factual questions that the jury must answer to reach a verdict.MethodsThe study compared 287 jurors in 45 trials who received "fact‐based" instructions in New Zealand against 176 jurors in 41 trials who received standard form instructions in Australia. Participants in the study were compared on their ability to perform three tasks—selecting legal concepts in a recognition task, paraphrasing concepts in a recall task, and applying legal concepts to legally unambiguous factual scenarios.ResultsAfter controlling for trial‐related factors such as length of trial, word count, and readability of instructions, as well as the self‐reported level of education of participants, the study found that jurors receiving fact‐based directions performed significantly better on application‐based tasks but not significantly different on recall or recognition tasks.ConclusionThe findings suggest that fact‐based instructions may have utility for enhancing the jury's ability to resolve questions of fact in accordance with the law.