The U.S. Constitution enshrines the jury in a sacred space within the American judicial system. Yet there are troubling signs that, notwithstanding their best efforts, jurors struggle to fulfill their duties. In particular, substantial empirical research indicates that jurors struggle to understand and, consequently, to apply the instructions given to them by the judge just prior to deliberations. Various mechanisms have been proposed— and in some cases adopted—to improve jurors’ comprehension of instructions and the quality of the deliberations that follow. Among these are rewriting jury instructions in “plain English,” permitting jurors to take notes and ask questions of witnesses, providing jurors with interim and preliminary instructions, providing written copies of jury instructions, and adopting a bifurcated trial structure. And, indeed, many of these proposals are backed by empirical research suggesting that they improve juror decision-making. Yet none have proven to be a panacea, and much room remains for improvement. This Note builds on previous legal scholarship analogizing jurors to learners and proposes a novel set of procedural reforms based on educational research—particularly the theory of Direct Instruction—that would further improve juror comprehension and decision-making.
Laypeople as Learners: Applying Educational Principles to Improve Juror Comprehension of Instructions,
Nw. U. L. Rev.