This research explored the comprehensibility of jury instructions in the penalty phase of murder trials. Data were collected to ascertain whether miscomprehension of jury instructions limits the law's ability to direct juror discretion in a manner consistent with the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. Citizens willing to impose the death penalty were presented in 2 experiments with 4 sets of instructions (i.e., baseline instructions, instructions used at trial, instructions revised according to Eighth Amendment holdings, and model instructions written in nontechnical language). Results demonstrated high confusion with the trial instructions, little improvement with revised instructions, significant but case-specific improvements with model instructions, and a strong relationship between miscomprehension and willingness to impose death.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Psychology