Comprehensibility of Approved Jury Instructions in Capital Murder Cases

Richard L. Wiener, Christine C. Pritchard, Minda Weston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)455-467
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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