American Judges Association
Date of this Version
During the past decade, state jury reform commissions, many individual federal and state judges, and jury scholars have advocated the adoption of a variety of innovative trial procedures to assist jurors in trials. These include reforms as prosaic as allowing juror note taking and furnishing jurors with copies of written instructions, through more controversial changes, such as allowing jurors to ask questions of witnesses or permitting them to discuss the case together during breaks in the trial. Accounts of the nature and purpose of the innovations and the pace of change are found in this issue of Court Review1 and elsewhere. These innovations are now catalogued in convenient form, accompanied by practical guidance for judges. Many jury trial reforms reflect growing awareness of best practices in education and communication as well as research documenting that jurors take an active rather than a passive approach to their decision-making task. Traditional adversary jury trial procedures often appear to assume that jurors are blank slates, who will passively wait until the end of the trial and the start of jury deliberations to form opinions about the evidence. However, we now know that jurors quite actively engage in evidence evaluation, developing their opinions as the trial progresses. It makes sense to revise trial procedures so they take advantage of jurors’ decision-making tendencies and strengths. Although reform groups have endorsed many of these innovations, until recently there was only modest evidence about their impact in the courtroom. Now, substantial research on the effects of most of the reforms on juror comprehension and juror satisfaction with the trial has been completed and reported. Data are now available to judges and others seeking reliable empirical support for the changes to the traditional jury trial. This article will describe the methods used to study juries and jury trials and present recent data now available for each of the major proposed innovations. We also draw on new findings from our own recent research testing the comparative advantages of jury innovations for understanding complex scientific evidence.
Published in Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 41:1 (2004), pp. 12-19. Copyright © 2004 National Center for State Courts. Used by permission. Online at http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/htdocs/publications.htm.