U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Do Juries Understand?

NCJ Number
I Potas; D Rickwood
Date Published
71 pages
Understanding of standardized jury instructions developed for use in the Criminal Courts of New South Wales was evaluated by examining subjects' ability to comprehend and apply the instructions.
It was hypothesized that understanding would vary between the instructions according to their complexity and effectiveness and between the subjects according to their chronological ages and levels of educational attainment. Subjects were 128 students with an average age of 18 years from Stirling College and 15 students aged between 20 and 45 selected from evening criminology college classes at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (CCAE). A script of the judge's summing up based on a hypothetical trial of three persons accused of murder and armed robbery was read to each experimental group. A randomly selected control group of 24 Stirling College students was given the facts of the case as required by the script, but the 9 jury instructions (9 of 20 standard jury instructions developed by the Jury Committee were selected for testing) were omitted. A questionnaire examined students' understanding of the instructions and required the student to decide a verdict. In general, study results support the initial hypotheses. Understanding varied according to the perceived complexity and effectiveness of the instructions. All CCAE students understood the instructions moderately to very well; only about half the Stirling College students understood the instructions equally well. The only difference between students who did and did not receive the instructions was that those who received instructions were more severe in their verdicts. Figures and footnotes are included.