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Juridic Decisions: In Ignorance of the Law or in Light of It?

Amiram Elwork, Bruce D. Sales and James J. Alfini
Law and Human Behavior
Vol. 1, No. 2 (1977), pp. 163-189
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1393563
Page Count: 27
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Juridic Decisions: In Ignorance of the Law or in Light of It?
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Abstract

Pattern jury instructions have been criticized for being less than understandable to the average juror and thus for causing arbitrary juridic decisions. Two studies were conducted to establish whether these criticisms are justified and to find solutions to these problems. Both studies established the validity of the criticisms by demonstrating that the presentation of presently used Michigan negligence instructions is about as effective in helping jurors understand the laws as the presentation of no instructions at all. It was found that by rewriting these instructions in accordance with empirical knowledge of what elements affect perception, memory, and comprehension of language, their effectiveness was significantly improved. Furthermore, it was found that the presentation of instructions both at the beginning and at the end of a case would allow jurors a greater opportunity to focus their attention on relevant evidence and to remember it. The studies demonstrate the urgent need for jurisdictions around the country to improve the was jury instructions are written and delivered, if they expect jurors to reach verdicts in light of the law rather than in ignorance of it.

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