Here is an interesting article titled “Through the Eyes of Jurors: The Use of Cognitive Psychology in the Application of ‘Plain Language’ Jury Instructions.” The author is Sara Gordon, a professor at the UNLV School of Law.

The article concludes that “jurors do not come to trials as blank slates; they bring with them existing schemas that shape the way they view both the law and the facts, often garnered from the media and entertainment.” 

Since juror’s schemas may be wrong, “jurors should be provided with both well-written jury instructions and pre-trial explanations of the applicable law, including examples of how the law applies.” This would result in “better informed decision-making by jurors.”

My Take:

For regular readers, do I even have to say it? I completely agree. This is like the Michigan reforms I discussed in this post:

Tell the jury what the substantive law is before they hear evidence. Give each juror a copy of the instructions. Decide on the front-end substantive instructions at the pre-trial conference. That would make pre-trial conferences more productive and focus the case–the point of the pre-trial order. 

We should also do a better job of explaining to jurors on the front end what it means to decide the case based only on the evidence at trial and the Court’s instructions. On this point, we tell jurors; we do not explain. We should explain to them that it’s not appropriate for jurors to start talking in deliberations about what happened when they rolled their vehicle on I-55 or how hurt their Aunt Ethel was when she got rear-ended by an 18–wheeler.

Instructing the jury before the start of testimony is such a great idea that I am convinced that one day it will be done everywhere. Whether I live to see it, I don’t know. But it’s going to happen.

I wish Mississippi would be on the front end of reforms like this rather than bringing up the rear as usual.