Psychology and Law: An Empirical Perspective

By Neil Brewer; Kipling D. Williams | Go to book overview
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The Comprehension
of Judicial Instructions



The purpose of the jury is to guard against the exercise of arbi-
trary power—to make available the commonsense judgment of
the community as a hedge against the overzealous or mistaken
prosecutor and in preference to the professional or perhaps
over-conditioned or biased response of a judge.

Taylor v. Louisiana (1975, p. 530)

As the previous chapters on the jury process make clear, the jury—although commonly referred to as the hallmark of the legal system—plays a narrowly defined role in the legal system. Specifically, it is the role of the jury to serve as the finder of fact in the case. This task requires jurors to listen to the evidence admitted into evidence, to learn the relevant procedural and substantive law to be considered, and to arrive at a verdict. Although seemingly straightforward, this task, in practice, requires at least three unique functions of the jury. First, jurors must be able to evaluate, fairly and impartially, the evidence presented; to this end, their decisions must not be influenced, to any inappropriate extent, by "extralegal" factors such as pretrial publicity, discrimination, etc. Second, jurors must be able to comprehend the law as instructed by the judge and counsel at trial. Third, jurors must be able to systematically consider the evidence in light of the law in order to come to a verdict. The first function was evaluated in earlier chapters. Here we limit our discussion to the latter two functions: jurors' comprehension of the law (i.e., judicial instructions) and their ability to employ the law in a systematic way when deliberating to reach a verdict.


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Psychology and Law: An Empirical Perspective


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