Yes, instructions would be nice

Jury reformers often make small improvements to the process that make the job of being a juror a lot more meaningful, let alone feasible. Remember that your typical juror is coming into the jury box for the first time, and even if a juror has prior experience, the specific law being applied to the case is probably new to them. In spite of all that, there are still jurisdictions where judges are loathe to give juries written copies of their instructions.

Don’t believe it? As one recent news story related, Pennsylvania’s only just now getting on the jury-instruction bandwagon:

For the first time in Northumberland County’s history, a jury was provided with the judge’s written instructions to consider as it deliberated Thursday in a burglary and racketeering case….A new Pennsylvania Supreme Court rule reversing a long-standing provision that jurors not have any written instructions during deliberations took effect in February.

The old lawyer joke is true–sometimes juries are treated like students who have to sit through a week of class, only to hear moments before their deliberations what it is, precisely, that they’re supposed to have been learning.

Making jury service more sensible is not only about getting better verdicts and happier jurors, but it’s also about enabling jurors to do a civic duty–one that can instill them with pride and a sense of civic responsibility. It’s important that courts treat jurors with the same respect that jurors ultimately earn for democracy itself.


About jgastil

John Gastil is Head and Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in political deliberation and group decision making.
This entry was posted in Conducting trials, Deliberation on juries. Bookmark the permalink.

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