Jury instructions
Jury instructions are the set of legal rules
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 that jurors should follow when the jury
A jury is a sworn body of people convened to render an impartial verdict officially submitted to them by a court, or to set a penalty or judgment. Modern juries tend to be found in courts to ascertain the guilt, or lack thereof, in a crime. In Anglophone jurisdictions, the verdict may be guilty,...

 is deciding a civil or criminal case. Jury instructions are given to the jury by the jury instructor, who usually reads them aloud to the jury. They are often the subject of discussion of the case, how they will decide who is guilty, and are given by the judge in order to make sure their interests are represented and nothing prejudicial is said.

United States

Under the American judicial system, juries are the trier of fact
Trier of fact
A trier of fact is a person, or group of persons, who determines facts in a legal proceeding, usually a trial. To determine a fact is to decide, from the evidence, whether something existed or some event occurred.-Juries:...

 when they serve in a trial. In other words, it is their job to sort through disputed accounts presented in evidence. The judge decides questions of law, meaning he or she decides how the law applies to a given set of facts. The jury instructions provide something of a flow chart on what verdict
In law, a verdict is the formal finding of fact made by a jury on matters or questions submitted to the jury by a judge. The term, from the Latin veredictum, literally means "to say the truth" and is derived from Middle English verdit, from Anglo-Norman: a compound of ver and dit In law, a verdict...

 jurors should deliver based on what they determine to be true. Put another way, "If you believe A (set of facts), you must find X (verdict). If you believe B (set of facts), you must find Y (verdict)." Jury instructions can also serve an important role in guiding the jury how to consider certain evidence.

Forty-eight states (Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 and West Virginia
West Virginia
West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian and Southeastern regions of the United States, bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the northeast and Maryland to the east...

 are the exceptions) have a basic set of instructions, usually called "pattern jury instructions", which provide the framework for the charge to the jury; sometimes, only names and circumstances have to be filled in for a particular case. Often they are much more complex, although certain elements frequently recur. For instance, if a criminal defendant chooses not to testify, the jury will be instructed not to draw any conclusions from that decision.

Several studies have discovered that subjects who received no jury instructions comprehended the law better than subjects who received pattern instructions. Jurors retain low comprehension of the most fundamental aspects of their roles. For instance, scholarly studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that jurors conflate reasonable doubt
Reasonable doubt
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of evidence required to validate a criminal conviction in most adversarial legal systems . Generally the prosecution bears the burden of proof and is required to prove their version of events to this standard...

 with the civil standard of preponderance of the evidence.

In one study, citizens willing to impose the death penalty were presented in 2 experiments with 4 sets of instructions (i.e., baseline instructions, instructions used at trial, instructions revised according to Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution holdings, and model instructions written in nontechnical language). Results demonstrated high confusion with the trial instructions, little improvement with revised instructions, significant but case-specific improvements with model instructions, and a strong relationship between miscomprehension and willingness to impose death.

In California, jury instructions were simplified to make them easier for jurors to understand. The courts moved cautiously because, although verdicts are rarely overturned due to jury instructions in civil court, this is not the case in criminal court. For example, the old instructions on burden of proof in civil cases read:

The new instructions read:

Jury nullification instructions

In one study, results gathered from 144 six-person juries indicated that when juries are in receipt of jury nullification
Jury nullification
Jury nullification occurs in a trial when a jury reaches a verdict contrary to the judge's instructions as to the law.A jury verdict contrary to the letter of the law pertains only to the particular case before it; however, if a pattern of acquittals develops in response to repeated attempts to...

 information from the judge or defense attorney they are more likely to acquit a sympathetic defendant and judge a dangerous defendant more harshly than when such information is not present or when challenges are made to nullification arguments. In another study, three nullification instructions varying in explicitness as to nullification were combined with three criminal cases to yield a 3×3 factorial
Factor analysis
Factor analysis is a statistical method used to describe variability among observed, correlated variables in terms of a potentially lower number of unobserved, uncorrelated variables called factors. In other words, it is possible, for example, that variations in three or four observed variables...

 design. Forty-five six-person juries (270 subjects) were randomly assigned to the nine experimental groups. The results showed that juries given explicit nullification instructions were more likely to vote guilty in a drunk driving case, but less likely to do so in a euthanasia
Euthanasia refers to the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering....

 case. The third case, which dealt with murder, did not show any differences due to instructions.

It has been argued that by effectively and persistently offering juries instructions that cannot be understood, judges regularly nullify the law.

Instructions permitting jury nullification has sometimes been criticized as promoting chaos, in that it "conveys an implied approval that runs the risk of degrading the legal structure requisite for true freedom, for an ordered liberty that protects against anarchy
Anarchy , has more than one colloquial definition. In the United States, the term "anarchy" typically is meant to refer to a society which lacks publicly recognized government or violently enforced political authority...

 as well as tyranny." A rebuttal to this is that a jury instruction about jury nullification "would transform the judicial process by providing a more rational basis for jury deliberation and decision making. In particular, it would allow jury deliberation to be an open process in which extrajudicial biases are aired and confronted. Further, those communities whose members are increasingly estranged from the criminal justice system's decision-making process will benefit indirectly from greater participation and, in turn, from power over the kinds of cases prosecuted. In sum, contrary to the argument that a nullification charge is an invitation to anarchy, such a charge could help to control the anarchy that has already gripped much of the system."

External links

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