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NCJ Number: 136273 Find in a Library
Title: Comprehension of Judges' Instructions in the Penalty Phase of a Capital Trial
Journal: Law and Human Behavior  Volume:16  Issue:2  Dated:(April 1992)  Pages:203-218
Author(s): J Luginbuhl
Date Published: 1992
Page Count: 16
Type: Research (Applied/Empirical)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: Comprehension of two sets of judges' penalty phase instructions for a capital trial was examined in order to test experimental hypotheses concerning juror understanding of decision rules to be applied to mitigating circumstances.
Abstract: It was hypothesized that subjects exposed to old versus new instructions would be significantly more likely to believe that mitigating circumstances must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, that mitigating circumstances must be found unanimously, and that mitigating circumstances must not be considered in the final decision about whether the defendant receives the death penalty. The study sample included 115 subjects, recruited from jury lists, who viewed one of two, 20-minute videotapes prepared either from instructions given in a specific North Carolina trial several years ago or from more current pattern instructions. After viewing the videotape, subjects responded to a series of eight questions to assess their understanding of legal issues presented in the instructions. Compared to subjects exposed to new pattern instructions, those exposed to instructions from the older trial displayed significantly inferior understanding of legal criteria to be used in deciding the existence of mitigating circumstances and for incorporating mitigating circumstances into the final jury recommendation of life imprisonment or the death penalty. Study results are relevant to appeals beyond the specific appeal prompting the current research, and the methodology is applicable to a range of issues. 25 references and 1 table (Author abstract modified)
Main Term(s): Jury instructions
Index Term(s): Capital punishment; Jury decisionmaking; North Carolina
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