Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2004


Jury reforms, Jury instructions, Jury trial innovations, Jury decision making, Empirical legal research, Jury comprehension


Civil Procedure | Criminal Procedure | Evidence


During the past decade, state jury reform commissions, many individual federal and state judges, and jury scholars have advocated the adoption of a variety of innovative trial procedures to assist jurors in trials. Many jury trial reforms reflect growing awareness of best practices in education and communication as well as research documenting that jurors take an active rather than a passive approach to their decision-making task. Traditional adversary jury trial procedures often appear to assume that jurors are blank slates, who will passively wait until the end of the trial and the start of jury deliberations to form opinions about the evidence. However, we now know that jurors quite actively engage in evidence evaluation, developing their opinions as the trial progresses. It makes sense to revise trial procedures so they take advantage of jurors’ decision-making tendencies and strengths.

Although reform groups have endorsed many of these innovations, until recently there was only modest evidence about their impact in the courtroom. Now, substantial research on the effects of most of the reforms on juror comprehension and juror satisfaction with the trial has been completed and reported. Data are now available to judges and others seeking reliable empirical support for the changes to the traditional jury trial. This article will describe the methods used to study juries and jury trials and present recent data now available for each of the major proposed innovations. We also draw on new findings from our own recent research testing the comparative advantages of jury innovations for understanding complex scientific evidence.

Publication Citation

Published in: Court Review, vol. 41 (Spring 2004).