I previously described the high-level findings of the Seventh Circuit’s American Jury Project – click here for that post, including links to PDFs of the report and related documents. Having discussed the Commission’s findings, I am now looking at findings for the specific Principles studied  — click here for the last post discussing the use of juror questions.

The second Phase Two Principle tested was substantive preliminary jury instructions. Courts were instructed to follow traditional jury instruction procedures to develop initial substantive jury instructions explaining:

  • The jury’s rule;
  • Trial procedures, including taking notes and juror questions – click here for the Blog’s post about jury questions;
  • The native and evaluation of evidence;
  • Issues to be addressed;
  • The elements of the claims; and
  • Jurors’ obligations during trial.

Courts were also encouraged to repeat instructions throughout trials as necessary. When I clerked for District Judge Gordon Quest (W.D. Mich.), I saw numerous trials, in a very short period, all of which used preliminary instructions. It is hard to believe a trial without preliminary instructions could be as effective as one with them. Most jurors come to a trial without significant trial experience beyond Law & Order or CSI – both great series, but lousy juror education. Going through a trial without instructions until the end is like asking people to play football, without telling the rules of the game until the fourth quarter. The results of the study confirm my belief. Thirty four trials used preliminary instructions. Judges from 87% of the trials reported that the preliminary instructions approved juror understanding. 80% of the judges said the instructions increased the judge’s satisfaction with the trials. And judges believed that the instructions increased fairness in 76% of the trials. No judge believed that the instructions harmed the trial process. Chief Judge Holderman believed the preliminary instruction were valuable:

I have found that preliminary instructions helped to orient the jurors to the case and allowed the jurors to start making connections between the evidence and the disputed issues in the case more quickly.