Sensitizing Jurors to Eyewitness Confidence Using Judicial Instructions

Posted: 25 Jan 2022

Date Written: December 1, 2021

Abstract

Objectives. These studies examine a new paradigm for judicial instructions regarding eyewitness testimony, in which the judge provides concise reasons why jurors should discount the courtroom confidence of an eyewitness and instead focus on the eyewitnesses’ confidence at the time of a police lineup. Hypotheses. We hypothesized that reason-based instructions could induce skepticism (in which jurors place less weight on all eyewitness evidence, regardless of quality) and sensitivity regarding eyewitness evidence among lay jurors. Methods. In Study 1, participants (n = 1,614; “mock jurors”) representative of the U.S. adult jury population (age, race, gender, geographic region), viewed videos of eyewitness testimony and judicial instructions. Study 2 examines weak (low initialconfidence) versus strong (high initial-confidence) eyewitness identifications, and whether such instructions impacted juror assessments. Participants (n = 2,911) representative of the U.S. adult jury population (age, race, gender, geographic region), viewed videos of eyewitness testimony and judicial instructions. Results. Study 1 found that judicial instructions using the reason-based paradigm reduced guilty votes. In Study 2, however, we tested for and we observed sensitivity effects, in which jurors who heard the instructions better differentiated between more and less reliable eyewitnesses.

Conclusions. These results suggest reason-based jury instructions can induce better discriminability among laypersons. However, our findings also suggest judges should exercise great care in phrasing and employing such instructions in the courtroom.

Keywords: Eyewitness identifications, judicial instructions, jury instructions, jury decision-making, confidence, reasoning, accuracy

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Crozier, William, Sensitizing Jurors to Eyewitness Confidence Using Judicial Instructions (December 1, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3975845

William Crozier (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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