Jurisdictional Elements and the Jury

53 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2022 Last revised: 22 Dec 2023

See all articles by G. Alexander Nunn

G. Alexander Nunn

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: April 26, 2022

Abstract

Do jurisdictional elements in criminal statutes actually matter? Of course, formally, the answer is obvious; jurisdictional elements are of paramount importance. In fact, they often serve as the entire justifying basis for a federal (rather than state) criminal prosecution. But beyond mere technicalities, do jurisdictional elements actually make a difference in a jury deliberation room?

In pursuit of an answer, this Article undertakes a novel empirical study designed to assess the antecedent issue of how laypeople weigh jurisdictional elements when determining guilt. The project’s experiment ultimately finds that when one increases the amount of evidence demonstrating a defendant’s substantive guilt, laypeople improperly transmute their decisions regarding that substantive guilt into determinations regarding supposedly independent jurisdictional elements. That is, the study suggests that individual laypeople increasingly—and improperly—deem jurisdictional elements satisfied as a defendant’s substantive guilt becomes more apparent.

Given that empirical finding, the Article offers a number of contributions to the normative literature. For one, it directly raises follow-on questions as to whether jurisdictional elements truly constitute a meaningful barrier to federal prosecution, especially when a defendant’s factual guilt seems clear. Of course, a jurisdictional requirement that ebbs and flows based on layperson perceptions of a defendant’s substantive guilt is no jurisdictional requirement at all. Additionally, the project informs enduring debates in courts and Congress. Namely, the Article’s insights about layperson epistemology encourage renewed scrutiny of the optimal balance of decision-making authority in the courtroom.

Suggested Citation

Nunn, Alex, Jurisdictional Elements and the Jury (April 26, 2022). Cornell Law Review, Vol. 107, No. 2, 2022, Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 24-03, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4095235

Alex Nunn (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX Tarrant County 76102
United States

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