Improving Criminal Jury Decision Making after the Blakely Revolution

56 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2005

See all articles by J.J. Prescott

J.J. Prescott

University of Michigan Law School

Sonja B. Starr

University of Chicago


The shift in sentencing fact-finding responsibility triggered in many states by Blakely v. Washington may dramatically change the complexity and type of questions that juries will be required to answer. Among the most important challenges confronting legislatures now debating the future of their sentencing regimes is whether juries are prepared to handle this new responsibility effectively - and, if not, what can be done about it. Yet neither scholars addressing the impact of Blakely nor advocates of jury reform have seriously explored these questions. Nonetheless, a number of limitations on juror decision making seriously threaten the accuracy of verdicts in systems where juries are given a more prominent role in finding sentencing facts. In this article, we assess the capacity of juries to analyze and deliberate on sentencing-related facts. We consider, inter alia, problems of cognitive overload, frustration and loss of motivation due to complex structures, difficulties evaluating evidence that juries do not ordinarily consider, distortions due to the framing of nonbinary questions, and deliberation-related biases. We also propose a model for sentencing-stage jury proceedings that would minimize these problems. Its components include bifurcation of proceedings, partial application of the rules of evidence, special verdict forms that are carefully designed to minimize framing effects, structural simplification of sentencing tasks, a more active jury, and guidance for jurors on bias-reducing deliberation structures.

Keywords: criminal law, criminal procedure, litigation, evidence, sentencing, Apprendi, Blakely, Booker, fact-finding, juries, law and economics, law and psychology, group behavior

Suggested Citation

Prescott, J.J. and Starr, Sonja B., Improving Criminal Jury Decision Making after the Blakely Revolution. University of Illinois Law Review, p. 301, 2006, Michigan Law and Economic Research Paper No. 05-004, Available at SSRN: or

J.J. Prescott (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

3170 South Hall
701 S. State St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States
734-763-2326 (Phone)

Sonja B. Starr

University of Chicago ( email )

1111 E 60th St
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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