American RadioWorksDocumentariesAmericaDeadly Decisions
Juror Reponsibility  |   Juror Confusion  |   Juror Bias

Illinois Study Revises Jury Instructions

In 1996, Shari Seidman Diamond and Judith Levi published a study examining how understandable Illinois capital jury instructions were. Two groups of jury-eligible citizens were chosen for the study. Both were asked to listen to the evidence presented in the guilt and sentencing phases of the trial of James Freed. One group of mock jurors was given the official Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions for capital cases while the other was given instructions that had been revised, or "translated" by the authors.

Both groups of mock jurors were then given a quiz to test their understanding of juror responsibility. Jurors who received Pattern Jury Instructions scored an average of 50% correct, while those who received the revised instructions scored an average 60% correct. The average number of incorrect responses dropped from 45% with Pattern Jury Instructions to 30% with the revised instructions.

Compare a paragraph from the Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions to Diamond and Levi's revised instructions:

Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions
Under the law, the defendant shall be sentenced to death if you unanimously find that there are no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of a death sentence. If you are unable to unanimously find that there are no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of a death sentence, the court will impose a sentence other than death.
View Full Instructions
     Diamond and Levi's Revised Instructions
Illinois law states that in order for the jury as a whole to reach a verdict of imprisonment in a case like this, at least one member of the jury must decide that there exists at least one mitigating factor (or a set of mitigating factors taken together) which is "sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty." The word "preclude" means to "rule out or prevent from happening." The death penalty is "precluded," or ruled out, if at least one juror is not persuaded, after weighing the aggravating and mitigating evidence, that the death penalty is the appropriate sentence. View Full Instructions

©2018 American Public Media