Building on the Arizona Filming Project
Authors: Shari Seidman Diamond, Mary R. Rose
A variety of studies have been conducted based upon the deliberations of jurors in the 50 civil trials in the Arizona Filming Project. Ongoing studies are focusing on how juries handle comparative fault and damages, how they grapple with experts, and how they understand and use jury instructions during deliberations. The studies are based on both quantitative and qualitative analyses of the 80,000 comments made by jurors in the course of their deliberations.
Preparing jurors to apply the law is a topic that has received substantial previous attention from legal scholars, psychologists, and psycholinguistics. Whether measured in laboratory experiments or at the end of jury service, jurors typically do not perform well on comprehension tests designed to evaluate their understanding of the law, although the reasons for their poor performance are in some dispute. Some critics of the jury claim that it is beyond the ability of laypersons to absorb and apply the relevant law. Others assume that jurors simply ignore jury instructions. Judges often maintain that in the context of an actual trial, there is ample opportunity for jurors to absorb and correctly apply the legal instructions they receive. Appellate courts, at least formally, assume that if the instructions have accurately stated the law, the jury must have understood them. Data from the Arizona Filming Project indicate that jurors in fact do regularly engage with jury instructions, and that most of their references to the instructions are accurate. Nonetheless, they also struggle to understand instructions that are confusing, but not simply because the instructions contain unfamiliar or difficult language. Juror misunderstandings can also be traced to unnecessary structural deficiencies in the instructions and in the instruction process.