Question trails in trials: structured versus unstructured juror decision making

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Abstract

Question trails, a type of written decision-aid, have been proposed by law reformers to improve jury comprehension of judicial directions. This study evaluated two decision-aids in reducing jurors' cognitive load and increasing their comprehension. One hundred and eighty jury-eligible community participants aged 18-65+ years served as virtual jurors in an online dramatised criminal trial. Mock jurors were randomly allocated to one of three conditions: a question trail, a verbatim copy of standard judicial instructions, or no written instructions. After viewing the trial, they rendered a verdict, rating their cognitive load before and after the intervention, and completed a questionnaire. Pre- and post-decision cognitive load varied significantly between decision-aids. Cognitive load was significantly greater for convic- tions than acquittals. Question trails produced significantly higher scores on complex substantive comprehension than either standard form of instructions and better evidence recall than no written instructions. A copy of instructions significantly increased simple comprehension. An index of cognitive load and comprehension revealed question trails more effectively increased complex comprehension relative to directions delivered orally or accompanied by a written copy. Question trails appear promising as a strategy to enhance juror decision-making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-136
Number of pages23
JournalCriminal Law Journal
Volume37
Issue number114
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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