Do Jurors Understand Criminal Jury Instructions? Analyzing the Results of the Michigan Juror Comprehension Project

The Juror Comprehension Project (“the Project”) sought to determine whether jurors understand judicial instructions. This Article reports the results of an empirical study growing out of that Project. The Project investigated how well 600 actual jurors in Michigan understood criminal jury instructions in actual trials. Part I describes the history of the study and explains the procedures and materials used in the study. Part II presents the results of the study, first analyzing juror comprehension of selected concepts, then discussing general factors that influence juror comprehension. Part III concludes that the results show a mixed juror understanding of complex judicial instructions, discusses this mixed understanding and argues for changes in the current method of jury instruction, including the use of written instructions and simpler language.