Articles

Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 29-51

Trial complexity

A field investigation of its meaning and its effects
  • Larry HeuerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Barnard College, Columbia University
  • , Steven PenrodAffiliated withUniversity of Minnesota Law School

Abstract

A field experiment is reported that examines the effects of trial complexity and trial procedures on jury performance. Juror question asking and notetaking were randomly assigned to 75 civil and 85 criminal trials. Principal components analyses of judges' responses revealed three components of trial complexity: evidence complexity, legal complexity, and quantity of information. None of these components was significantly related to judge-jury verdict agreement. Each component uniquely affected jurors' assessment of the trial, but none affected theirs or the judges' verdict satisfaction. Interactions reveal that juror questions were most beneficial for assisting the jurors with legal complexity and evidence complexity. Natural variation in judges' commenting on the weight and credibility of witnesses, or summarizing the evidence, use of special verdict forms, pattern instructions, and juror orientation was also measured. Of these, the use of special verdict forms appeared to provide the greatest benefits.