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Trial complexity

A field investigation of its meaning and its effects

Law and Human Behavior

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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.

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This project was conducted under the auspices of the American Judicature Society, under a grant from the State Justice Institute (Project No. 88-06-F-C-018). The authors are thankful to the following students for their assistance throughout this project: Jason Eldridge, Sue Mailen, Tiffany Osterhaut, and Jim Petersen. We are especially grateful for the interest and efforts of 103 judges who participated in this study.

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Heuer, L., Penrod, S. Trial complexity. Law Hum Behav 18, 29–51 (1994).

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