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A concept in search of a definition: The effects of reasonable doubt instructions on certainty of guilt standards and jury verdicts


Eighty (6-person) juries heard 1 of the 5 reasonable doubt instructions in a trial that either had strong evidence for guilt or favored acquittal. None of the instructions produced acceptable criteria of self-reported reasonable doubt, although instructions that informed juries to be firmly convinced (FC) elicited the highest standards of proof. The FC instructions yielded verdicts that tended to correspond with the evidence in both versions of the trial. FC juries focused proportionately more on the evidence and less on non-probative issues than juries given other instructions. Juries had lower self-reported standards of proof when the trial evidence was weak for conviction as opposed to when it was strong. The discussion addresses the surprisingly low self-reported standards of proof.

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Horowitz, I.A., Kirkpatrick, L.C. A concept in search of a definition: The effects of reasonable doubt instructions on certainty of guilt standards and jury verdicts. Law Hum Behav 20, 655–670 (1996).

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