Comparing the effectiveness of Henderson instructions and expert testimony: Which safeguard improves jurors’ evaluations of eyewitness evidence?
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The New Jersey Supreme Court recently determined that jurors may not be able to effectively evaluate eyewitness evidence on their own. As a result, the Court proposed the use of judicial instructions to assist jurors (called Henderson instructions) and suggested the implementation of these instructions would reduce the need for expert testimony. We tested the efficacy of these instructions compared to alternative instructions and expert testimony.
We utilized a mock trial paradigm, randomly assigning 452 participants to 1 of 20 videotaped trial conditions that varied the quality of eyewitness evidence (both witnessing and identification conditions) and the type of safeguard presented during the mock trial.
Jurors were sensitive to the quality of identification conditions on their own. Jurors were more likely to convict when identification conditions were good and less likely when identification conditions were poor. This relationship was mediated by eyewitness credibility ratings. Expert testimony resulted in skepticism by reducing the likelihood that jurors would convict regardless of the quality of witnessing and identification conditions. No variation of the instructions influenced verdicts.
While jurors were sensitive to the quality of identification conditions on their own, we observed no such effect for the quality of witnessing conditions, even with the aid of instructions and/or expert testimony. Both Henderson instructions and expert testimony may be insufficient for assisting jurors to effectively evaluate problematic witnessing conditions. Future research should examine the use of alternative safeguards.
KeywordsExpert testimony Judicial instructions Juror decision making Eyewitness identification New Jersey Supreme Court
This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation Law and Social Sciences Program (Award Number 12228487). The authors are grateful to The Innocence Project for providing us with trial materials and guidance.
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