The Social Psychology of Jury Nullification: Predicting When Jurors Disobey the Law

Richard L. Wiener, Kristen Habert, Gina Shkodriani, Caryn Staebler

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Abstract

The United States judiciary assumes jurors obey the law as it is charged to them in the trial judge's instructions. This paper contends that jurors' comprehension of the law results from an active intelligence which makes available alternative decision rules giving rise to the power of juries to nullify instructions. To study the compliance assumption, we presented to mock jurors pattern jury instructions along with summaries of testimonies from a rape trial. Four times during the trial we administered to participants measures of their attributions of defendant responsibility, judgments about the legal elements of the case, and verdicts. Multiple regressions conducted with data from separate subsamples and with separate questionnaire administrations revealed that a) verdicts were based on attributions independent of the jury instructions, b) individual differences in life experiences predicted the degree to which decision makers used their attributions, and c) the more practiced participants were at applying the jury instructions the more heavily they weighed their own attributions and less heavily the judgments required by the law. We concluded that comprehension alone cannot predict the likelihood that jurors will comply with the law. Therefore, the assumption that jurors follow the law needs to be more carefully considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1379-1401
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Volume21
Issue number17
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1991

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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