Recent Research
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September 17, 2003

Recent Research for Black Deeds

Smith, V. L. (1991). Prototypes in the courtroom: Lay representations of legal concepts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(6), 857-872.

    Judges accept and rely on many assumptions about the legal process that are falsified by solid and credible scientific research.  To the extent that these mistaken assumptions may affect the accuracy of the decisions made, they are a source of error and potential injustice.  This research study exposes one such potential error.

    A jury's task is to integrate the evidence presented in a trial with the criteria defined by the law to reach a legally appropriate verdict.  The assumption is that jurors do not know the relevant law.  This is then supposed to be remedied by the judge giving instruction in the law at the end of the trial.  This series of studies shows that the assumption of ignorance of the law is correct but the remedy does not work.  The judicial instruction in the law is ignored.  Instead, juries reach their decisions based on their prior perceptions of the crime, the story developed during the trial, and pre-existing categories rather than the law.  Although this report was published in 1991, nothing has been done to change or alter the judicial instructions to make them more relevant and more effective in guiding the decision making process.  There are also a number of other research reports that show judicial instructions have little or no effect on the decisions of juries.

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