Instructing the Jury

Nancy S. Marder

in The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199572120
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Instructing the Jury

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  • Linguistics
  • Forensic Linguistics



In the American legal system, a defendant in a serious criminal case and parties in certain types of civil cases are entitled to a trial by jury. In both criminal and civil jury trials, jurors are drawn from a ‘fair-cross-section’ of the community. Although they are usually untrained in the law, jurors provide the ‘common-sense judgment’ of the community. At the end of a jury trial, whether in a civil or criminal case, the judge instructs the jury on the relevant law. The jury is supposed to use the jury instructions in the course of its deliberations, although much of the empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests that juries have difficulty understanding these instructions. This article examines why jury instructions are so difficult to grasp, and what steps judges and committees can take to make them more accessible to jurors. After discussing the language of the instructions, it looks at how the instructions are presented.

Keywords: jury; jury trials; judges; jurors; jury instructions; language; law

Article.  5508 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Forensic Linguistics

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