ABSTRACT

Jurors are faced with a rather daunting task, namely, to decide the guilt or innocence of a complete stranger based largely on their memory of the evidence presented at trial. Not only must this decision be just, fair, and right, but it comes after listening to and processing copious amounts of evidence and legal submissions, much of which is not familiar to jurors. As Johnson (1993, p. 605) so aptly put it:

The rules and procedures used to govern the conduct of jury trials reflect a great deal of faith in jurors’ ability to understand and retain information over long periods of time, often with much intervening information. Jurors are expected to operate as passive recipients of information presented by the parties, and generally are prohibited from taking notes, asking questions, or using other potentially memory-enhancing tools. In addition, little opportunity is provided for review or elaboration of the concepts presented. From this impoverished learning environment, jurors are expected to recall the evidence and testimony presented at trial, recall the judge’s instructions about the law applicable to the case, and reach a rational conclusion regarding the proper verdict in the case. Clearly the procedures governing the jury’s task during the trial belie the (naïve) belief that large amounts of novel and often complex information can be retained and integrated over a substantial period of time.