DNA tutorial for jurors good for legal trials

1 JANUARY 2003

Jurors who are presented with a short tutorial about DNA evidence are more likely to reach a fair outcome more efficiently, according to a study by a CSU researcher.

CSU's Professor Jane Goodman-DelahuntyJurors who are presented with a short tutorial about DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) evidence are more likely to reach a fair outcome more efficiently, according to a study by a Charles Sturt University (CSU) researcher.
 
The study - Enhancing fairness in DNA jury trials – by Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty at the CSU School of Psychology and CSU’s Australian Graduate School of Policing in Manly, and Dr Lindsay Hewson, an education design and media consultant, indicates that if jurors are given clear and well-sequenced complex information they deal with it competently. A 20-minute cognitively sequenced tutorial on complex scientific information assisted in resolving jurors' acknowledged difficulties in understanding DNA evidence.
 
“Many aspects of the Australian criminal justice system can benefit from the introduction for jurors and legal professionals of a readily-available model tutorial about DNA,” Professor Goodman-Delahunty said. She noted that a recent survey of forensic experts revealed widespread frustration with the lack of preparation by lawyers, the restricted time in advance of trial to plan in-court testimony, and the limited opportunity to explain the scientific evidence adequately to jurors.
 
“A model tutorial such as the one developed for and used in this study, covering the critical background information applicable in most DNA cases, can allay some of the concerns raised by forensic experts and others, and permit the expert and the legal counsel to focus on issues unique to a specific case in controversy.
 
“The objective DNA questions used in this study identified specific gaps in the DNA knowledge of jury-eligible participants that can assist forensic experts and legal counsel to hone their presentations in court,” Professor Goodman-Delahunty said.
 
“While other strategies to assist jurors with complex DNA evidence have met with limited success, the generic expert tutorial on DNA profiling tested in this study dramatically increased juror understanding, whether the information was presented verbally or with multimedia. This model tutorial and these findings can be applied to train forensic scientists who serve as expert witnesses and to assist legal counsel and judges in conveying relevant DNA information more effectively.
 
“One important implication of the results of this study is that the presence of complex information is not a basis to further curtail the use of a jury in Australia; in the right environment, jury-eligible participants learned substantially from an expert presentation.”
 
Professor Goodman-Delahunty hopes that the study findings will assist the Australian legal system to develop policies and practices for court procedures regarding the use of visual aids, the use of a single expert, and uses of stipulated, agreed background information in DNA cases, presented either before or during trial. Generic DNA tutorials, such as the one developed for this study, can result in economies of time, reduce the need for multiple expert witnesses, and promote better and more appropriate use of DNA evidence in civil and criminal trials.

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