Jury Comprehension and Use of Forensic Science

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract

The ability of jurors and juries to comprehend and utilise scientific evidence in Australian criminal trials has been examined. From mock jury surveys relating to DNA profiling evidence, it was determined that most respondents were able to comprehend some basic and applied statistics, although their ability was in part related to their knowledge of English and their level of education. The point at which mock jurors were prepared to convict an accused solely on the basis of DNA profiling evidence was examined and found to be low compared with the strength of DNA profiling evidence commonly presented in Australian courts. Mock jurors also demonstrated the ability to process evidence that was presented in a Bayesian framework; commencing with prior odds, introducing new information and culminating in posterior odds. From a survey of Australian forensic scientists, including fraud investigators, it was found that most practitioners' concerns could be addressed by greater pre-trial consultation between experts and legal advocates. Improved knowledge within the legal profession concerning the jargon, principles, procedures, limitations and conclusions to be drawn from different scientific disciplines, prior to presenting this evidence in court, is recommended as the means by which complex evidence can be better adduced from expert witnesses and better presented to juries in criminal trials. Finally, from interviewing actual jurors in criminal trials in the Australian Capital Territory it was determined that where jurors' expectations of scientific evidence, particularly DNA profiling evidence, are not met, high levels of juror frustration and speculation may culminate in hung juries. The adversarial setting of criminal proceedings was also found to produce an environment in which jurors felt that information that would assist them in reaching a verdict was being deliberately withheld. The ability of the jury to ask questions and the allowed nature of those questions were also examined, with the resultant recommendation that juries be given more explicit information at the commencement of trials to inform them about their rights and obligations when asking questions.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
  • University of New South Wales, University College, Australian Defence Force Academy
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Robertson, James, Supervisor, External person
Place of PublicationSydney
Publication statusPublished - 2007

Keywords

  • jury
  • DNA
  • forensic
  • criminal
  • juries
  • expert
  • witness

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