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Can Jury Trial Innovations Improve Jurror Understanding of DNA Evidence
By B. Michael Dann; Valerie P. Hans; David H. Kaye
A single spot of blood on a pink windowsill will tell investigators who
broke a windowpane, turned a lock, and kidnapped two-year-old Molly
Evans from her bedroom in the middle of the night. An expert witness
will testify that the DNA profile of the blood evidence recovered from
the windowsill was entered into CODIS, an electronic database of DNA
profiles.1 That process yielded a “hit,” identifying the defendant as the most likely source of the blood inside Molly’s room.
But will jurors be able to understand the expert’s intricate analysis
and use it to reach a verdict? And what — if any — steps can be taken to
increase the comprehension of complex DNA evidence by jurors?
Questions such as these prompted a National Institute of Justice-funded
study on the impact of jury trial innovations upon the understanding of
contested mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) evidence by mock jurors. By
examining how jurors in different experimental conditions performed on a
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