An overview of significant findings from the capital jury project and other empirical studies of the death penalty relevant to jury selection, presentation of evidence and jury instructions in capital cases



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AN OVERVIEW OF SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS FROM THE CAPITAL JURY PROJECT AND OTHER EMPIRICAL STUDIES OF THE DEATH PENALTY RELEVANT TO JURY SELECTION, PRESENTATION OF EVIDENCE AND JURY INSTRUCTIONS IN CAPITAL CASES
John H. Blume

Cornell Law School

110 Myron Taylor Hall

Ithaca, NY 14853-4901

(607) 255-1030

john-blume@lawschool.cornell.edu

Fall 2008
Introduction
The Capital Jury Project Studies--and other less comprehensive empirical and mock juror studies--provide extraordinarily useful information for lawyers involved in capital litigation. In this memorandum, I will provide an overview of selected, significant empirical findings, and, in some instances, offer suggestions as to how these findings may be used by capital defense lawyers.

There is a temptation to ignore these studies, in part because some of the information contained in them is not encouraging or goes against the “conventional wisdom.” I am convinced, however, that we are better off confronting the information, and making fresh assessments about appropriate responses. This is not to say that there aren’t methodological problems with some of these studies, nor is it to deny that any individual study fail to capture the complexity of capital litigation. But there is valuable information here, particularly about what can go wrong, and what can be done to avoid some well-established pitfalls. I hope that this memorandum will facilitate the discussion and implementation of creative strategies leading to more effective representation of both clients facing the death penalty and those who have been sentenced to death. Additionally, if you have ideas for empirical research projects in your state that may be of interest to the Cornell Death Penalty Project, please do not hesitate to contact me.



Table of Contents


Summary of Studies


  1. JURY SELECTION

Meaningful voir dire is absolutely essential to a capital defendant’s ability to obtain a fair trial. If, as a last resort (since all cases should be negotiated if at all possible) a case proceeds to trial, it will often be won or lost during jury selection. The cold, hard facts are that a substantial number of jurors who actually serve in capital cases are not qualified under existing law either because (1) they will automatically vote for death if the defendant is found guilty of murder (ADP jurors); (2) once the defendant is convicted of murder these jurors will shift the burden to the defendant to prove that the death penalty is not the appropriate punishment (burden shifters); or because (3) they can not (or will not) consider particular types of mitigating evidence (mitigation impaired jurors). It does not, however, appear that significant numbers of Witherspoon-excludables actually sit on capital juries. Moreover, the voir dire process itself adds to the problem as it implies to many jurors that death is the appropriate verdict. Race and religion also matter. Black jurors are less likely to vote for the death penalty than are white jurors, and white fundamentalist jurors are most likely to vote for the death penalty. Additionally, many juror’s attitudes are impervious to evidence or information; in other words, their views about the death penalty are fixed. Thus it is critical that counsel determine B during voir dire B what those views are.




    1. Many Jurors Believe the Death Penalty is Mandatory for Murder




      1. John Blume, Theodore Eisenberg, Stephen P. Garvey, Lessons from the Capital Jury Project, Chapter 5 in Beyond Repair? America’s Death Penalty, Duke University Press, 144-77 (2003).

        • 14% of South Carolina jurors who actually sat in capital cases believed that the death penalty was the only acceptable punishment for any murder. 70% of South Carolina jurors who actually sat in capital cases believed that the death penalty was the only acceptable punishment for someone previously convicted of murder. 57 % believed the death penalty was the only acceptable punishment for a planned, premeditated murder. 48 % believed the death penalty was the only acceptable punishment for killing a police officer or prison guard. 22 % believed the death penalty was the only acceptable punishment when an outsider to the community kills an admired and respected member of the community. 23 % believed the death penalty was the only acceptable punishment for a killing that takes place during the commission of another crime. Id. at 151-52.




      1. Theodore Eisenberg, Stephen Garvey & Martin T. Wells, Forecasting Life and Death: Juror Race, Religion, and Attitude Toward the Death Penalty, 30 J. Legal Stud. 277, 279 (2001).

        • We also find evidence that juror’s with strong dispositions towards death sentences, so strong as to probably disqualify many of them from capital case jury service, regularly sit on juries.




      1. Stephen P. Garvey, The Emotional Economy of Capital Sentencing, 75 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 26, 38 (2000).

        • A substantial percentage of jurors believed the death penalty is the only appropriate punishment for convicted murderers.




      1. William J. Bowers, Marla Sandys & Benjamin Steiner, Foreclosing Impartiality in Capital Sentencing: Jurors’ Predispositions, Attitudes and Premature Decision-Making, 83 Cornell L.Rev. 1476, 1504 (1998).

        • Astonishingly, more than half of the jurors said that they personally felt death is the only appropriate punishment for repeat murder, premeditated murder and multiple murder. Nearly half believed that the death penalty was the only acceptable punishment for the killing of a police officer or prison guard, or for murder by a drug dealer. Almost a quarter of the jurors said that death is the only acceptable punishment when an outsider kills an admired and respected member of the community, for a killing that occurs during the commission of another crime, and for a rape with permanent injury to the victim.




      1. Ronald C. Dillehay & Marla R. Sandys, Life under Wainwright v. Witt: Juror Dispositions and Death Qualification, 20 Law & Hum. Behav. 147 (1996).

        • As many as 30% of persons who serve as capital jurors may not be qualified for such service because they would automatically vote for death.




      1. Constanzo & Constanzo, Jury Decision Making in the Capital Penalty Phase, 16 Law & Hum. Behav.185, 188-89 (1992).

        • The more certain the jurors are that the killing was intentional, the more willing they are to render a death sentence.




      1. William S. Geimer & Jonathan Amsterdam, Why Jurors Vote Life or Death: Operative Factors in Ten Florida Death Penalty Trials, 15 Am. J. Crim. L.1, 40 (1989).

        • A significant number of jurors in death penalty cases believed that the death penalty was mandatory or presumed for first degree murder.




    1. Many jurors believe the death penalty is mandatory if they perceive the murder to have been “vicious” or “heinous,” or if they believe the defendant poses future danger.




      1. John Blume, Theodore Eisenberg, Stephen P. Garvey, Lessons from the Capital Jury Project, Chapter 5 in Beyond Repair? America’s Death Penalty, Duke University Press, 144 -77 (2003).

        • 32% of jurors believed that the law required them to impose the death penalty if they believed the defendant would be dangerous in the future and 41% believed that they would be required by law to impose death if they believed the evidence proved the defendant’s conduct was heinous, vile or depraved.




      1. Stephen P. Garvey, Aggravation and Mitigation in Capital Cases: What do jurors think? 98 Colum. L. Rev. 1538, 1542 (1998).

        • Many jurors wrongly think they must return a death sentence if they find the defendant’s crime was especially heinous, or the defendant is especially likely to present a risk of future danger. Furthermore, jurors who sat on death sentences tended to be less moved by aggravating and mitigating circumstances across the board.




      1. Theodore Eisenberg, Stephen P. Garvey & Martin T. Wells, Jury Responsibility in Capital Sentencing: An Empirical Study, 44 Buff. L. Rev. 339 (1996).

        • “Nearly one-third of the jurors were under the mistaken impression that the law required a death sentence if they found heinousness or dangerousness, a result replicated in the multi-state study of the interview data.” Id. at 360.




      1. William S. Bowers, The Capital Jury Project: Rationale, Design and Preview of Early Findings, 70 Ind. L. J.1043, 1091, n. 32 (1995).

        • Many jurors believe that the death penalty is mandatory if the crime is heinous or vicious.




      1. Constanzo & Constanzo, Life or Death Decisions: An analysis of Capital Jury Decision Making Under the Special Issues Sentencing Framework, 18 Law & Hum. Behav. 151, 154 (1994).

        • These findings are confirmed by pre-Jury Project studies which reveal that “death sentences are strongly correlated with the heinousness of the murder.”




    1. Many jurors presume that a guilty verdict mandates the death penalty.




      1. William J. Bowers, Marla Sandys & Benjamin Steiner, Foreclosing Impartiality in Capital Sentencing: Jurors’ Predispositions, Attitudes and Premature Decision-Making, 83 Cornell L.Rev. 1476, 1497-98 (1998).

        • There appears to be a presumption that clear unequivocal proof of guilt justifies the death penalty. A number of early pro-death jurors declare that the law or their own personal views required them to impose death. Unquestionable guilt suffices. A few sample responses make this point:

        • “When I knew in my heart he was guilty. . .as I knew he was guilty, I knew he should get death.” (FL juror).

        • “We found him guilty, and I again believed in the death sentence, believe in it so in my mind I knew what my vote would be.” (KY juror)

        • “After the jury voted guilty. The weight of the fact that all twelve individuals believed the defendant to be guilty, made me lean toward death.” (CA juror)

        • “We knew if we voted capital, then he would be put to death.” (AL juror)




      1. Theodore Eisenberg and Martin T. Wells, Deadly Confusion: Juror Instructions in Capital Cases, 79 Cornell L. Rev. 1 (1992).

        • There is a “presumption of death.” Id. at 12. “[Our] data suggest that the sentencing phase of a capital trial commences with a substantial bias in favor of death . This is not in and of itself an indictment of the death trial phase. But the tilt towards death suggests that a defendant with a confused jury may receive the death sentence by default, without having a chance to benefit from the legal standards deigned to give him a chance for life.” Id. at 38, n.12.

        • ”Indecision tends to be resolved in favor of death. When jurors report pre-deliberation indecision about either guilt or sentence, the undecided jurors tend to vote for death. ” Id. at 12. “[T]here is less holdout activity by those favoring life in death cases. These findings confirm that, in capital sentencing deliberation, death is the norm. ” Id. at 13.

        • ”[A] defendant on trial for his life at the punishment phases has one foot in the grave. The defendant needs affirmative action by jurors to pluck him from the crypt, action that is likely to annoy other jurors, at least initially.” Id. at 14.




      1. William S. Geimer & Jonathan Amsterdam, Why Jurors Vote Life or Death: Operative Factors in Ten Florida Death Penalty Trials, 15 Am.J.Crim. L. 1 (1989).

        • In the cases in which the jury recommended death, over half of the jurors believed that ”death was to be the punishment for first degree murder, or at least that death was to be presumed appropriate unless defendant could persuade the jury otherwise.” Id. at 41.




    1. Many potential jurors understand the voir dire process to imply that the law actually requires a death verdict.




      1. Williams J. Bowers, Still Singularly Agonizing: Laws Failure to Purge Arbitrariness from Capital Sentencing, 39 Crim L. Bull. 51, 61 (2003).

        • One researcher argues that hearing all those questions about the death penalty, and seeing the dismissal from service of other potential jurors who express grave doubts, seems to send the message that the judge and the lawyers - the authority figures in the courtroom - think this defendant is guilty and deserves death. He emphasizes that this is especially problematic because jury selection occurs at the very beginning of the process and thus creates a powerful first impression.




      1. Craig Haney, Violence and the Capital Jury: Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement and the Impulse to Condemn to Death, 49 Stan. L. Rev. 1447, 1482 (1997).

        • When jurors are repeatedly asked whether they can ”follow the law” and impose the death penalty, they begin to believe that the law actually requires them to reach death verdicts. Death qualification becomes a kind of ”obedience drill” in which jurors feel they are voluntarily relinquishing the power to deviate from the outcome the law seems to favor. The personal characteristics of many death qualified jurors render them especially receptive to arguments that the must follow the implicit promise made to the court.




    1. Preformed beliefs based on faith and racism matter. A major factor leading to a life sentence is the jurors pre-trial scruples about the death penalty. Conversely, jurors’ pre-trial support of the death penalty means the jurors are much more likely to in fact vote for the death penalty at trial.




      1. Ben Cohen & Robert J. Smith, The Death of Death-Qualification 59 CASE W. RES. L. REV. 87 (2008-2009).

  • “African-Americans as a class may be disproportionately excluded from jury service by virtue of the group's disproportionate view of the inappropriateness of capital punishment. Moreover, researchers categorize jurors in capital cases as 'demographically unique' in that they tend to be both white and male. This disproportionate exclusion of blacks appears to have a significant impact on the outcome of capital cases.” Id. At 122.

      1. Theodore Eisenberg, Stephen Garvey & Martin T. Wells, Forecasting Life and Death: Juror Race, Religion, and Attitude Toward the Death Penalty, 30 J. Legal Stud. 277, 307 (2001).

        • Often it is jurors’ attitudes about capital punishment that determine the reasons they do (or do not) support the death penalty. For many Americans, a position on capital punishment is an aspect of self-identification.




      1. Theodore Eisenberg, Stephen Garvey & Martin Wells, The Deadly Paradox of Capital Jurors, 74 S.Cal.L.Rev.371 (2001).

        • Support for the death penalty tends to by symbolic or ideological. That is it tends to be relatively immune to evidence and argument that run contrary to a respondent’s initial position. Id. at 377-78.




      1. John Blume, Theodore Eisenberg, Stephen P. Garvey, Lessons from the Capital Jury Project, Chapter 5 in ABeyond Repair? America’s Death Penalty, Duke University Press, 144-77 (2003).

        • The more strongly a juror believed death was the only acceptable punishment for defendants convicted of murder, the more likely she was to cast her first vote for death. Id.  at 169.




      1. Samuel Gross, Update: American Public Opinion on the Death Penalty --It’s Getting Personal, 83 Cornell L.Rev.1448, 1472 (1998).

        • ”Death Penalty Attitudes are about killing. Most Americans favor the death penalty because they feel that killing is wrong; their favorite explanation is ‘a life for a life.’ A minority oppose the death penalty because they believe that killing by the state is wrong. . . . ”




      1. William S. Geimer & Jonathan Amsterdam, Why Jurors Vote Life or Death: Operative factors in Ten Florida Death Penalty Trials, 15 Am. J.Crim. L. 1 (1989).

        • The other major factor explaining jury decisions for life was ”scruples about application of the death penalty. ” 65 percent of the jurors in life cases named it as a substantial determinant. Id. at 34.




      1. Williams J. Bowers, Still Singularly Agonizing: Laws Failure to Purge Arbitrariness from Capital Sentencing, 39 Crim. L. Bull. 51,62-64 (2003).

        • Evidence of over-exclusion comes from mock jury studies that show some potential jurors are excluded from capital juries because they initially express opposition to the death penalty in the abstract, even though they indicate that they would actually impose death in some cases when subsequently given specific hypothetical crime scenarios.

        • The CJP indicates further that the jury qualification process itself creates a bias toward death. Not only does jury selection over-exclude and under-exclude, thus leaving a jury that is disproportionately pro-conviction and pro-punishment owing to faults in the filtering process, as discussed previously, but there also is evidence that the questioning during voir dire itself prejudices jurors toward finding the defendant guilty and imposing a death sentence.



      1. Dennis J. Devine, et al, Deliberation Quality: A Preliminary Examination in Criminal Juries, 4 J. OF EMPIRICAL LEGAL STUDIES, 273-303 (2007).

        • The foreperson’s initial verdict stance (i.e., pro-acquittal, undecided, pro-conviction) was very strongly related to jury verdicts, with convictions considerably more likely for all three of the most serious charges when the foreperson initially favored “guilt.”

        • Juries were still much more likely to convict when the foreperson initially favored guilt, and much less likely when a clear pro-acquittal faction leader emerged during deliberation.



      1. Jamie L. Flexon, Cognitive predisposition to Prejudice and Discrimination on Capital Juries: Can Race be Ignored in the Jury Room?, 67 Dissertation Abstracts International, A: The Humanities and Social Sciences 2329 (2006).

        • There is a correlation between holding racially biased beliefs and supporting capital punishment.




    1. A juror’s race, religion and sex matter a lot. A juror’s age may matter, but to a much lesser extent.




      1. Theodore Eisenberg, Stephen Garvey & Martin T. Wells, Forecasting Life and Death: Juror Race, Religion and Attitude Toward the Death Penalty, 30 J. Legal Stud. 277, 286 (2001).

        • Nearly two-thirds of white jurors vote for death on the first vote, compared to about one third of black jurors. 80% of Southern Baptist Jurors vote for death on the first vote compared to about 50 % of other jurors. . . . Non-Southern Baptists are four times more likely to cast a first vote for life than are Southern Baptists. By the final vote, however, a juror’s race or religion has much less predictive power, because the pressure of the majority overwhelms these factors.




      1. Theodore Eisenberg, Stephen Garvey & Martin Wells, The Deadly Paradox of Capital Jurors, 74 So.Cal.L. Rev. 371 (2001).

        • In all statistical models, black jurors are significantly more likely to oppose the death penalty than are white jurors. Id. at 385.




      1. William Bowers, Benjamin Steiner & Marla Sandys, Death Sentencing in Black and White: An Empirical Analysis of the Role of Juror’s Race and Jury Racial Composition, 3 U. Pa. J. Const.L. 171 (2001).

        • There is a clear “white male effect” in capital sentencing in cases with black defendants and white victims. The presence of 5 or more white males on the jury dramatically increased the likelihood of a death sentence. Id. at 192.

        • The presence of black male jurors in the same cases, by contrast, substantially reduced the likelihood of a death sentence. Id. 193.

        • White male jurors are more likely to believe that a black defendant is dangerous and not remorseful, and are the least likely to be able to identify with the defendant in a black defendant/white victim case. Black male jurors, on the other hand, are most likely to believe the defendant is not dangerous, is sorry, and best able to identify with the defendant. In black victim cases, it flips around. Id. at 212-222.




      1. Stephen P. Garvey, The Emotional Economy of Capital Sentencing, 75 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 26 (2000).

        • ”First, white jurors were more likely than black jurors to have felt anger toward the defendant. Second, white jurors were less likely than black juror to have imagined being in the defendant’s situation. Third, white jurors were less likely than black jurors to have found the defendant likeable as a person.” Id. at 46. Black jurors on the other hand appeared more willing to separate the sin from the sinner. Id. at 47.




      1. Mona Lynch & Craig Haney, Discrimination and Instructional Comprehension: Guided Discretion, Racial Bias, and the Death Penalty, 24 Law & Hum. Behav. 337 (2000).

        • This mock juror study found that white jurors were more likely to impose the death penalty on a black defendant than a white defendant. Id. at 349.




      1. Kim Taylor-Thompson, Empty Votes in Jury Deliberations, 113 Harv.L.Rev. 1261 (2000).

        • Juror ethnicity influences juror’s perceptions of guilt-or-innocence. White jurors are more likely to believe that minority defendants were the aggressor in arguable self-defense situations, that minority defendants are lying and that they are guilty of the charged offense. This results in a higher rate of conviction. Id. at 1292. The presence of minority jurors on juries, on the other hand, can assist in translating the ”cultural meaning of acts and words” which otherwise would work to the defendant’s detriment. Id. at 1285.




      1. Theodore Eisenberg, Stephen Garvey & Martin Wells, The Deadly Paradox of Capital Jurors, 74 So.Ca.L.Rev. 371 (2001).

        • Older jurors continue to be more sure of the death penalty’s appropriateness as compared to their younger counterparts. Id. at 383.




      1. William J. Bowers, Thomas W. Brewer, & Marla Sandy, Crossing Racial Boundaries: A Closer Look at the Roots of Racial Bias in Capital Sentencing when the Defendant is Black and the Victim is White, 53 DePaul L.Rev.1497, 1531-32 (2004).

        • Statistical evidence reveals that white male jurors were far more likely than African-American male jurors to think of the African-American defendant as dangerous to others and far less apt than their black counterparts to see the defendant as sorry for what he did. White women were much less likely than black women to acknowledge the defendant’s emotional disturbance. Concerning the tendency to identify with the defendant, African-American male jurors were significantly more likely than others to imagine themselves in the situation of the defendant’s family, to imagine themselves as a member of the defendant’s family, to be reminded of someone by the defendant, and less likely than others to see the defendant’s family as different from their own. And, evidence shows that white jurors of both genders are much less receptive to arguments and evidence of mitigation than African-American jurors who served on the same black-defendant/white-victim cases.




      1. William J Bowers, Benjamin D. Steiner, & Michael E. Antonio, The Capital Sentencing Decision: Guided Discretion, Reasoned Moral Judgment, or legal Fiction, Chapter 14 in America’s Experiment with Capital Punishment: Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future of the ultimate Penal Sanction (2nd Ed. ), Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 413-67 (2003).

        • Race is the greatest influence in capital sentencing where there is a black defendant and a white victim. Id. at 459.

        • At the guilt phase, whites were three times more likely than blacks to take a pro death stand on punishment. Id. at 451.

        • Black jurors were far more likely than their white counterparts to have lingering doubts about the defendant’s guilt when making their punishment decisions. Id. at 451.

        • Black jurors were much more likely than their white counterparts in black/white cases to see the defendant as remorseful. Id. at 451.

        • White jurors were more likely than their black counterparts to see the defendant in black on white cases as dangerous and to regard his dangerous as a reason for the death penalty. Id. at 451-452.

        • Both black and white jurors in these cases reported that a great deal of discussion during punishment deliberations focused on the defendant’s likely dangerousness. But white jurors believe that in the absence of a death sentence, such defendants will usually be back on the streets far sooner than do black jurors. Id. at 452.

        • Black males were the most likely, and white males were the least likely, to have lingering doubts about the defendant’s guilt, chiefly about the extent the defendant’s involvement in or responsibility for the crime. Id. at 452.

        • Black males were the most likely, and white males the least likely, to see the defendant as remorseful, and to identify with the defendant’s family’s situation. Id. at 452.

        • The death penalty is more than twice as likely for the defendant in a black defendant/white victim case who draws five or more white male jurors as for a defendant who draws fewer than five. A life sentence is almost twice as likely for the defendant who draws a black male juror than for the one who fails to do so. Id. at 458.




      1. John Blume, Sheri Johnson & Brian Threlkeld, Probing Life Qualification Through Effective Voir Dire, 29 Hofstra L. Rev. 1209, 1248 (2001).

        • Many jurors believe that prison life is easy because prisoners have televisions, free meals and do not have to work for a living. This impairs their ability to view a life sentence as the appropriate punishment for murder.




      1. Benjamin Steiner, Folk Knowledge as Legal Action: Death Penalty Judgments and the Tenant of Early Release in a Culture of Mistrust and Punitiveness, 33 Law & Soc’y Rev. 461, 464 (1999).

        • A myth of crime and punishment exists according to which many people view the criminal justice system as excessively lenient, and for that reason, is itself the cause of crime.




      1. Crystal Beckham et Al, Jurors' Locus of Control and Defendants' Attractiveness in Death Penalty Sentencing, 147 Journal of Social Psychology 285 (2007).

        • “Men of all ages, with the exception of the youngest men (those approximately 20–30 years old), were more likely to choose the death penalty than were women. Approximately 49.1% and 65.1% of men and women, respectively, chose the death penalty. . . . Younger and older men (those approximately 20–40 years old, and 70+ years old, respectively) were less likely to choose the death penalty than were men approximately 40–60 years old. Young women in the age range of early 20s to late 30s were more likely to sentence the defendants to death than were older women. As age increased after 40 years, the probability of a woman choosing the death penalty gradually decreased.”




      1. John K. Cochran and Mitchell B. Chamlin, The Enduring Racial Divide in Death Penalty, 34 Journal of Criminal Justice 85 (2006).

        • “Whites consistently reported higher levels of support for capital punishment than did Blacks. Moreover, while levels of support among both Blacks and Whites had gradually risen over time, the gap in death penalty support between Blacks and Whites remained relatively even, suggesting parallel trend lines. These parallel trends, in turn, supported the claim that Black and White levels of death penalty support might be responding equally to the same influences.”




      1. Monica Robbers, Tough-Mindedness and Fair Play: Personality Traits as Predictors of Attitudes toward the Death Penalty-an Exploratory Gendered Study, 8 Punishment & Society 203 (2006).

        • Extroversion has a positive effect on attitudes toward the death penalty, indicating that more outgoing people are more likely to be pro-death penalty.

        • There is a positive, though weak, relationship between conscientiousness and attitudes toward the death penalty. In examining the items that make up this variable, conscientiousness is characterized by dutifulness and paying attention to detail. In the criminal justice realm, this may translate to focusing on facts and focusing on legal issues in sentencing hearings, rather than emotions.

        • The other two personality traits – openness and agreeableness – are significant predictors of unfavorable attitudes toward the death penalty. Agreeableness and conscientiousness are more important for females in predicting attitudes toward the death penalty than they are for males.

        • Older males were less likely to support the death penalty. Religious salience was also associated with less support for the death penalty among males, suggesting that a belief in a consistent life ethic may be in play among this group.




      1. James Unnever & Francis T. Cullen, Reassessing the Racial Divide in Support for Capital Punishment: The Continuing Significance of Race, 44 Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency 124 (2007)

        • African Americans were significantly more likely to oppose the death penalty than Whites. Respondents with more years of education, who resided in the central city, and often attended church were significantly less likely to support the death penalty, and males and Americans who feared being victimized were significantly more likely to support the death penalty.

        • Respondent’s social class, as measured by his or her income, was related to support for the death penalty. Respondents with higher incomes were more likely to support capital punishment. Race had a greater influence on support for the death penalty than class. Indeed, race was the most robust predictor of support for capital punishment.

        • Political conservatives and people who fear being victimized were significantly more likely to support the death penalty, and respondents with more years of education and those who attended church often were significantly less likely to support the death penalty.




    1. The race and gender of jurors impact jurors’ receptivity to mitigation.




  1. Thomas W. Brewer, Race and Jurors’ Receptivity to Mitigation in Capital Cases: The Effect of Jurors’, Defendants’, and Victims’ Race in Combination, 28 Law & Hum. Behav. 529 (2004).

  • “Female jurors were consistently more receptive to mitigation than their male counterpart on the jury.” Id. at 539.

  • “Black jurors are significantly more receptive to mitigation than their white counterparts and more receptive overall.” Id. at 539.

  • “All jurors were significantly more receptive in [b]lack victim cases.” Id. at 540.

  • “Both [b]lack and [w]hite jurors are more receptive to mitigation in cases where a same-race defendant is charged with killing an other-race victim.” Id. at 540.




    1. Age and gender has an effect on a juror’s willingness to select the death penalty.




      1. Crystal M. Beckham, Beverly J. Spray & Christina A. Pietz, Jurors' Locus of Control and Defendants' Attractiveness in Death Penalty Sentencing, 147 J. SOC. PSYCHOL. 285 (2007).

        • “Men, with the exception of the youngest men, were more likely than women to choose the death penalty. Additionally, young women were more likely than older women to select the death penalty.” Id. at 285.




    1. Pretrial publicity has an impact on potential jurors.




      1. Brooke Butler, The Role of Death Qualification in Jurors' Susceptibility to Pretrial Publicity, 37 J. Applied Soc. Psychol. 115 (2007).

        • “[D]eath-qualified participants were better able to correctly identify the defendant, recognize most of the factual details of the case, think that the defendant was guilty, and recommend the death penalty.” Id. at 115.




      1. Christine Ruva, Cathy McEvoy & Judith Becker Bryant, Effects of Pre-Trial Publicity and Jury Deliberation on Juror Bias and Source Memory Errors, 21 Applied Cognitive Psychol. 45 (2007).

        • “[J]urors in the exposed PTP conditions were significantly more likely to vote guilty than jurors in the non-exposed conditions.” Id. at 53.

        • “[J]urors in the exposed conditions who found the defendant guilty gave significantly longer sentences than did non-exposed jurors who found the defendant guilty.” Id. at 53.

        • Pre-trial publicity “had a significant effect on verdicts with jurors in the exposed conditions being significantly more likely to find the defendant guilty than jurors in the non-exposed conditions.” Id. at 55.

        • “[J]urors in the exposed conditions were significantly more likely than jurors in the non-exposed conditions to attribute information presented only in the PTP to either the trial or both the trial and the pre-trial publicity.” Id. at 56.

        • “Jurors in the non-exposed conditions accurately identified significantly more of the trial items as coming from the trial than did the exposed jurors.” Id. at 56.

        • “[J]urors exposed to pre-trial publicity perceived the defendant as less credible than jurors in the non-exposed conditions. There was also a significant effect of collaboration on perceived credibility of the defendant, with nominal jurors perceiving the defendant as more credible than did collaborating jurors.” Id. at 57.




    1. Race, education level, political affiliation, and religious beliefs affect potential jurors’ attitudes towards criminal punishment.




      1. Christopher Bader & Byron Johnson, Divine Justice: How Images of God Impact Attitudes towards Criminal Punishment, Conference Papers, American Society of Criminology, 2007 Annual Meeting.

        • ”White respondents are more likely to advocate the harsher treatment of criminals than non-whites. Those with higher education are more lenient on criminals, while the married and Southerners are more punitive.”

        • “Political affiliation is a significant predictor of punitive attitudes, with Republicans more likely to support harsher treatment of criminals. Those who trust in the police are also more likely to advocate for harsher treatment, but higher levels of trust of other races was significantly and negatively related.”

        • “[T]here is some evidence that Evangelicals are more punitive with regards to criminal punishment. Mainline Protestants, Jews, those of other religions and those with no religion were all significantly less supportive of the harsher treatment of criminals than Evangelicals. Catholics and Black Protestants, however, were not significantly different from Evangelicals.”

        • “Those who attend church with greater frequency are less supportive of the harsher treatment of criminals but those who view the Bible in more literal terms are significantly more punitive.”

        • “[H]aving a judgmental and/or angry view of God are significant predictors of holding more punitive attitudes regarding criminal punishment. In fact, an angry image of God is one of the strongest effects in the model, far surpassing the effects of all other religion measures except attendance.”

        • “Older people and non-whites were significantly less supportive of capital punishment.”



      1. Monica K. Miller & R. David Hayward, Religious Characteristics and the Death Penalty, 32 Law & Hum. Behav. 113 (2008).

        • “Men were more likely than women to favor the death penalty, while age and race were not related to death penalty attitudes.” Id. at 117.

        • “Those who favor the death penalty were more likely to believe that the Bible represents the literal word of God, while doubters’ attitudes toward the death penalty were more strongly rooted in their religious beliefs. There were no significant differences between the groups in terms of how forgiving and merciful they perceived God to be toward criminals. However, those who favor the death penalty agreed more that God supports and requires the death penalty for murderers.” Id. at 117.

        • “Results indicate that significant predictors of favoring the death penalty include being Protestant, higher fundamentalism scores, literal interpretism, and the beliefs that God supports, or requires the death penalty for murderers. Significant predictors of doubt about the death penalty include being [f]emale, higher evangelism scores, and the extent to which one’s opinion about the death penalty is based on religion.” Id. at 118.

    1. The racial composition of the jury impacts jurors’ interaction with each other and the deliberation process.




      1. Samuel R. Sommers, On Racial Diversity and Group Decision Making: Identifying Multiple Effects of Racial Composition on Jury Deliberations, 90 J. Personality & Soc. Psychol. 597 (2006).

        • “Deliberation analyses supported the prediction that diverse groups would exchange a wider range of information than all-White groups. This finding was not wholly attributable to the performance of Black participants, as Whites cited more case facts, made fewer errors, and were more amenable to discussion of racism when in diverse versus all-White groups. Even before discussion, Whites in diverse groups were more lenient toward the Black defendant, demonstrating that the effects of diversity do not occur solely through information exchange. The influence of jury selection questions extended previous findings that blatant racial issues at trial increase leniency toward a Black defendant.” Id. at 597.

What can we make of these findings? The take home message is simple: whether a client is ultimately sentenced to life or death is frequently determined during voir dire. The attitudes people bring with them to court play a critical role in the sentencing decision, both for life and for death. More significantly, while prosecutors are identifying Witherspoon-excludables, capital defense attorneys are not identifying and eliminating ADP jurors, burden shifting jurors or mitigation impaired jurors. Somewhere from 30 to 50% of the jurors who actually sit in capital cases are not qualified to serve under the Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412 (1985) because their views on capital punishment impair their ability to follow the law in one or more ways. These include the juror who will always vote for the death penalty if the defendant is found guilty of an intentional murder; the juror who will require the defendant to prove why he should be sentenced to life imprisonment rather than the death penalty ; and the juror who will not give meaningful consideration to evidence the Supreme Court has declared is mitigating in fact, e.g., child abuse, mental illness or intoxication. This, in turn, means that much more attention must be devoted to teaching defense lawyers effective voir dire techniques; to ”strip away” the boilerplate answers most jurors give to questions about the death penalty, create a common language and thus probe potential jurors’ true feelings about the death penalty. And, based upon this data, defense counsel should question jurors under the assumption that the juror will vote for death. Counsel should require the juror to prove to counsel’s satisfaction that the juror can in fact legitimately consider voting for life, rather than assuming from the juror’s occupation, educational level or other personal characteristics that he will be sympathetic. By learning and further developing effective voir dire techniques, more ”killer” jurors can be identified. They are certainly out there. Furthermore, trial counsel should use these findings to challenge limitations on voir dire. Many jurors who say they can ”follow the law” are in truth ADP jurors, and, unfortunately, the voir dire process itself often contributes to this perception. These studies should be aggressively used to fight for meaningful voir dire. The voir dire currently utilized in many jurisdictions is clearly not adequate to identify legally unqualified jurors. For a more detailed discussion of strategies for ensuring a properly constituted jury see, John Blume, Sheri Johnson & Brian Threlkeld, Probing Life Qualification Through Effective Voir Dire, 29 Hofstra Law Review 1209 (2001).

The fact that race and gender seem to matter does not detract from the need to probe individual black and female jurors’ attitudes about the death penalty. What it does counsel is vigorous assertion of Batson claims, backed up by data on the racial and gender breakdown of the prosecutor’s strikes in other cases. And this is true in white defendant cases as well as black defendant cases. What we also have to think about is how to hold on to those minority black and female jurors who initially vote for life, but whom we lose during the deliberating process to the majority. Similarly, the fact being a Southern Baptist strongly predicts an initial vote for death does not mean that individual voir dire of such jurors is unnecessary (particularly where you have lots of them), but it is worth remembering that the Supreme Court has not held that religiously motivated strikes violate the constitution.


  1. PRESENTATION OF EVIDENCE

Issues surrounding juror’s perceived viciousness of the crime, the defendant’s future dangerounsess, lack of remorse, acceptance of responsibility, etc. dominate both capital juries’ deliberations and individual juror’s decisions. Furthermore, juror’s perceptions of what is aggravating and what is mitigating are, at times, at odds with conventional legal definitions of aggravation and mitigation. However, it is clear that mitigation resonates with a significant number of jurors, and mitigation is a powerful tool because it provides those jurors who are for life, or leaning towards life, with ammunition to combat the arguments of the ADP or presumptive death jurors. Finally, counsel should be aware of the fact that jurors often make their decisions about punishment during the guilt-or-innocence phase of the proceedings.




    1. One of the most important factor leading to a death sentence is the jurors perceived viciousness of the crime, i.e., the manner of the killing. In making that determination, photographs and other visual exhibits play an important role.




      1. William J. Bowers, Marla Sandys & Benjamin Steiner, Foreclosed Impartiality in Capital Sentencing: Jurors’ Predispositions, Attitudes and Premature Decision-Making, 83 Cornell L.Rev.1476, 1498 (1998).

        • Many of the jurors’ accounts stress the influential role of photographs and video or audio tapes as critical to their decision making for death at the guilt-or-innocence phase of the proceedings.




      1. William S. Geimer & Jonathan Amsterdam, Why Jurors Vote Life or Death: Operative Factors in Ten Florida Death Penalty Trials, 15 Am. J.Crim. L.1 (1989).

        • ”The most often recurring explanation for the death recommendation was the manner of the killing. ” Id. at 46. 64% listed it as a substantial explanatory factor. In this regard, the photos of the bodies and the scene etc. play a very important role: ”We found the impact of photographs to be a significant component in attributing a recommendation to the manner of the killing. ” Id. at 49. Most of the jurors who were in the presumptive death category are the ones who attributed the verdict to the manner of the killing. Id. at 50.




    1. Jurors are always evaluating a defendant’s potential for future violence. Evidence of future dangerousness is highly aggravating. Racial considerations also effect the future dangerousness inquiry




      1. John M Scheb II & Kristina A. Wagers, Racial Discrimination in the Death Penalty in Tennessee: An Empirical Assessment 5 TENN. J. L. & POL’Y 9, 17 (2008-2009).

  • “Three or more felony convictions greatly increase the chances of a defendant receiving a death sentence. This is influenced more by jury behavior as opposed to prosecutorial decision making. When the prosecution sought the death penalty against the individuals with no prior criminal history, juries were least likely to sentence such defendants to death.” Id. At 24.

      1. Mark D. Cunningham, Jon R. Sorensen & Thomas J. Reidy, Capital Jury Decision-Making: Limitations of Predictions of Future Violence 15 PSYCH., PUB. POL’Y AND L. 223 (2009).

  • Jury anticipation of future violence by a capital defendant played a role in a substantial proportion of the 1158 executions carried out in the United States between 1976 and April 2009. Such determination was made in all 436 executions carried out by Texas, was the sole aggravating factor in 24 of Virginia's 103 executions, was one of the aggravating factors in 50 others and was an aggravating factor in 65 of 89 of the cases ending in execution in Oklahoma. These three jurisdictions lead the nation in executions during the modern era, accounting for about half of the post-Furman executions in the United States.

  • In a study of the predictive accuracy of violence risk determinations made by capital juries for the future violence of federal capital offenders, death verdicts occurred in over 80% of the federal cases where the jury found that future prison violence was likely. Scientific findings, however, demonstrate very low rates of serious prison violence among capital offenders. Thus, a disturbing intersection results: Capital verdicts are substantially shaped by juror determinations that future serious violence in prison is likely when violence predictions of capital juries have very high rates of error.

      1. Meghan Shapiro, An Overdose of Dangerousness: How “Future Dangerousness” catches the Least Culpable Capital Defendants and Undermines the Rationale for the executions it Supports 35 AM. J. CRIM. L. 145 (2008).

  • “Future dangerousness can have the effect of shifting jurors’ attention entirely away from a measured culpability judgment, displacing two traditional and essential components of capital sentencing: aggravation and mitigation. This is problematic because it may cause a jury to ignore weaknesses in the state’s case for culpability based death-worthiness and because it may divert a juror’s attention away from thorough consideration of culpability-based aggravation that might legitimately support a death sentence under a retributive rationale.” Id. 168-9.

  • Based on large scale data collection of the behavior of various categories of prison inmates, risk assessment reports experts report that “the estimated likelihood of violence being committed by a newly received capital murderer over the next 40 years is 16.4% and the probability that a capital murderer will kill over a period of 40 years is 2%.” By contrast, one study indicates that capital jurors believe that an 85% likelihood exists that a capital defendant will exhibit violence, and a 50% likelihood that he or she will commit homicide while in prison.

  • Prison violence rates reveal capital murderers to be among the most docile and trustworthy of inmates in the institution.

      1. John H. Blume, Stephen P. Garvey & Sheri Lynn Johnson, Future Dangerousness in Capital Cases: Always “At Issue,” 86 Cornell L.Rev. 397 (2001).

        • Future dangerousness is on the minds of most jurors in most cases. This is true regardless of whether the prosecutor argues future dangerousness explicitly. Id. at 398.




      1. Stephen P. Garvey, Aggravation and Mitigation in Capital Cases: What do Jurors Think? 98 Colum. L. Rev.1538, 1559 (1998).

        • Future dangerousness is highly aggravating. Over half of the jurors interviewed said they were more likely to impose the death sentence if the defendant had a history of violent crime, with almost 30% being much more likely to do so. 60% were more likely to vote for death if they believed that the defendant might be dangerous in the future.




      1. Constanzo & Constanzo, Life or Death Decision: An analysis of Capital Jury Decision Making Under the Special Issues Sentencing Framework, 18 Law & Hum. Behav. 151, 154 (1992).

        • ”[N]early all [Oregon] jurors also offered the observation that the penalty decision hinged on the issue of whether the defendant will pose a continuing threat to society.” Id. at 160.




      1. Constanzo & Constanzo, Jury Decision Making in the Capital Penalty Phase, 16 Law and Hum.Behav. 185 (1992).

        • Many early studies on mock and real jurors indicate that a death sentence is most likely when the defendant was tried by a highly competent prosecutor, believed to present a danger to society, and perceived as choosing to murder. The more certain the jurors are that he killing was intentional, the more willing they are to render a death sentence. Id. at 188-89.




      1. Eisenberg & Wells, Deadly Confusion: Juror Instructions in Capital Cases, 79 Cornell L. Rev. 1 (1992).

        • ”[O]ver three-quarters of the jurors believe that the evidence in their case established that the defendant would be dangerous in the future. And the more the jurors agree on this fact, the more likely they are to impose a death sentence.” Id. at 7.

        • ”Not surprisingly, jurors assessing dangerousness attach great weight to the defendant’s expected sentence if a death sentence is not imposed. Most importantly, jurors who believe the alternative to death is a relatively short time in prison tend to sentence to death. Jurors who believe the alternative is longer tend to sentence to life.” Id. at 7...Jurors who sentence to death believe the alternative actual time in jail will be shorter than jurors who sentence to life. Id. at 9.




      1. Kim Taylor Thompson, Empty Votes in Deliberations, 113 Harv. L. Rev. 1261 (2001).

        • Citing studies that demonstrate that juror perceptions of aggressiveness, dangerousness, etc., are effected by racial considerations.




      1. James W. Marquart & Jonathan R. Sorensen, A National Study of the Furman-Commuted Inmates: Assessing the Threat to Society from Capital Offenders, 23 Loy. L.A. L.Rev. 5 (1989).

        • Even though almost 70% of the commuted capital murderers and rapists committed no acts of serious institutional violence during the 15 years of follow up in the general prison setting, juries greatly overestimated levels of future violence and found that only a small percentage of convicted capital offenders do not pose a future threat.




    1. As a corollary matter, how long a juror thinks an individual sentenced to life imprisonment will actually serve is directly relevant to whether the juror votes for death.




      1. William J. Bowers & Benjamin D. Steiner, Death by Default: An Empirical Demonstration of False and Forced Choices in Capital Sentencing, 77 Tex. L. Rev. 605 (1999).

        • “Capital Jurors greatly underestimate the period of incarceration...in every state most jurors think offenders will be out of prison even before they become legally eligible for parole.” Id. At 32. Furthermore, jurors thinking about the alternatives comes to the fore early in the sentencing deliberations especially among undecided jurors. Id. at 45. Undecided jurors are the most affected by their perceptions of what the alternatives to the death penalty is, and they tend to be pushed towards death.

        • “It is how soon jurors erroneously think such offenders usually return society, not simply whether they will be released, that matters.” Id. at 52. And this is true regardless of whether dangerousness is “formally” an issue. Id. at 55.




      1. Austin Sarat, Violence, Representation and Responsibility in Capital Trials: The View from the Jury, 70 Ind. L.Rev. 1109, 1133 (1995).

        • Jurors sometimes vote for death not because they think the person will actually be executed but because, as one juror stated, “we all pretty much knew that when your vote for death you don’t necessarily or even usually get death. Ninety-nine percent of the time they time they don’t put you to death. You sit on death row and get old.”




      1. Luginbuhl & Howe, Discretion in Capital Sentencing Instructions: Guided ore MisGuided?, 70 Ind. L. J. 1161 (1995).

        • “The jurors we interviewed who had sentenced a defendant to death had a strong belief that defendants who have murdered and are not sentenced to death spend relatively short time in prison.” Three-fourths of those who sentenced to death believed that the defendant would spend less than 20 years in prison. Id. at 1178.




      1. Eisenberg & Wells, Deadly Confusion: Juror Instructions in Capital Cases, 79 Cornell L. Rev. 1 (1992).

        • “Not surprisingly, jurors assessing dangerousness attach great weight to the defendant’s expected sentence if a death sentence is not imposed. Most importantly, jurors who believe the alternative to death is a relatively short time in prison tend to sentence to death. Jurors who believe the alternative is longer tend to sentence to life.” Id. at 7...Jurors who sentence to death believe the alternative actual time in jail will be shorter than jurors who sentence to life. Id. at 9.




      1. Eisenberg & Garvey, The Deadly Paradox of Capital Jurors, 74 So.Ca. L. Rev. 371 (2001).

        • Where LWOP is the alternative to the death penalty, jurors either do not know about it, or do not believe it really means the defendant will, in fact, never be released on parole. Id. at 373.




    1. Juror’s perceptions of the presence or absence of remorse plays a pivotal role in juror’s decisions to vote for life or death.




      1. Stephen P. Garvey, The Emotional Economy of Capital Sentencing, 75 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 26 (2000).

        • A juror was apt to respond to the remorseful defendant not only with good will, but also without fear or disgust, both of which tended to recede in the face of the defendant’s remorse. Id. at 59.




      1. Stephen P. Garvey, Aggravation and Mitigation in Capital Cases: What do Jurors Think? 98 Colum L. Rev. 1538, 1560 (1998).

        • Lack of remorse is highly aggravating. Almost 40% of jurors were more likely to vote for death if the defendant expressed no remorse for his offense. “Indeed, in terms of aggravation, lack of remorse was second only to the defendant’s prior history of violent crime and future dangerousness.” Jurors key in on this without prompting form the State.




      1. Theodore Eisenberg, Stephen P. Garvey & Martin T. Wells, Mitigation Means Having to Say You’re Sorry: The Role of Remorse in Capital Sentencing, 83 Cornell L.Rev.1599, 1617 (1998).

        • “All things being equal, remorse does make a difference.” “Aside from the seriousness of the crime and the defendant’s future dangerousness, no other factor plays a greater role in capital sentencing than remorse. In short, jurors show no mercy to those who show no remorse.” “If jurors believed the defendant was sorry for what he’d done, they tended to sentence him to life imprisonment, not death.” And, conversely, “if jurors think the defendant has no remorse they are more apt to sentence him to death.”

        • The more preparation, and planning, premeditation etc. jurors thought went to the crime, the less likely they are to believe that the defendant is sorry and the less likely they are to believe “belated expressions of remorse.” Not surprisingly, jurors are more likely to believe a defendant is remorseful if the defense he mounts emphasizes his minor role in the crime or otherwise reduces his responsibility. The less planning, the more remorse, etc. Jurors were more likely to think a defendant was remorseful if he appeared “uncomfortable or ill at ease.” The same is true if the jurors detect a change in his mood or attitude after the guilty verdict. But, if the defendant looks bored, jurors are not likely to think the defendant is sorry.

        • And, while having the defendant speak is often dangerous, “in general jurors are more likely to think a defendant is remorseful if he speaks on his behalf than they are if he says nothing.” Jurors who think a defendant “went crazy” are more likely to believe the defendant was remorseful. But jurors who believe the defendant is dangerous are quite unlikely to think he is sorry. If jurors expresses strong views in factor of the death penalty on either deterrence or retributive grounds, they tended not to think the defendant was remorseful.




      1. Scott Sundby, The Jury and Absolution: Trial Tactics, Remorse and the Death Penalty, 83 Cornell L.Rev.1557 (1998).

        • Based on the California juror interviews, the defendant’s degree og remorse was a significant factor for juries imposing the death penalty. Jurors identified the degree of the defendant’s remorse as one of the most frequently discussed issues in the jury room at the penalty phase. Overall, 70% of the jurors raised lack of remorse as a reason they voted for the death penalty, often citing it as one of the most compelling reasons. Moreover, it was a theme in every one of the death cases. The primary source of the juror’s perceptions concerning the defendant’s remorse. . . appeared to be the defendant’s demeanor and behavior during trial. What repeatedly struck jurors was how unemotional the defendants were during the trial, even as horrific depictions of what they had done were introduced into evidence. Defendant’s were described as “blase,” “bored,” “unconcerned,” “arrogant,” “proud,” “nonchalant,” “showing no emotion,” “cocky.” One juror said “we would have liked to have spoken to him because he showed so little emotion and so little remorse. We just wanted to kind of figure out, are you human? We were kind of looking for anything, anything to find remorse.”

        • However, in the life cases, the jurors also, by and large, noted a lack of remorse, although in general it was to a lesser degree than in the death cases. Only one-third of the jurors in the life cases believed that their defendant was truly sorry for his crime. But in most of the life cases, at least one juror noted some remorse on the defendant’s behalf.




      1. Constanzo & Constanzo, Life or Death Decisions: An analysis of Capital Jury Decision Making Under the Special Issues Sentencing Framework, 18 Law & Hum.Behav. 151 (1994).

        • A significant number of jurors considered the fact [in sentencing to death] that the “defendant displayed no remorse for his crime.” Id. at 161.




      1. William S. Geimer & Jonathan Amsterdam, Why Jurors Vote Life or Death: Operative factors in Ten Florida Death Penalty Trials, 15 Am. J. Crim. L. 1 (1989).

        • Thirty-two percent of the jurors mentioned the demeanor of the defendant as a contributing factor in the decision to recommend the death penalty. Id. at 52. Generally what the jurors were referring to was absence of remorse. Id. Defendants were described as “remorseless” and “emotionless.”



    1. A defendant’s degree of remorse may be largely a measure of whether the defendant is at least acknowledging the killing or whether he is refusing to accept any responsibility for the killing.




      1. Scott Sundby, The Jury and Absolution: Trial Tactics, Remorse and the Death Penalty, 83 Cornell L.Rev.1557 (1998).

        • A denial defense at the guilt-or-innocence phase of the proceedings was more than twice as likely to result in a death sentence, compared to admission cases. This was even more so in cases where the defendant took the stand and testified to his innocence. Such an all or nothing strategy increases the likelihood of a death sentence with one significant exception: if the case involves multiple defendants and only circumstantial evidence exists as to which defendant was the ringleader. Of the denial defense cases in which the defendant did receive a life sentence, 80% were crimes perpetrated by more than one defendant and the prosecution’s case was primarily circumstantial in nature. While the juries rejected the defendant’s claim that he was completely uninvolved, they did harbor doubts as to whether the defendant was the trigger-man, his participation or his intent.

        • Unlike the total denial defense cases, a defense that the defendant was involved with the killing but not guilty of capital murder did not appear to invite a backlash if the defense was plausible based upon the facts. Thus doubt as to the perpetrator’s intent was more persuasive than doubt as to whether the defendant was the actual perpetrator. The earlier in the proceedings the defendant personally expresses some type of acceptance, the greater likelihood that the jury will be receptive to later claims of regret for the killing.

        • Finally, jurors are likely to perceive defendants who fail to take any action to acknowledge complicity (especially in the fact of strong evidence) as a person likely to manipulate the system in the future if given the opportunity, and therefore, a future danger. Additionally, without some prior acceptance of responsibility, the jurors are more likely to cynically view a mitigation case focusing on childhood abuse, substance abuse , etc. as a continuing effort to deny responsibility altogether.



    1. One frequently cited reason jurors vote for life imprisonment is Alingering” or residual doubt. However, the caveat mentioned in Sundby’s article above must be taken in to account.




      1. Stephen P. Garvey, Aggravation and Mitigation in Capital Cases: What do Jurors Think? 98 Colum. L.Rev. 1538, 1563 (1998).

        • Residual doubt over the defendant’s guilt is the most powerful mitigating factor. 77% of jurors were less likely to impose death if they had lingering doubts. However, it should be noted that it is very difficult to convince jurors that there residual doubt exists, especially in a single defendant case.




      1. William Bowers, Benjamin Steiner & Marla Sandys, Death Sentencing in Black and White: An Empirical Analysis of the Role of Juror’s Race and Jury Racial Composition, 3 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 171 (2001).

        • Black male jurors are most likely to have lingering doubt about the defendant’s guilt in black defendant/white victim cases, followed by black females. Id. at 232.


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