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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 152522 Find in a Library
Title: Deciding to Take a Life: Capital Juries, Sentencing Instructions, and the Jurisprudence of Death
Journal: Journal of Social Issues  Volume:50  Issue:2  Dated:special issue (Summer 1994)  Pages:149-176
Author(s): C Haney; L Sontag; S Costanzo
Date Published: 1994
Page Count: 28
Sponsoring Agency: Soc for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
Ann Arbor, MI 48106
Type: Survey
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This research explored the experiences of capital jurors who deliberated to verdict in death penalty sentencing hearings; in-depth interviews conducted with jurors from California and Oregon examined the nature of capital sentencing instructions, juror interpretations of evidence during the penalty phase of capital trials, juror perceptions of their task, and whether different sentencing frameworks significantly altered the decisionmaking process.
Abstract: Fifty-seven capital jurors from 19 different death penalty trials were interviewed. Verdicts in the cases were rendered between 1986 and 1989, and interviews were conducted between 1987 and 1989. Except for two California cases in which the penalty phase only was retried, jurors were selected from trials in which verdicts were reached by the same jury on both guilt and penalty. A focused interview format was used with an interview guide of open-ended questions. Many California jurors tended to redefine the sentencing task; one-third refocused the penalty phase inquiry entirely on the nature of the crime itself and did so in a way that amounted to a presumption in favor of death. Factors cited most often by California jurors who reached life verdicts included the defendant's prison conduct and the belief that life imprisonment without parole was a serious enough punishment. With respect to aggravation, California jurors most often cited the nature of the crime. Oregon jurors technically were not called upon to explicitly decide whether the defendant received a life or a death sentence. Given the centrality of the future dangerousness question, Oregon jurors that returned a life verdict failed to reach agreement on the dangerousness question. In both California and Oregon, jury instructions gave some jurors emotional distance from the life-and-death consequences of their verdicts. Some jurors did not understand the sentencing questions and instructions. The way in which symbolic support for the death penalty was translated into a working scheme of death penalty imposition had significant consequences for how the decision to legally take a life was made. The nature of jury instructions affected the scope of what jurors believed was legitimate to consider. Jurors in both California and Oregon reported satisfaction with the issues presented and the nature of the decisionmaking agenda. The authors conclude that jury instructions in capital trials may fundamentally distort the jury decisionmaking process and lead jurors farther away from the intrinsically moral nature of the inquiry. 43 references and 3 tables
Main Term(s): Courts
Index Term(s): California; Capital punishment; Dangerousness; Death row inmates; Jurisprudence; Jury decisionmaking; Jury instructions; Life sentences; Oregon; Sentencing factors; Verdicts
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