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NCJ Number: 170414 Find in a Library
Title: Jurors' Comprehension of Sentencing Instructions: A Test of the Death Penalty Process in Tennessee
Journal: Justice Quarterly  Volume:14  Issue:2  Dated:(June 1997)  Pages:325-351
Author(s): M B Blankenship; J Luginbuhl; F T Cullen; W Redick
Date Published: 1997
Page Count: 27
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: To test jurors' comprehension of sentencing instructions in death penalty cases, this study provided 495 persons summoned for jury duty in Shelby County, Tenn. (which includes Memphis) with a copy of Tennessee's death penalty sentencing instructions and asked them to complete a questionnaire.
Abstract: The scenarios in the questionnaire measured comprehension of differences in the levels of proof and requirements for unanimity on the existence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, of the process of weighing mitigating against aggravating circumstances, and of non-enumerated mitigating circumstances. The findings suggest that juror comprehension is relatively high when the instructions are clear and concise; however, when the instructions are poorly worded or vague, or when serious omissions regarding the law exist, jurors' comprehension is severely limited. Respondents tended not to consider fully mitigating circumstances. Thus, when errors were made in following sentencing instructions, they were likely to be in the direction of sending offenders to death row. In 1989 the Tennessee Supreme Court found that for approximately 25 percent of the condemned men and women, no evidence of mitigating circumstances was presented during their trials. This in itself is an alarming discovery. Equally tragic is the probability that an untold number of persons were condemned to death simply because the sentencing instructions failed to adequately convey to the jurors the legal standards for mitigating circumstances. 5 tables, 49 references, and a list of cases cited
Main Term(s): Court procedures
Index Term(s): Capital punishment; Jury instructions; Sentencing/Sanctions; Tennessee
Note: An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 1994 meetings of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Meeting, held in Chicago, Ill.
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