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NCJ Number: 199947 Find in a Library
Title: They Know Not What They Do: Unguided and Misguided Discretion in Pennsylvania Capital Cases
Journal: Justice Quarterly  Volume:20  Issue:1  Dated:March 2003  Pages:187-211
Author(s): Wanda D. Foglia
Date Published: March 2003
Page Count: 25
Sponsoring Agency: National Science Foundation
Arlington, VA 22230
Grant Number: NSF SES-9013252
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This study examined the bases for jurors' discretionary decisionmaking in capital cases in Pennsylvania.
Abstract: The Pennsylvania data were collected as part of the Capital Jury Project (CJP), a 14-State study sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Within each State, capital trials since 1988 were selected to provide coverage of cases that resulted in verdicts of both death and life sentences. Jurors were randomly selected from each case so that the target goal of 60 to 120 jurors would be interviewed in each State. The Pennsylvania sample resulted in 74 interviews from 27 cases. There were 43 interviews from cases in which the defendants were sentenced to death and 31 from cases in which the defendants were sentenced to life in prison. Of the 74 jurors, 42 were male and 32 were female. In a section that explored jurors' sentencing decisions, the respondents were asked their estimates of how long a defendant who was not given the death penalty in a capital case usually spends in prison in their State. They were also asked several questions related to whether they were concerned about the defendant's future danger to society when they decided the punishment. Further, respondents were asked what they thought the punishment should be at four different points in the trial proceedings. In a section on sentencing guidelines, the respondents were asked three questions related to aggravating factors and three questions related to mitigating factors. The interviews indicated that jurors based their decisions on incorrect assumptions about the early release of defendants sentenced to life in prison, decided the punishment prematurely in the course of trial proceedings, and failed to understand jury instructions. Every juror interviewed manifested at least one of these shortcomings. Underestimating the length of a life sentence was related to considering death the only acceptable punishment. Prematurely deciding on death as the sentence was strongly related to ultimately voting for death. The failure to understand sentencing instructions was not related to jurors' final sentencing votes or to any of the other measures. Although incorrect responses to the six questions on how to consider aggravating and mitigating evidence should have made a death vote more likely, results suggest that understanding the sentencing instructions was irrelevant to the sentencing decision. The authors recommend that Pennsylvania capital juries be instructed that there is no parole with a life sentence and that potential jurors who consider death the only acceptable punishment be excused. Further, jurors should be provided with more explicit, understandable instructions about the process of making sentencing decisions. 6 tables and 40 references
Main Term(s): Criminology
Index Term(s): Capital punishment; Jury decisionmaking; Jury instructions; Life sentences; Pennsylvania
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