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NCJ Number: 229101 Find in a Library
Title: Victim Character Evidence in Death Penalty Cases: How Many Songs Is Too Many?
Journal: Criminal Justice Review  Volume:34  Issue:4  Dated:December 2009  Pages:536-552
Author(s): Jane A. Younglove; Peter J. Nelligan; Ronald L. Reisner
Date Published: December 2009
Page Count: 17
Type: Legislation/Policy Analysis
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This study examined the nature and extent of actual victim character testimony in samples of death penalty cases in California, New Jersey, and Texas, in order to determine whether victim character testimony in capital cases complies with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Payne v. Tennessee (1991), which allows victim impact statements in capital cases.
Abstract: The study found that in actual capital cases, victim character evidence included photo montages of the victim set to new age music, well-rehearsed reading of carefully scripted statements, and prompted litanies of victims' positive personality traits. Since the "Payne" decision was rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court, New Jersey was reluctant from the beginning to give free rein to victim impact statements in capital cases, requiring the most restrictive limitations to its use. New Jersey eventually eliminated the death penalty altogether. Texas has traditionally been viewed as a pro-death penalty State and continues to favor victim character evidence in such cases, although its use is limited by statute to countering defendants' mitigating evidence. California is at the extreme limits of admitting victim character evidence in capital cases. Most notably, in "People v. Kelly" (2007), the California Supreme Court considered an objection to a 20-minute video narrated by the victim's mother, which depicted the victim's life set to the music of a new age singer. The jury imposed the death penalty, and on appeal the State Supreme Court upheld the conviction, indicating the use of the video, if error, was harmless in the context of the case as a whole. Study limitations are discussed, and suggestions for further research are offered. 1 table and 68 listings of cases, constitutions, and statutes cited, 3 notes, and 12 references
Main Term(s): US Supreme Court decisions
Index Term(s): California; Capital punishment; Jury decisionmaking; New Jersey; State courts; Texas; Victim impact statements; Victim profiles
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