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Capital sentencing in Maricopa County: like getting struck by lightning?

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For the death penalty to be justified, it must be reserved for the worst of the worst. In his 2011 study of Connecticut's death penalty system, however, John Donohue found that arbitrariness and discrimination are defining features. Donohue's finding that

For the death penalty to be justified, it must be reserved for the worst of the worst. In his 2011 study of Connecticut's death penalty system, however, John Donohue found that arbitrariness and discrimination are defining features. Donohue's finding that non-white defendants whose victims were white are six times more likely to receive the death penalty indicates that race is more a predictor of a death sentence than the egregiousness of the crime. An analysis of capital sentencing outcomes in Maricopa County, Arizona reveals that the race of the victim is not related to the likelihood of receiving a death sentence, but the race of the defendant is. Use of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), logistic regression, and an egregiousness calculation are employed to analyze capital sentencing trial outcomes in Maricopa County from 2009 through 2011. This triangulated approach is applied to test three theoretically-derived models - the Donohue model, the Illinois Commission model, and the Functional model. The findings indicate that during the given time period in Maricopa County, the race of the defendant was statistically significant in cases with low to mid-levels of egregiousness, but was no longer significant in the most egregious cases. The results also reveal that the most egregious cases, typically indicated by the presence of a prior conviction and multiple victims, are nearly five times more likely to result in an outcome of death. While the results of this study are suggestive only, because of the small sample size and the relatively brief duration of time studied, the conclusions presented aim to provoke further inquiry into states' death penalty systems to address Donohue's allegation of unconstitutional application nationwide. Through a drastic reduction of death-eligibility factors, implementation of a transparent plea bargaining protocol in which the presence of certain aggravating factors preempts the possibility of a plea, and equal funding for prosecutor and defense offices, the death penalty in this country could begin to target the worst of the worst.

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2012

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Scientific Detail and Juror Decision-Making in Capital Scenarios

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By providing vignettes with manipulated scientific evidence, this research examined if including more or less scientific detail affected decision-making in regards to the death penalty. Participants were randomly assigned one of the two manipulations (less science and more science) after

By providing vignettes with manipulated scientific evidence, this research examined if including more or less scientific detail affected decision-making in regards to the death penalty. Participants were randomly assigned one of the two manipulations (less science and more science) after reading a short scenario introducing the mock capital trial and their role as jury members. Survey respondents were told that a jury had previously found the defendant guilty and they would now deliberate the appropriate punishment. Before being exposed to the manipulation, respondents answered questions pertaining to their prior belief in the death penalty, as well as their level of support of procedural justice and science. These questions provided a baseline to compare to their sentencing decision. Participants were then asked what sentence they would impose \u2014 life in prison or death \u2014 and how the fMRI evidence presented by an expert witness for the defense affected their decision. Both quantitative and qualitative measures were used to identify how the level of scientific detail affected their decision. Our intended predictor variable (level of scientific detail) did not affect juror decision-making. In fact, the qualitative results revealed a variety of interpretations of the scientific evidence used both in favor of death and in favor of life. When looking at what did predict juror decision-making, gender, prior belief in the death penalty, and political ideology all were significant predictors. As in previous literature, the fMRI evidence in our study had mixed results with regards to implementation of the death penalty. This held true in both of our manipulations, showing that despite the level of detail in evidence intended for mitigation, jurors with preconceived notions may still disregard the evidence, and some jurors may even view it is aggravating and thus increase the likelihood of a death sentence for a defendant with such brain abnormalities.

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2016-12

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Death Penalty Beliefs: How Attitudes are Shaped and Revised

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Although most Americans support capital punishment, many people have misconceptions about its efficacy and administration (e.g., that capital punishment deters crime). Can correcting people’s inaccurate attitudes change their support for the death penalty? If not, are there other strategies that

Although most Americans support capital punishment, many people have misconceptions about its efficacy and administration (e.g., that capital punishment deters crime). Can correcting people’s inaccurate attitudes change their support for the death penalty? If not, are there other strategies that might shift people’s attitudes about the death penalty? Some research suggests that statistical information can correct misconceptions about polarizing topics. Yet, statistics might be irrelevant if people support capital punishment for purely retributive reasons, suggesting other argumentative strategies may be more effective. In Study 1, I compared how two different interventions shifted attitudes towards the death penalty. In Studies 2 - 4 I examined what other attitudes shape endorsement of capital punishment, and used these findings to develop and test an educational intervention aimed at providing information about errors in the implementation of the death penalty. Altogether, these findings suggest that attitudes about capital punishment are based on more than just retributive motives, and that correcting misconceptions related to its administration and other relevant factors reduces support for the death penalty.

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2019