The Salience of Mitigating Evidence for Capital Jurors

Charles S. Lanier, University at Albany

In a line of decisions dealing with "mitigating evidence" in capital cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that "the sentencer may not refuse to consider or be precluded from considering "any relevant mitigating evidence" (Skipper v. South Carolina, 476 U.S. 1,4 (1986), quoting Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 114 (1982). Accordingly, defense counsel introduce mitigating evidence at capital sentencing hearings in an attempt to obtain "a sentence less than death" (Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 604 (1978) for their clients. However, attorneys cannot predict with certainty how such evidence will be received and subsequently treated by jurors during their sentencing deliberations. This study will confront these issues by exploring the reflections of capital jurors on the mitigating evidence introduced at trials where they decided the sentence for defendants convicted of capital murder. The data for this study were based on interviews with actual capital jurors; death penalty sentencing trial transcripts were used in the analysis as well.

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Updated 05/20/2006