A Sociological Approach to Explaining Gender Disparity in Appellate Outcomes of Death Penalty Sentencing

Chana Barron, University of Iowa

The gender gap in sentencing outcomes is nowhere more apparent than in capital litigation, especially in the context of appellate court decisions. In particular, women's death sentences are significantly more often reversed than those of men. The purpose of this study is to investigate the extra-legal factors that contribute to this discrepancy by pairing female and male cases that are legally similar (e.g., statutory sentencing factors, claimed trial errors) that have different outcomes. To do so, I utilize data from the state and federal appellate records of cases from 1973-2002. Preliminary analyses indicate that extra-legal factors play a part in explaining the discrepancy. I draw upon cultural definitions and differeing gender expectations to explain these findings.

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Updated 05/20/2006