Capital Juror's Acceptance of Mitigation Evidence and the Promise of Eddings v. Oklahoma

Thomas Brewer, Kent State University

The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the constitutionality of modern capital sentencing statutes rests in large part on the jury's ability to make an individualized sentencing determination. This individualized determination is informed by both aggravating and mitigating circumstances presented as evidence during the penalty phase of a capital trial. Recognizing the importance of mitigation evidence in particular, the defense's ability to present a wide range of mitigating factors regarding the defendant's life, psychological and psychiological attributes, and participation in the crime has been protected by the courts. However, research conducted on the penalty phase deliberation process suggests that there are a number of factors which may work to limit jurors' actual consideration of mitigation evidence. These factors include: race, gender, premature decision-making, inability to correctly apply jury instructions, and deeply held beliefs about the criminal justice system. These impediments to consideration of mitigation evidence present a constitutional and practical dilemma to effective capital trial representation. This research will make use of the rich data collected by the Capital Jury Project to examine variation in juror's consideration of mitigation evidence during penalty phase deliberations. The Capital Jury Project data contain quantitative and qualitative data from 1,202 in-depth interviews with persons who actually served on capital juries in the United States. The degree to which respondents reported considering various forms of mitigation evidence during penalty phase deliberations will be measured and variations based on demographic characteristics, criminal justice attitudes, factors relating to the severity of the crinme, and type of mitigation evidence presented will be presented.

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Updated 05/20/2006