Measuring Juror's Agreement on the Existence of Mitigation and Aggravation Evidence in Capital Trials

Thomas W. 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. Recent research has suggested that there is wide variation in how black and white jurors view this evidence. This variation is particularly stark in interracial killings especially black defendant/white victim cases. Prior studies have foucsed primarily on jurors' receptivity to evidence they reported as being presented at trial. This study attempts to take a step back and determine if there is any significant variation, among jurors serving on the same trial, in the types of evidence they recall being presented. These findings will assist in locating the genesis of the racial divergent views of penalty phase evidence. Using data collected by the Capital Jury Project this research will quantify the rate of agreement regarding the existence of aggravating and mitigating factors in capital trials. Particular attention will be paid to variation among black and white jurors serving on cases involving interracial killings.

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Updated 05/20/2006