Forecasting Life and Death
58 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2000
Date Written: October 3, 2000
Whites support the death penalty more than blacks, and men more than women. But do these differences or others like them influence how a person votes when they sit on a capital jury? Answering that question is complicated. Whatever influence a juror's personal characteristics have on her vote is hard to detect. First, a juror's personal characteristics may get lost in the facts of the case. A juror will tend to vote for death in strong cases and for life in weak ones no matter what her own characteristics. Second, a juror's personal characteristics may get lost in the process of deliberation. The final verdict reflects the jury's will, not the individual juror's. We address both problems. We address the first by using statistical techniques to control for the facts most likely to influence a juror's verdict, thereby isolating the influence of a juror's personal characteristics. We address the second by examining each juror's first vote on the defendant's sentence, thereby revealing her own judgment before the majority can work its will.
Our findings are sobering. A juror's personal characteristics do indeed influence who is sentenced to life and who to death. The most powerful personal characteristics influencing a capital juror's first vote are race, religion, and how strongly the juror believes death is the appropriate punishment for murder. Moreover, the first vote and the factors that influence it are critically important since the first vote usually determines the final one. The initial majority rules. Finally, because black jurors are rarely a majority of the jury's members, majority rule usually means white rule.
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