The Death Penalty: Should the Judge or the Jury Decide Who Dies?
31 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2014 Last revised: 12 Feb 2015
Date Written: October 1, 2014
This article addresses the effect of judge versus jury decision making through analysis of a database of all capital sentencing phase hearing trials in the state of Delaware from 1977-2007. Over the three decades of the study, Delaware shifted responsibility for death penalty sentencing from the jury to the judge. Currently, Delaware is one of the handful of states that gives the judge the final decision making authority in capital trials. Controlling for a number of legally-relevant and other predictor variables, we find that the shift to judge sentencing significantly increased the number of death sentences. Statutory aggravating factors, stranger homicides, and the victim’s gender also increased the likelihood of a death sentence, as did the county of the homicide. We reflect on the implications of these results for debates about the constitutionality of judge sentencing in capital cases.
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