Death Qualification in Black and White: Racialized Decision Making and Death‐Qualified Juries
24 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2018
Date Written: April 2018
Death qualification has been shown to have a number of biasing effects that appear to undermine a capital defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a fair jury. Attitudes toward the death penalty have shifted modestly but consistently over the last several decades in ways that may have changed the overall impact of death qualification. Specifically, the very large gap between black and white Americans' current support for capital punishment raises the question of whether death qualification procedures disproportionately exclude African Americans from capital jury participation. In order to examine this possibility, we conducted two countywide death penalty attitude surveys in the California county that has the highest percentage of African American residents in the state. Results show that death qualification continues to have a number of serious biasing effects—including disproportionately excluding death penalty opponents—which result in the significant underrepresentation of African Americans. This creates a death‐qualified jury pool with the potential to be significantly more likely to ignore and even misuse mitigating factors and to rely more heavily on aggravating factors in their death penalty decision making. The implications of these findings for the fair administration of capital punishment are discussed.
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