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Felony Jury Sentencing in Practice: A Three-State Study

76 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2004  

Nancy J. King

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Rosevelt L. Noble

Vanderbilt University


Jury sentencing in non-capital cases is one of the least understood procedures in contemporary American criminal justice. This Article looks beyond idealized visions of jury sentencing to examine for the first time how felony jury sentencing actually operates in three different states - Kentucky, Virginia, and Arkansas. Dozens of interviews with prosecutors, defenders, and judges, as well as an analysis of state sentencing data, reveal that this neglected corner of state criminal justice provides a unique window through which one can observe some of the most fundamental forces operating in criminal adjudication today.

It turns out that jury sentencing in practice looks very little like jury sentencing in theory. Sentencing by jury is promoted for its democratic appearance, but its vitality may turn instead upon its ability to streamline case disposition and protect elected officials from political accountability for sentencing policy. Jury sentencing is viewed by these criminal justice insiders as a critical component of the justice system in each state, a tool they have adapted to deter trials, to accommodate elected judges, and to appease constituents who support ever higher sentences for crime. The Article explores the implications of this research for sentencing reform, and criminal justice reform generally.

Suggested Citation

King, Nancy J. and Noble, Rosevelt L., Felony Jury Sentencing in Practice: A Three-State Study. Vanderbilt Law Review, May 2004. Available at SSRN:

Nancy J. King (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
(615) 343-9836 (Phone)
(615) 322-6631 (Fax)

Rosevelt L. Noble

Vanderbilt University ( email )

Nashville, TN 37240
United States

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